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The PC corner.

Last quarter's column generated quite a bit of e-mail activity in response to my experiences with and recommendations concerning Windows 95. I also got some suggestions on how to solve my "Problem of the Quarter," a problem I was having with Excel. Many thanks to those who e-mailed. I have responded to each of you and, as you will see, have incorporated many of your ideas into this quarter's column.

Based on your input, I have revised my recommendation concerning waiting for Windows 97. A number of Windows 95 enhancement programs are available that overcome most of its shortcomings. In addition, the release of Windows 97 has been delayed and is not likely to come out until 1998. Given these facts, I see no reason to wait any further.

MICROSOFT PLUS! AND DRIVESPACE 3

The major reason that I changed my mind about waiting for Windows 97 is the availability of the Microsoft Plus! enhancement package for Windows 95. It contains DriveSpace 3, an enhanced version of DriveSpace, the Windows 95 version of the DOS DoubleSpace disk compression system. This alone is worth the $40 price of the package, because it gives you one of the most flexible and powerful disk compression systems around. It also eliminates the problem of wasted space that I talked about in last quarter's column. If you use DriveSpace 3, a one kilobyte file occupies only a maximum of one kilobyte, rather than the 16 kilobyte minimum on an uncompressed drive.

Initially, I was reluctant to try DriveSpace 3, because of the many shortcomings in the old DoubleSpace system that DOS 6.x uses. I have discussed these flaws in my previous columns, but a quick summary of them might be in order. They include: (1) the inability to use disk caching routines such as SmartDrive, which really slows disk access; (2) much slower disk defragmenting - over an hour to defrag a compacted disk vs. five minutes for the uncompacted version on my 486/50; and (3) only modest gains in disk space, around 80 percent more on my 486/50. These shortcomings sometimes make me wonder if it is worth the trouble of messing around with DoubleSpace.

In a nutshell, DriveSpace 3 takes care of all of DoubleSpace's deficiencies and adds several new features that make it worth the effort to install it. It does not appear to interfere at all with disk caching, which is built into Windows 95. Disk defragmentation goes as fast or even faster with compressed drives. Finally, I am realizing gains of 200 percent more useable space when using DriveSpace 3 on my Pentium 100 at work, which could effectively triple the useable space on my hard drive.

Rather than using DriveSpace 3 to compress my entire hard disk, I used the software to create another drive on my hard disk, the D: drive. This allows me to keep all of my Windows subdirectories on the uncompressed C: drive for maximum performance. Frankly, after seeing the excellent performance of the compressed files on the D: drive, I am about ready to go ahead and compress the C: drive also.

There is also a "compression agent" program included with DriveSpace 3. This program can be scheduled to work at specific times during the day (or once a week or month). It can run in the background to recompress the files on your compressed drive for maximum space saving. There are four levels of compression available - all the way from no compression up to "Ultra Pak," which can give you more than 3/1 compression.

You can fine-tune DriveSpace 3 to provide whatever balance of space saving versus read-write speed that you want. For instance, you might work with a lot of very large Excel spreadsheets, which you save quite frequently as you modify them. You would initially set up your compressed drive for minimal compression and move all of your Excel workbooks over to it. Then, you would schedule the compression agent to run (perhaps during lunch) to give you the maximum compression of these files.

When you subsequently worked with these files and saved them, they would initially be stored with minimal compression. However, the next time that the compression agent ran, it would recompress them to gain the maximum space savings.

All in all, DriveSpace 3 removes all of the drawbacks that plagued the old DoubleSpace program of DOS 6. x. It would be of particular interest to those of you who have been reluctant to move to Windows 95 but have limited capacity on your hard drives. A 300 meg uncompressed hard drive is a marginal candidate for conversion to Windows 95. However, you can use DriveSpace 3 and get more than 800 megs of useable space, which is plenty of room.

OTHER FEATURES OF MICROSOFT PLUS!

Microsoft Plus! includes a lot of other features, some very useful and some not. One of the most useful additional features is a "systems agent" that can schedule routine tasks to be run during off-hours on a regular basis. The compression agent is one of the programs that the systems agent schedules in this fashion. Other programs that can be scheduled are the Windows 95 disk defragmenter, the disk scanner program, and the backup utility. Actually, any program can be scheduled with the systems agent, making it a very powerful tool.

Other features included with Microsoft Plus! are desktop themes (which allow you to customize the look of your desktop), animated mouse pointers (wow!), an enhancement to Windows dragging (which allows you to see the contents of a window as you click and drag it), text smoothing (which improves the appearance of the text characters on your desktop), a collection of new screen-saver designs and desktop icons, wallpaper stretching (I can't figure out what this does), and a 3-D pinball game (very realistic).

Frankly, other than the new screen-saver designs, I find very little of this to be of particular interest. However, DriveSpace 3 and the compression/systems agent alone make it worth the $40 price tag. Several people at the Ministry are running this package with Windows 95 on 486/66s with 16 megs of memory and a 330 meg hard drive. It runs very well, and I would recommend it without reservation.

CORRECTIONS, CLARIFICATIONS, AND OTHER MEA CULPAS

Several of you e-mailed me to point out several errors in my last column, mostly having to do with my statements on the advisability of loading Windows 95 into a separate subdirectory and keeping the old Windows 3.1 subdirectory as is. Your points are well taken, and I would like to offer the following clarifications.

First of all, you do not need the old Windows subdirectory around to gain access to the Windows 3.1 File Manager and Program Manager. The Windows 95 subdirectory contains both of these (WINFILE.EXE for the File Manager and PROGMGR.EXE for the Program Manager).

The File Manager appears to be identical with the 3.1 File Manager; however, the Program Manager in my Windows 95 subdirectory has a distinctly different look and feel about it. If I were loading Windows 95 onto my Pentium at work today, I would load it over the Windows 3.1 subdirectory (named WINDOWS on my machine), rather than loading it into a separated subdirectory (named WIN95 on my machine). However, before I loaded it, I would create a copy of the Windows 3.1 subdirectory (perhaps calling it WIN31). That way, I would make sure that I had a duplicate copy of 3.1 as it existed before I converted to Windows 95. This would allow me to go into DOS from Windows 95 and run Windows 3.1 from the WIN31 subdirectory. The only drawback to this scheme is that a duplicate copy of 3.1 takes up about 20 megabytes, which should not be a problem for most installations.

THE IOMEGA ZIP DRIVE

Even with DoubleSpace running on my Dell 486/50, I was still running out of hard drive space on my antiquated 233 megabyte hard drive. A new hard drive would have been one solution, but it would have required me to back up all of my files before replacing the drive. This would have required more than 200 floppy disks and was a chore that I was not looking forward to. In addition, a new hard drive would not have solved the problem of backing up my hard drive. I have been very negligent about backing up my files, and a hard disk crash would be catastrophic.

I have been looking at the Iomega Zip drive for some time now. It uses 100 megabyte removable disks that cost about $15 each. Iomega was offering a $50 rebate program, which placed the net cost of the drive at less than $140. I couldn't resist and am now the proud owner of a Zip drive, which I have connected to my parallel port.

Because of the connection to the parallel port, installation was a snap. I simply unplugged my printer cable, hooked up the Zip cable to my parallel port, and plugged the printer cable into the Zip drive. Iomega includes a Zip disk with all of the necessary drivers and utility programs (for both Windows 3.1 and 95), and they took about ten minutes to install.

I had initially intended to use the Zip drive for backup and archiving files only; however, it is fast enough to use as the primary storage device for smaller files (under 500 kilobytes). Larger files do slow it down a bit due to the parallel port connection. A SCSI-compatible version is available that runs faster, but it requires you to pop the case to install the SCSI card.

For my needs, the parallel port connection is plenty fast. It works great with the Windows backup utility, and I now have over 100 megs of free space on my hard drive. I can even run old DOS programs and smaller Windows programs (such as EViews) from it, although they take a while to load.

The bad news is that the rebate ended March 31. The good news is that several of the major computer superstores have cut the price to $149, so you might still be able to pick up one at near the old post-rebate price. For those of you who have put off getting a tape back-up unit and have found backing up on floppies to be a real hassle, it is an ideal solution that is much more flexible than a tape unit.

HINT OF THE QUARTER

If you need to center a column of numbers in an Excel spreadsheet, the "center" button on the toolbar doesn't really do the trick. Unless all of the numbers have the same number of digits in them, they will get out of alignment. However, there is a way to get the column approximately centered. Just follow these steps:

1. Highlight the column of numbers and make sure they are right justified so that they line up.

2. Go into the Format menu and click Cells. Click on the Number tab.

3. Select the appropriate format code that gives you the right number of decimals and allows you to use commas if desired.

4. Click on the area to the right of "Code:," which is near the bottom of the dialog box. This allows you to edit the code that is contained in this area.

5. Use the space bar to add several spaces to the right of the number code. Click the OK button.

Repeat the procedure, adding or deleting spaces to the right of the number code until you have all of the numbers approximately centered in the column. Obviously, some numbers will not be perfectly centered, but you can eyeball the results until the overall column looks about right. The procedure is slightly different with Excel 7.0, as you have to select the custom code category and enter the changes in a different box, but you can probably figure out what to do from the above instructions.

PROBLEM OF THE QUARTER

Thanks to all of you who responded to my problem last quarter. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I didn't identify the problem clearly enough, so here goes again.

1. Go into a new workbook in Excel and type the number 1 into cell A1 on Sheet 1.

2. Type the formula "= A1" in cell B2. You should see the number 1 repeated in cell B2.

3. Cut cell A1 using the scissors button or the "Cut" command in the Edit menu.

4. Go to cell A1 of Sheet 2 and paste the contents of the clipboard. You should see the number 1 in the cell.

5. Go back to Sheet 1. Instead of the number 1 in cell B2, you will now see the dreaded "#REF!" The formula reference has been completely lost.

6. Repeat steps 1-5 again, except in step 2 type in the formula "=Sheet1!A1" in cell B2. Now, Excel can keep track of the moved number and will update the formula in cell B2 to read "= Sheet2!A" when you have the contents of cell A1.

Excel 5.0 is unable to keep track of data and formulas when you move cells between different worksheets, unless you have the foresight to include the sheet name in the original formula. This makes it almost impossible to reorganize old Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets to take advantage of the multiple sheet capability. This is an incredibly stupid design flaw that also exists in Excel 7.0.

However, this problem has been cured in the new Office 97 version of Excel. The new version of Word also looks pretty slick and now offers full hypertext link capability. Just click on highlighted words in your Word document, and you can view other Word documents that relate to the subject. You can even view Excel spreadsheets that might contain relevant background information about the subject being discussed in the original Word document. The Ministry is considering getting Office 97 for those of us using Windows 95, and it looks to be the "killer app" that might motivate a lot of you to switch finally from Windows 3.1.

John H. Qualls is Senior Economist, National Center for Financial and Economic Information, Ministry of Finance, Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
COPYRIGHT 1997 The National Association for Business Economists
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Copyright 1997 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:personal computers
Author:Qualls, John H.
Publication:Business Economics
Article Type:Column
Date:Jul 1, 1997
Words:2392
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