Reprinted from PC Magazine, August 20, 1985, pp. 37-38.
Windows is here. It’s almost 4 months behind the original ship late, but
it’s here. Microsoft, sensitive to the flak they’ve taken in the trade
press, has released Windows with a whisper rather than a shout.
|Setup on the EGA controls visual settings for each active area on the screen.|
And that’s too bad. Based on our first look, Windows is an impressive
product, well worth he fancy rollout it would have received last spring.
Windows is a DOS-enhancing environment. It’s also a word processor,
a communications manager, an alarm clock, a calendar, a memory manager, a
card filer, a task switcher, and a screen painting program. It’s also $99.
Worth the view
For your hundred bucks you get the Windows display and memory manager, which
lets you load more applications than you can actually fit in memory. You also
get Microsoft Write, a fairly powerful word processor, written just for
Windows; Terminal, a serial communications manager that can dial and log
on to the services of your choice through a Hayes-compatible modem; and
Notepad, Cardfile, Calendar, Calculator, and Clock, which all do what their
names suggest. In addition, you get a game, Reversi (marketed commercially
as Othello), for your leisure time and to sharpen your mousing skills.
You also get a screen painting program, Microsoft Paint, comparable to most of
the others on the market, except that it always runs in high-resolution black and
white. Color is not available.
Like IBM’s TopView, Windows works best with a mouse. Unlike TopView, Windows
is tolerable without one. The keyboard substitutions for mouse moves and clicks
are well thought out, except for the longstanding Microsoft curse of making you
use the tab key when your instincts are telling you to use the cursor keys.
The extra 4 months that Windows spent in the development shop shows, especially
in the included application programs. Microsoft vice president Steve Ballmer
says, “Write has 70 or 75 percent of Word’s function.
And while Terminal has nowhere near the programmability of Microsoft
Access, it does most everything that people want a communications program to do.”
|Microsoft’s Write works best on fast machines with an Enhanced Graphics Adapter. |
Windows is TopView compatible. It understands IBM Program Information Files
(PIFs), so that any program that is TopView-aware runs without any fuss in Windows. It
also follows IBM’s excellent design, allowing you to prespecify the way
you want your programs to window.
The biggest difference between TopView and Windows is that TopView is a
multitasking executive, which timeslices all applications, while Windows switches
tasks only to keep the screen updated. If an application running under Windows is
in a CPU-intensive processing loop, Windows will not interrupt it to let other
tasks run. The advantage of this approach is that Windows imposes virtually no
processing overhead penalty. TopView, conversely, takes roughly 10 percent of
your machine’s time just to run itself.
Power has its price. Windows with Write takes up nearly three quarters of a
megabyte on your hard disk, but it can replace your word processor, communications
program, paint program, and pop-up utility software for most applications. It’s
as close as anyone has come to an all-things-to-all-people package.
You’ll want 640K to maximize its utility, and Windows can use even more. It
swaps programs out to disk but will use RAMdisk, 80286 extended
memory, or Lotus/Intel expanded memory for swapping if it’s available. Task
swap time can be cut to less than a second by using memory for swapping, and
that’s fast in anybody’s book.
Windows runs on the Enhanced Graphics Adapter in high-resolution color. It’s
a sight to behold. You can vary the color through a rainbow of values, and you
can select the color, density, and texture of background, characters, foreground,
highlight bars, and more. With power comes responsibility, however, since
this capability lets you make screens arbitrarily ugly.
|Overlapping windows give the program a decidedly Macintosh-like flavor.|
TopView outperforms Windows when it comes to running your old applications
in windows smaller than the full screen. While TopView bends over backwards to
make sure that the area of the screen you’re most interested in stays on
the screen, Windows is more likely to let text disappear behind the edge of
a window, but the behavior of both products depends on the application.
Windows also has a clipboard, patterned after the Macintosh’s, that allows
data to be moved among applications. Like GEM, Windows permits multiple data types
on its clipboard. The clipboard is an ideal way to save a piece of a
screen to disk, too.
True to its claim, Windows does not exact any penalty for its presence. Rather,
it lurks in the background, waiting to switch tasks or execute utilities.
It manages the screen very smoothly, even on slow (4.77 MHz) machines. You do
encounter pauses when you switch from one application to another, but they’re
shorter than if you got out of one application, back into DOS, and into another
application. The performance on a souped-up PC AT or Compaq 286 is whiz-bang. The
swaps are nearly instantaneous, and the screen responds to your every command and
Write is right
Write is a small jewel in Windows’s crown. On a standard color monitor
it sports a proportional Helvetica typeface and a constant-space Courier. Both
can be scaled to 8, 10, and 12 points and rendered in boldface or italic. Slow
machines are a little ponderous when you’re typing in italic, but the
effect is hardly noticeable on an AT.
The difference on an EGA is breathtaking. The characters are well defined,
and several more typefaces are available, including some handsome outline
faces. Everything runs faster, too.
The proportional font can get nearly twice as many characters on the screen
as the Courier, an advantage if you like to work with lots of text. As
with other windowing environments, you can run multiple copies of Write.
Nothing stops you from even editing the same file from two different Write
sessions. It’s not as fast as TopView’s hot-keying from one session
to another, but it’s tolerable.
The documents that Write creates are stored in ASCII but with a header
and a footer that describe the type style and other settings.
Printing invokes long delays as things swap in and out to disk, but the
wait is worth it if you have a graphics printer. What you get on the printer
is a faithful representation of the screen, right down to the proportional
On the negative side, you have to be in love with pulldown menus to enjoy
Write. Some of the more frequently used commands, such as bold and
italic, are available on function keys, but you basically have to rely
on the pull-down menus for everything. It’s a nice-enough editor for occasional
use, but I wouldn’t want to use it for my daily work. It’s
just too slow. The notepad is handier for quick use and saves its text
as pure ASCII.
Terminal is a minimal modem manager. It lacks many of the functions that
you’ve come to expect in a communications program. It, too, is overly
reliant on pull-down menus. Turning the capture buffer on and off, for example,
should be toggled by a function key or a single Alt-key. It should also display
an icon to indicate when capture is on. The terminal emulator is nice, since
you get both VT-52 and ANSI, but I’d trade them for a little more ease
of use. But then, Terminal comes free with Windows. You can’t
expect everything for nothing.
|Tiled windows divide the display evenly among the applications running.|
Paint is a very capable program, with a fundamental smoothness of operation,
many options, clear icons, and no color. Considering how everything else in
Windows can run in color, it’s safe to speculate that a color version of
Paint will come later as an extra-cost option.
Cardfile is an interesting application. It allows you to title “index
cards” on the screen, then enter whatever information you want on the cards
themselves, unmindful of fields and data types. It will search the cards for any
word or phrase contained on a card, then sort the cards by occurrence. While
you can use the clipboard to move data from a card to any other application,
it should have been integrated better with them, especially the terminal program.
I would have liked to be able to point at a phone number on a card and have
it dial the number.
The price/performance point set by Windows is remarkable. It clearly offers the
most attractive combination of features and performance of any windowing package
we have looked at. Although the applications are immature and could use some
streamlining, Windows will become a powerful tool for power users, and it lays
a solid groundwork for future generations of PC applications.
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