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Systems to pump up your PC.

Think back to the early days of the personal computing revolution. PC buyers obsessed over color monitors, enhanced keyboards and - perhaps most of all - speed. As for operating systems? Even though they actually control the computer - making it possible for users to run all manner of software programs - only the most serious techies fretted about these seemingly unsexy innards. After all, there were only two real options: IBM machines and clones came stacked with Microsoft's Disk Operating System (MSDOS); and Apple's Macintosh had its own patented system.

Times have changed. Frustrated with DOS'cryptic commands, IBM hackers have long coveted Apple's user-friendly system, with its easy pull-down menus and click-on programs. In 1987, IBM Corp. in Armonk, N.Y., and Microsoft Corp. in Redmond, Wash., responded by teaming up to create a new product to exploit the growing demand for so-called graphical user interfaces. Their progeny: Operating System/2 (OS/2). Meanwhile, Microsoft geared up for its Windows software program, and as time passed, fewer people jumped on board the OS/2 bandwagon and flocked instead to Windows. On their own techie roll, Microsoft pulled its support from OS/2, leaving it entirely up to IBM to create future enhancements.

Opening Windows

Today, Microsoft Windows-based applications abound. Selling more than 1 million copies per month, Windows owes its popularity to sheer simplicity: Users don't have to wrestle with new commands or buy new systems altogether. Install Windows, and presto! it runs on top of DOS.

The other advantage: Users can easily upgrade their machines to Windows rather than replace the DOS operating system. But because Windows is not a true operating system, it's only as flexible as its "host" DOS system. Translation: If you've got two programs open and one crashes, both may fail.

On a practical note, Microsoft has come out with a Windows program offering an important feature for the office environment. Windows for Workgroups ($250) is the latest in groupware software, rendering dedicated file servers all but obsolete for small offices. Its "peer-to-peer networking" capability lets every user access the company's main hard drive or individual hard drives.

Bundled with every copy of Windows for Workgroups is another gem: Microsoft Mail. This e-mail package lets all users on a mailing list reply to one another without distorting the original memo.

An additional perk: Windows for Workgroups comes with Microsoft Schedule Plus. This feature permits a secretary or boss to access several people's schedules to figure the best time for, say, the Monday morning meeting. Once a slot is found, the system blocks out the time in each schedule, then messages employees about the meeting.

If all this seems a bit confusing, Microsoft is muddying the waters even more with last month's introduction of Windows NT, a 32-bit operating system, which sells for just under $500 for the desktop version and under $5,000 for the server. A true operating system, Windows NT can replace DOS altogether. With capabilities to run all current Windows and DOS programs, it also provides the advanced architecture presently offered by only the OS/2 system.

But because the system is so new, there are bound to be bugs. An axiom in the computer industry is that the rollout version of a program may be good, but the next will be even better. So although NT promises lots of improvements over Windows and Windows for Workgroups, buyers are well advised to skip version 1.0 and wait for subsequent upgrades.

Apple's New Core: System 7

Today, computer makers are scrambling to match Macintosh's standard in graphical technology. Windows NT, OS/2 and other operating systems are just now catching up to the nine-year-old technology of Apple Computer Inc., Cupertino, Calif. Apple's edge: Macintosh has continued to refine its capabilities with its System 7 operating system (available only on Apple Macintosh machines).

Don't be turned off by this system's highly evolved technology. It is still very user friendly. In addition, every new Macintosh comes out of the box network-ready. That is, you won't have to spend extra money on equipment to get two or more Macs to communicate.

Apple's System 7 ($99) operating system allows a Mac to act as a file server. Good news for small offices, Apple's File Sharing program is easy to set up and lets users transfer files without hassling with a common, centralized file server. Currently, System 7.1 is available. And if you are outfitting more than one Mac, opt for the five-user pack at only $249.

Moreover, Apple has a remote communications software program, Apple talk Remote Access (ARA) for $199, which allows you to dial into a computer at your home office, or to another user's computer. ARA is a boon for constant travelers, since it directly accesses standard phone lines. You can transfer files and run applications just as you would if you were back at the office.

IBM'S Operating System/2

IBM built its reputation in corporate America as a mainframe supplier. Now that those machines have gone the way of the dinosaur - and IBM's stock hit its lowest price in years - Big Blue is staging its comeback with a new operating system. Unlike its competitors, which rely on DOS, IBM's OS/2 is a complete operating system that uses advanced memory management to prevent one application from grabbing memory from another. This crash-proof program isolation is a huge benefit not enjoyed by Windows or Apple's System 7.

Another key benefit of OS/2, version 2.0, is its high-performance file system, which allows file names of up to 32 characters. A split Program/File Manager and Workplace Shell Features make it easier for users to flip through any section they want. OS/2 also offers enhanced graphics, including Adobe type fonts. As for networking capabilities, OS/2 offers a server platform. NetWare client server software is available under OS/2 along with versions of Oracle database programs.

On the downside, setting up OS/2 can be an onerous task. Version 2.0 is crammed onto - are you ready? - 20 diskettes. So plan on spending half a day installing the software. Also, your favorite DOS program may not run under OS/2. To be certain of what's compatible with your system, call the technical support line of the vendor's package. Most Windows programs run slightly slower under OS/2. It's up to each user to decide if the trade-off in speed is worth the enhanced crash protection you get from OS/2.

How To Choose?

When mulling over these excellent operating environments, don't forget to consider the following: * Decide if you want a graphical interface. This easy-to-use function offers greater productivity than, say, a clunkier DOS rival. It may sound ideal - and simple - to perform tasks by clicking a mouse onto icons (pictures). But the learning process can be deceptively tricky and may require formal instruction. By contrast, with a command-based program, instructions are on paper and can be accessed via "help" screens. * Determine the level of performance you want Unquestionably, NT's and OS/2's 32-bit memory and file operations means better performance; Windows applications run faster than DOS. Keep in mind, you can boost PC performance with memory cards and other tricks. * Consider what hardware and software compatibility you are willing to sacrifice. Window NT supports more third-party hardware than OS/2, including a variety of CD-ROM, a must for anyone interested in multimedia. OS/2 also has software compatibility problems. But a host of vendors programs run under Windows. * Decide which program provides better multitasking. Operating more than one program simultaneously can be a hassle. Bugs in hot-off-the-presses software can result in hundreds of crashes and reboots a day. Windows handles application crashes very well. OS/2's multitasking capability is more robust than Windows, but it doesn't respond well to an ill-behaved application.

TECH TIPS

Dread paying bills? Or perhaps you're always wondering: Where did all of my money go? it doesn't take a financial genius to know that one way to boost personal savings is to curtail spending. But in order to cut back, you have to monitor your monthly cash flow. The best way to find out where your money goes is to track every single expenditure you make. You could accomplish this by lugging a notebook around and writing everything down. Or you could simply get an electronic organizer. To help untangle your financial affairs, Secaucus, N.J.-based Panasonic Corp. has recently introduced the Check Printing Accountant (C.P.A.).

This handy gadget can literally write your checks, adjust your balances and monitor your spending. Best of all, it uses regular personal checks, and lets users store the names of up to 25 of their most frequently used payees. There's no fuss. All you have to do is enter the amount and hit print.

In addition, the C.P.A. automatically dates each check and posts your new balance. The convenient memory feature should help you keep track of your bank accounts as well as your credit card transactions.

Another neat feature on this electronic checkbook is its ability to spew out spending reports by category, such as business expenses, tax-deductible items and bill payments.

To top it off, this gizmo is tiny enough to fit in your hip pocket. Retail price: about $350.

With the help of an electronic organizer, you can keep tabs on your money every month. You'll get a better idea of what you need to live on and pinpoint areas where you can save.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:computer software from Microsoft, IBM and Apple
Author:Evans, Ron
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Jul 1, 1993
Words:1580
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