WinAsks Professional v2.06

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, send e-mail

Published by: SmartLite Software, go to the web site
Requires: Windows 3.1, 95, 98, or NT4, 386 or higher CPU, 8MB RAM
MSRP: US$69 (single user license) up to US$699 (school site license)

(Ed. Note: reviewed in 1999)

WinAsks Professional is a questionnaire and survey design application. It provides a range of basic formatting and design functions which can be used to create everything from classroom tests and question sheets, to straightforward survey and statistic gathering forms. The software installs as a series of separate, semi-integrated modules. The software has reporting and basic analysis functions which allow automatically created reports to be loaded into the spreadsheet module, analyzed, charted and graphed. Questionnaires and surveys created for use on a computer can also display images and play sounds and videos. The WinAsks Professional package consists of a spiral-bound printed manual accompanied by the software on three floppy disks.

We tested the software on one computer - our workhorse Pentium II/400MHz running Windows 98, with 128MB RAM and 8MB ATI All-in- Wonder Pro video card. Installation of the software appeared to be flawless.

The product overview animation which ran automatically at the end of the installation was a waste of time. Accompanied by unerringly ghastly MIDI/chip music, it went on far too long and provided only the barest hint about how the software works, making the effort more of a marketing piece than a tutorial. These sorts of animations are of only marginal use to begin with, since they don't actually allow you to participate in or interact with what's being displayed.

Our principle test of the software involved creating three different forms, each of which were used in two different mediums: computer and print. We assembled a series of 40 extremely silly questions, each of which provided one of three answer styles: Multiple Choice, True or False, or Association. After creating and compiling the questionnaire, we gathered a bunch of friends one Friday night, fed them copious quantities of free pizza, and forced them to complete every single question. Half the group filled out the printed forms, while the other half filled out the online forms. By a vote of 10 to 2, the pizza-stuffed testers mainly agreed that WinAsks Professional created some very average-looking questionnaires. Rather than accept insults of course, we immediately challenged a few of the testers to create better looking (and therefore more interesting to fill out) questionnaires.

Because questionnaires and surveys are used in a variety of ways, it's important to be able to visualize how your questions or inquiries will appear to people who actually have to give answers. WinAsks Professional can be used to create questionnaires and surveys which can be answered using the WinAsks Player via mouse clicks, or which can be printed out and filled in using a pen or pencil. What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG) UI design would seem to be an absolute necessity therefore. One of the problems with WinAsks Professional however is that the software creates questionnaires and surveys in a completely non-WYSIWYG way. Our testers had a lot of difficulty understanding the software and the help documentation.

The rudimentary graphics and font formatting in WinAsks Professional is a perfect example of how non-WYSIWYG software fails to provide users with effective and creative tools. If you add appropriate graphics to your questionnaire, they'll be displayed in the upper right corner in the WinAsks Editor and WinAsks Player. Print the same questionnaire however, and you'll find the graphics printed to the left of each question. In addition, there is no indication (except in Print Preview) about the location of preparatory comments, page layout, and so on. There's no Preview for online forms either, so the final appearance of the form is always a surprise. The software possesses only limited and very basic font formatting as well, making truly intuitive questionnaire and survey design that much more difficult. WinAsks Professional is most definitely not a professional quality package.

Cons: The installer leaves a bit to be desired - it also tends to leave bits of itself on screen after exiting - bits which can't be eradicated (only a reboot or a low-level screen redraw will rid you of the leftover final dialog). Printing is painfully slow, which is completely unacceptable these days. It took 15 minutes(!) to print 8 black and white survey pages to our trusty Epson 800 (although the virtually identical Keys pages required only 80 seconds). That is unbelievably slow. Handling of True/False formats is very poor and completely unintuitive. There are hundreds of funny errors in grammar throughout the UI, online help system, and printed manual which (although they're quite funny) make it even harder to understand a UI which is difficult to begin with. Any software which bills itself as "Professional" needs to incorporate top-notch online help, top-notch printed documentation, and top-notch UI design. WinAsks Professional has none of them. SmartLite Software is based in Italy and should therefore be able to take advantage of good quality, inexpensive, US/UK English localization services, and any number of good UI designers. Programmers should NOT do UI design!

Pros: WinAsks Professional seems to be an acceptable choice for the creation of very simple, unadorned classroom or office type tests and surveys. But it is most definitely not a professional package. Teachers, corporate or industrial Trainers, and small office administrators may find a use for WinAsks Professional, but with its inherent UI difficulties and poor documentation, the software may turn out to be more trouble than it's worth. We recommend this software for learning the basics of questionnaire and survey creation.

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