Digital Research’s new set of graphics software tools gives PCs a better view.
Reprinted from PC Magazine, December 25, 1984, pp. 35.
PACIFIC GROVE, Calif. – Digital Research hopes to add new sparkle to your
PC – and its product line – with its new GEM. An acronym for
Graphics Environment Manager, the new set of software tools can turn
the screen of the lowliest PC into a vision of Apple’s Macintosh
screen, complete with pull-down menus, icons, and mouse control.
With IBM promoting the yet-to-come TopView as the official
standard for windowing on its personal computer line, and other like
products – Microsoft Windows, Desq, Visi On, and Digital
Research’s own upcoming Concurrent PC-DOS – still trying to
best Big Blue, this news may seem to warrant nothing more than pointing
your mouse at the trash can and pressing the button.
|A sample screen showing GEM’s use of icons, windows, and pull-down menus.|
But you needn’t peer through a loupe to see that Digital
Research’s GEM stands out from the others. A variety of on-screen
type fonts and sizes reveal that GEM, like its Macintosh model, and like
Microsoft Windows, is graphics-based, while most other PC windowing
ducts use only the PC’s text-displaying abilities. However, rather
than being able to manage two or more programs simultaneously in one
computer, GEM is more like a toolkit of routines that programmers
can use to create Mac-like application programs for the PC.
In effect, GEM becomes an extension of the graphics-handling routines
that IBM includes as part of the PC’s ROM BIOS (basic input/output
system). In add-on applications on existing computers the GEM routines
will be loaded into RAM (where they become resident, occupying about
60-80 kilobytes of memory) and get called up by other programs. In
future machines, GEM can be hardwired into ROM chips.
Digital Research believes that GEM will claim a big stake in the
PC software marketplace because it is uniquely compatible: Any program
that runs under DOS should work with GEM without
modification. There’s no need to run out and buy new, updated
versions of your favorite software just to use GEM.
However, don’t expect to blow the dust off your favorite antique
software package and expect GEM to give it state-of-your-dreams
windowing abilities. Although GEM’s routines makes adding
windows easy for programmers, they do not automatically confer
windowing abilities on existing programs.
GEM’s underlying structure makes programs with Mac-like
graphics easy to translate to a variety of different computer
systems. GEM is constructed like DOS – or, more to the
point, like Digital Research’s own CP/M operating system. Part of
GEM, about 25 percent, is machine-specific code that must
be rewritten and crafted for each model of computer GEM is implemented
on, much like the BIOS of CP/M (or MS-DOS) is. The rest of GEM is
universal, using the same code for the same results regardless
of its environment. GEM applications call only to the universal
part of the software, so they are very transportable – at
least among machines for which GEM has been implemented.
More than just software-compatible, GEM is uniquely compatible
with computer hardware because it requires little extra memory to
operate. While true windowing systems start by chewing up a 256K
chunk of memory and sometimes swallows 5 megabytes of hard disk just
to get started, GEM can operate on systems as small as 128K –
which includes the PCjr and lightweight compatibles.
The pull-down menu display that Digital Research has shown
the world – a demonstration program that doesn’t do much
more than show what the real GEM can do – is only a small
facet of the whole GEM.
The menus operate as a shell or “front end” to DOS (in the
familiar desktop metaphor form), so that, rather than typing in some
cabalistic DOS incantation, you need only point to a command to
carry it out. Programmers can use the GEM toolkit to write any
number of similar shells for DOS, or they can use it to give menu
structure to other programs.
Unlike true windowing programs, GEM is not a multitasking system,
and its ability to run programs concurrently is limited to the minimal
background tasks that work with unadorned DOS.
Although you can “pull down” and run modest applications
such as a memo pad or a calculator (for instance, in the demonstration
menu system), you can’t use GEM to make Symphony,
WordStar, PC-TALK, and dBASE III run simultaneously and slip
each other love messages. That’s the job of GEM’s big
(but still gestating) brother, Concurrent PC-DOS (as Digital Research
would have it), or of TopView and the other windowing systems.
According to Digital Research, the GEM routines are compatible
with all windowing systems.
Don’t expect to find this GEM on your dealer’s
shelves, however. It is not targeted for individual computer
owners – at least for now. Instead, Digital Research is
targeting hardware OEMs and software developers. In January,
Digital Research will start selling GEM to software houses
wanting to take advantage of this development system for a minimal
fee of $400 to $500. That’s it – no recurring license
fees, even though the GEM routines may be distributed with
the finished software. Digital Research hopes that will tempt
developers to get new, GEM-based software out on the
market and help GEM to become a de facto software standard,
much like CP/M.
In February, Digital Research will begin marketing GEM
applications to consumers, including GEM-Draw, GEM-Word-Chart
and GEM-Graph. But Digital Research’s pot of gold will
be writing and licensing custom versions of the BIOS-like
machine-specific part of GEM for hardware manufacturers.
According to Digital Research, the customers are already lining up.