A text processing utility on steroids

If Textpipe Pro v5.5.2 was a kitchen appliance it would have its own late-night TV commercials.

Category: Text processing utility
Name of tool: Textpipe Pro v 5.5.2
Company name: Crystal Software, Inc.
Price: $109, free 30-day trial
URL: www.crystalsoftware.com.au
Windows platforms supported: Windows 95/98/ME/NT/2000
Quick description: A powerful text processing software utility that can manipulate just about anything and perform its operation across a series of files quickly and accurately.

Strom-meter:
**** = Very cool, very useful

Key features:

Pros:
Search and replace on various text and non-textual characters
Remove HTML and XML tags from Web pages
Add line numbers and extract e-mail addresses and URLs from documents
Reformat and clean up documents with a wide variety of other functions and tools

Cons:
Doesn't filter all XML tags completely
Scripting and advanced filters will take some time to create and use properly

Description:
If you run a Web site, chances are someday you'll find yourself in the following situation. You have just changed one of your directories and the links on all of your pages are broken because of this change. What you really need is a way to scan through all of your HTML files and replace the old link with a new one.

Now, most of the Web page authoring tools can handle this task, but a better solution is to use a product like Textpipe Pro from the Australian company Crystal Software. Think of it as search/replace on steroids working in batch mode on whole series of documents. It has so much power that it is hard to describe in a simple review, but let me give you a bunch of examples so you can get the feel for what it does.

Let's say you want to change the e-mail address in the footer of all of your Web pages from david@strom.com to john@newco.com. (Sure you could do this with a word processor, but it would take some time, and you might mess up in a few places.) Or you have a bunch of e-mail messages and want to extract the header information to put them into a database. Or you have a database and want to clean it up, removing almost duplicate entries that have slight variations on postal addresses for example. Or you have a mailing list and want to change the capitalization of one field. Or you need to clean up and transform a comma-separated file to move data from one database to another. Or you download data from your mainframe and want to convert its EBCDIC text into straight ASCII that your PCs and workstations can better deal with. Are you getting my drift?

If Textpipe Pro were a kitchen appliance, it would have its own commercials on late-night TV. It slices and dices text so quickly and with so many different options that it truly is a utility that has 1001 uses.

First off, you have many different functions that can operate on one or an entire directory of documents. Besides searching for and replacing particular text, you can extract e-mail and URLs from your documents, add line numbers and margins and headers, do a hex dump (convert the text into hexadecimal display), encode or decode from various MIME formats, or convert Windows text to Macintosh text or vice-versa. (The two operating systems have different end-of-line characters that can vex less capable text processors.)

Many of these things can be done with most word processors these days. But not all -- and certainly not all of these operations -- can be done with an ordinary word processor across a batch of files together with a single command. That is the power of Textpipe. And to make things even better, there is a "trial run" portion of the software that allows you to input some sample text and see if it gets converted the way you expect before you process various documents. For a product of this power, this is an essential learning tool.

One of the numerous options is the ability to create output files that retain the date and time stamp of the original file you are working on. That can come in handy if you have to sort through your files to find them, or if the original timestamp is important to you.

Textpipe is also scriptable, just in case those operations aren't enough for you. You can write your own scripts in Visual Basic, Jscript and several other scripting languages to control its operations too. And there are about 100 additional pre-written programs that can process a wide variety of things, such as removing FrontPage or DreamWeaver tags, extracting data from a database and converting it to an Excel file, changing your text into Pig Latin or Valley Girl speak or into the vernacular of the Swedish chef. Narly, man!

The software can be downloaded for a free 30-day trial and it will nag you upon each operation to pay for it. But given the power of this product, the near $100 price is very reasonable. And if you have to transform text files, you will quickly find the time saved worth the small price of the software.

Strom-meter key:
**** = Very cool, very useful
*** = Hey, not bad. One notch below very cool
** = A tad shaky to install and use but has some value.
* = Don't waste your time. Minimal real value.

David Strom is president of his own consulting firm in Port Washington, NY. He has tested hundreds of computer products over the past two decades working as a computer journalist, consultant and corporate IT manager. Since 1995 he has written a weekly series of essays on Web technologies and marketing called Web Informant. You can send him email at david@strom.com.


This was first published in October 2001
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