One of the Mac's user interface charms is that activating a data file by double-clicking automatically invokes the application that created it. This is a welcome change from Ye Olden Days, when you had to start up an application and see whether it could read the data file you were interested in. It is a great strength of the Mac UI that you can deal directly with the object of work rather than indirectly.
But what if you get a file through e-mail for which you have no suitable application? You receive a Word 98 document and you have Word 6, for example? Double-clicking won't open it. Word 6 can't recognize it. What to do?
Translate, that's what. DataViz’s MacLinkPlus (MLP) is a utility that will translate a file from one format to another. In this Daily Feature, I'll examine the MacLinkPlus utility.
What MacLinkPlus can do for you
One way to invoke MLP is to simply double-click on a document in an icon view. Based on the target file's creator field, MLP will present in a modal dialog box a list of translations it can perform and let you choose what to do. You may want to change one file into an AppleWorks-readable file, and another into a Word-readable file.
MLP can also translate a batch of files into the appropriate destination formats and a destination folder. Because this step is done through a modal dialog box, you have to make an action selection before you can dismiss the dialog box. If you want to get some other information before making this choice, it's impossible. Canceling is the only way to avoid any action. I wish the MLP's designers had used some other way to get their information rather than a modal dialog box, especially on the double-click invocation. A novice will not always know what the best translation software is, especially when confronted with a myriad of choices.
Fortunately, there's another way to interface with MLP: the MLP application. This application allows the creation of a list of files to be translated in a batch process. You can put together the resulting batch output files in an easily selectable target folder, but file examination and identification is possible using the Recognize function. An MLP-greeted advice window even shows up inside the Recognize window to guide the confused. This is a major step forward in usability compared to the minimalism of the double-click modal dialog box. Once you’ve viewed a file, it can be translated to another form.
MLP can recognize an unknown file—that is, it can determine what type of file it is, even if the creating application is not known to the Finder (in other words, it isn’t present on your machine). Furthermore, the program can decompress files (including the post-5.0 versions of the ubiquitous Stuffit). Sometimes, just a thumbnail of the contents of a file will suffice. This is where the View function comes into play. If the file has a graphic in it, MLP will show the view (if it's a GIF, JPEG, or PICT). If there's just text in the file, MLP shows that as well.
Some veteran Mac folk may remember MLP from the time when Apple included a subset of the program with the System 7 OS. MLP then worked with the Claris XTND system, a technology since superseded. The current version (11) uses a different technology than XTND for translation and interface. One of the ways that access to MLP has changed is the third major way of using the program: through context menus. System 8 introduced the menus into the System hooks. You hold down the Control key while clicking a file's icon to bring up a pop-up hierarchical menu that will perform most major MLP functions without launching MLP. I find this feature very useful when I want a known action performed without much fuss.
Word processing, spreadsheet, and database formats
PC/Mac translation is another trick MLP can do. The program can take one kind of file and make it readable to a similar application on the other side of the fence. Because knowing whether MLP can perform the specific conversion you want is vital to your evaluation of the program, I'll list the file formats supported and translated by MLP version 11:
|Ami Pro 1.2, 2.0, 3.x||AppleWorks 5.0|
|AppleWorks 5.0||ClarisWorks 1.0, 2.x, 3.0, 4.0, 5.0|
|ClarisWorks 1.0, 3.0, 4.0, 5.0||FrameMaker MIF 2.0, 3.0|
|DCA/RFT||MacWrite 4.5, 5.0|
|HTML (read-only)||MacWrite II|
|Microsoft Word DOS through version 6.0||MacWrite Pro 1.0, 1.5|
|Microsoft Word for Windows 2.0, 6.0, 7.0 (95), 8.0 (97), 2000 Microsoft Word 4.0, 5.x, 6.0, 8.0 (98)|
|Microsoft Works for DOS 2.0, 3.0||Microsoft Works 2.0, 3.0, 4.0|
|Microsoft Works for Windows 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, 4.5||Nisus 3.0, 3.4|
|MultiMate through version 4.0||Nisus Writer 4.0|
|Office Writer 5.0, 6.0||Publish Text|
|Professional Write 2.0||RTF|
|Text||AppleWorks (Apple II) 2.1, 3.0|
|WordPerfect DOS 4.2, 5.0, 5.1, 6.0||WordPerfect 1.0, 2.x, 3.x|
|WordPerfect Windows 5.x, 6.x, 7.0, 8.0||WriteNow 2.0, 3.0, 4.0|
|WordPerfect Works 2.0|
|WordStar 3.0, 4.0, 5.0, 6.0, 7.0|
|AppleWorks 5.0||AppleWorks 5.0|
|ClarisWorks 1.0, 3.0, 4.0, 5.0||ClarisWorks 1.0, 2.x, 3.0, 4.0, 5.0|
|Excel 4.0, 5.0, 7.0 (95), 8.0 (97), 2000||Excel 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, 5.0, 8.0 (98)|
|Lotus 1-2-3 (WKS, WK1, WK3, WK4, 97, 98)||Microsoft Works 2.0, 3.0, 4.0|
|Microsoft Works for DOS 2.0, 3.0||SYLK|
|Microsoft Works for Windows 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, 4.5||AppleWorks (Apple II) 3.0|
|Quattro Pro (DOS) 4.0|
|Quattro Pro (Windows) 1.0, 5.0, 6.0, 7.0, 8.0|
|Symphony (WRK, WR1)|
|WordPerfect Works 2.0|
|ClarisWorks 1.x, 3.x, 4.0||ClarisWorks 1.0, 2.x, 3.0, 4.0|
|Comma Separated Values (write-only)||Comma Separated Values (write-only)|
|dBase II, III, IV (.dbf)||FoxBASE/FoxPro|
|FoxBASE/FoxPro||Microsoft Works 2.0, 3.0, 4.0|
|Microsoft Works for DOS 2.0, 3.0||Tab Text (write-only)|
|Microsoft Works for Windows 2.0, 3.0, 4.0||AppleWorks (Apple II) 2.1, 3.0|
|Tab Text (write-only)|
|WordPerfect Works 2.0|
- AutoCAD (.dxf)—read-only
- Harvard Graphics (.cgm) 2.3, 3.0—read-only
- Lotus (.pic)—read-only
- Lotus Freelance (.cgm) —read-only
- PC Paintbrush (.pcx)
- PICT/PICT 2
- Ventura Publisher (.gem) —read-only
- Ventura Publisher (.img)—read-only
- Windows Bitmap (.bmp)
- Windows Metafile (.wmf)
- WordPerfect (.wpg) 1.0, 2.0
- EPS (translate between Mac and PC formats only)
- Compact Pro (.cpt)
- StuffIt (.sit)
As you can see, the conversion abilities of MLP are extensive. I personally find the program rather useful, especially in the PC conversion arena. The interface is unobtrusive if I want it to be so and varied enough to allow it to change with the work I'm doing. I like utilities that do one thing well, and MLP does just that. This one's a keeper.
Larry Loeb has 20 years of computer journalism experience. He was Consulting Editor at the late, lamented BYTE magazine, he launched WebWeek, he ran the online Macintosh section of BIX (the BYTE Information eXchange), and he wrote numerous articles for many major computer magazines. Recently, he also wrote a book on Secure Electronic Transactions, the protocol endorsed by MasterCard and Visa that allows merchants, cardholders, and banks to work together over the Internet. For banter, tips, and general screaming, send Larry an e-mail.The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.