Watching Windows: accountants are watching for Windows 95 - but they shouldn't be too quick to buy it.
It's estimated that about 80% of CPAS are using Windows to some extent, along with DOS applications. Thus, one would assume that given accountants' growing facility with the program, they would be eager to upgrade to Windows 95 once it is introduced. It is being touted as far more powerful than Windows 3.1 and much more user-friendly.
But most CPAs don't plan to make the switch any time soon. Technically savvy accountants undoubtedly will look at the product when it comes out, but they probably will hold off upgrading to it until they are convinced it's stable-that is, it won't crash during a closing or some other critical accounting process.
JUMPING THE GUN
Why are accountants as well as other professionals worried about stability@ Because Microsoft's history is to introduce programs before their time-before the bugs have been corrected. It was true of the first edition of Windows and every major program Microsoft has launched. In time, however, their applications became stars.
Windows 95's development has been plagued with problems and delays. The program originally was code-named Chicago. When it was announced, it was labeled Windows 4.0. But last year, after many missed deadlines, Microsoft changed the name to Windows 95 and promised it would be ready by the first quarter of this year. That deadline came and went and now a mid-summer launch is promised. Will it meet the new deadline? Will it have all the promised functions when it is launched? There is reason to believe it won't.
In March, Microsoft reluctantly conceded that the beta version it sent to some 50,000 testers-said to be the last planned test version before the official launch-lacked the one major function that distinguishes it from Windows 3. 1: robust multitasking that does not slow down the computer significantly.
Multitasking is an important function. As the name implies, it's the ability to do more than one task at the same time. For example, how many times have you commanded a spreadsheet file to print its 56 pages and then twiddled your thumbs, unable to do anything else on the machine while waiting for the last page to come out of the printer? There are of course ways to get around this shortcoming. One is evoking Windows' print manager, which puts portions of the print order in a queue so that the printing commands are slipped into the computer processor whenever it has a spare millisecond, but this slows the computer significantly. Likewise, if you are conducting a database search that will take a few minutes, you can switch to your word processor and compose a memo while waiting. But, if you try to multitask with an application that absorbs much of the computer's resources, such as sending or receiving a fax and scanning the faxed words into a file, you would likely have trouble executing the tasks.
Windows 95 will overcome this shortcoming with a Wprocess called "threaded, preemptive multitasking architecture." Essentially, a "thread" is a path in the innards of the computer through which an application program can execute a process. So, for example, if you were running a spreadsheet, the print portion of the program would use one thread, the math portion would use a second thread, and so on. With this technique, the computer can handle each thread independently. The orders don't have to stand in a queue; instead, they are executed simultaneously. What makes Windows 95 outstanding is that it will keep the threads from colliding or crossingthat is, it will prevent any application from taking critical processing time away from another or mixing with the other's data flow. In short, it will protect the system from crashing and locking up.
THE UPGRADE--AND ITS PRICE
It's estimated that a full software upgrade for Windows 95, including upgrades of the most common application programs, will cost $500 to $800 a computer. While current versions of all Windows programs will work on Windows 95, none can DOS Lives!
take full advantage of Windows 95 power. Upgraded software designed for Windows 95 will be able to function much faster. Other Windows 95 enhancements include:
Plug and play. The addition of a peripheral such as a CD-ROM drive or a sound board is the bane of many computer users. It's akin to transplant surgery: The computer, unable to recognize the interloper, simply rejects it or crashes.
The current way to add peripherals is not very user-friendly. The user often must remove the computer's cover and find a number of tiny toggle switches on some of the circuit boards and rearrange their settings. It's like doing a jigsaw puzzle with pieces the size of fly wings that you've got to manipulate with very tiny tweezers.
Windows 95 promises to eliminate all that for new peripherals that have a built-in identifying chip. According to Microsoft, Windows 95 will be able to read the format commands on the identifying chip, so the computer will be able to accommodate itself to the new peripheral.
Briefcase. If you work on more than one computer (the office and home desktops and a laptop), you know how confusing it often is to synchronize the files kept in an three computers. Typicafly, you're not sure which has the latest version. Did you change something in the laptop or was it at the office?
If you evoke the Briefcase utility in Windows 95, the system will keep track of the dates and times you last changed each file on all your computers. When you want to synchronize files, the system determines which files are the latest. Then, on command, it will overwrite the older ones with the most recent--eliminating the danger of losing newer files.
But what if you inadvertently changed two of the files and failed to evoke Briefcase. Worry not--Windows 95 will have routines called merge handlers that can deal with that complication. If you changed just one or several words or numbers in each of the files, the system will update only the data you changed--not overwrite the entire file.
Open sesame. Some computer users are scanners--they search around various applications looking for a piece of information that may be tucked away in a database, a spreadsheet or a word processor. But what if the data is from a client or a colleague and it's been prepared using an application you don't have? Previously, you may have had to search out the application program and load it before you could find the data or use special utilities. Windows 95 will be able to view files in some 30 different formats. You won't be able to work in the file, but if all you want is to take a look, a single click wifl open a window on it.
Longer names. Both DOS and Windows limit the name of a file to eight characters with a three-character extension. In Windows 95, names of up to 256 characters will be possible and native to the operating system.
But all these promises of userfriendliness, speed and efficiency mean nothing if there's a danger the system will lose or corrupt data, and that's why CPAS will be wise to wait.
RELATED ARTICLE: Oh, Oh, OS/2, Too
It's possible to have everything Windows 95 promises right now with IBM'S OS/2.
The IBM operating system has been on the market for several years. Early versions were very buggy, but the current edition-called OS/2 Warp-has received rave reviews, but with some serious caveats.
To find out what all the Warp ballyhoo was about, we gave it a spin. Loading OS/2 was an odyssey not recommended for the faint of heart. For example, we had trouble loading the CD-POM version because critical extra software programs called drivers were not included in the package. We called IBM and were advised to get the software from third-party vendors. Which we did-under protest. Each time we wanted to load an application that OS/2 did not support, we discovered yet more drivers were needed-and each had to be tracked down from third-party sources.
Then, because of the complexity of the program, several hours of tinkering and adjusting were necessary so it would not conflict with some non-os/2 applications. Once loaded, however, it fully lived up to its promises. It multitasked. It ran DOS programs, Windows programs, OS/2 programs. And most important, it was stable. Unlike Windows 3.1, it never crashed-even when pushed hard.
Although IBM claims it has s6ld millions of copies of the system, OS/2 is not in wide use. It appears that the heaviest users are large organizations with expert computerinstallation personnel and very knowledgeable computer users who are willing to invest a great deal of effort in return for a very powerful system.
RELATED ARTICLE: DOS Lives!
When Microsoft announced the imminent launch of a new Windows operating system two years ago, Windows boosters were quick to predict that DOS was dead. After all, they reasoned, since Windows 95 win be a true operating system, no longer needing DOS, how can the old workhorse survive?
Their logic was correct, but they failed to factor in the millions of users who love DOS and want to continue using it. Microsoft did not fail to take note and recently announced that not only is DOS not dead, but a new version of DOS is being developed--DOS 7. In fact, Microsoft has engineered Windows 95 in such a way that, on boot-up, it will allow DOS users to load either DOS or Windows.
IBM, which has kept pace with Microsoft through a competing version of DOS, caued PC-DOS, plans to keep the operating system alive.
RELATED ARTICLE: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
 ACCOUNTANTS WON'T BE QUICK to upgrade to the forthcoming Windows 95. They are concerned that the new operating system, as powerful as it probably will be, won't be stable enough for their mission-critical work.
 A FULL UPGRADE TO Windows 95 will cost $500 to $800 for each computer. That will include the cost of upgrading common application programs.
 WINDOWS 95's MOST POWERFUL new function will be multitasking--a technique in which the computer is able to perform more than one function at a time.
 ANOTHER VALUED FUNCTION for Windows 95 will be its ability to automatically format new peripherals and synchronize files kept in more than one computer.
RELATED ARTICLE: So You Want To Be A Beta Tester
If you'd like to be a Windows 95 beta tester, all you need is about $32. Most software stores will sell you the beta version of the program. For that, you get the opportunity to crash your computer and report it to Microsoft.
Quite a deal: For $32 you can work for Microsoft.
STANLEY ZAROWIN is senior editor on the Journal. Mr. Zarowin is an employee of the American Institute of CPAs and his views, as expressed in this article, do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA. Official positions are determined through certain specific committee procedure, due process and deliberation.
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|Publication:||Journal of Accountancy|
|Article Type:||Product/Service Evaluation|
|Date:||Jul 1, 1995|
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