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Windows APPs are busting out all over.

Make no mistake about it, Microsoft's Windows 3.1 has become the de facto operating system for scientific software. It's not a perfect system, but its ease of use and low overhead, combined with microprocessor performance advances, make it preferred over other systems. And many Windows' limitations are being eliminated with an upgrade due later this year.

Michael Spencer, for example, prefers Windows applications for their ease of use and speed. He uses The Mathworks' MATLAB 4.0 for Windows to quickly determine the optimum method for analyzing more than 115 million data points. The data are the output of electrodes placed on a human subject's head. Spencer hopes his research will lead to a PhD at the Univ. of Southern California, Los Angeles.

There are several different approaches to signal processing. To see which method works best with real data, Spencer first runs the data in MATLAB.

MATLAB integrates several computational methods, including matrix algebra, to solve numerical problems without traditional programming. "It's faster to code and easier to use than writing our own programs using C or Fortran," says Spencer.

Cye Waldman, a consultant in Encinitas, CA, also uses a Windows-based scientific application--Jandel Scientific's TableCurve 3D for Windows--to model radiative heat transfer problems.

TableCurve uses automated statistical methods to process an x-y-z data table for the best possible surface-fit equation. Once an equation is selected, TableCurve produces printed graphs and reports, data files, and ready-to-compile code in several programming languages, including Fortran, C, and Pascal.

Waldman finds that running surface fits on Table-Curve 3D can be faster than doing a table lookup, and that it uses less computing resources. "The program quickly calculates surface fits and displays graphics," he says.

Bob Calkins, an analog design engineer at Data Translation, Marlboro, MA, was surprised at the ease of use of his company's DataAcq-EZ Visual Basic (VB-EZ) Windows-based software. "Not being proficient in C or Pascal, I've found that communicating with a data acquisition board in a PC can be difficult," says Calkins. "With a few lines of Visual Basic for Windows code, I was acquiring buffers of data and graphing their results."

VB-EZ is a data acquisition system that includes VB software, a data acquisition board, and a connector.

"I can solve my problems without buying expensive custom software, consulting a software engineer, or writing C code," he says.

Communicating with peripherals and plug-in boards, such as data acquisition systems, should get even easier with Windows 4.0, which is being released to beta sites in March and is forecast to ship in the second half of 1994.

Version 4.0 is an abbreviated version of Windows NT that will run on 386 or better systems with 4-MB of RAM. Its main features include 32-bit multitasking, new Macintosh-like user interfaces, and support for plug-and-play hardware.

"The biggest advantage of version 4.0 is its plug-and-play feature, which will make computing much easier by automating the installation and configuration of new hardware systems," says Fred Putnam, president of LabTech, Wilmington, MA. Like Windows NT, version 4.0 eliminates the need for the DOS operating system and its associated AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files and 640-k memory limit.

Simplifying Windows operation is the trend for application developers as well. LabTech recently announced release 8.0 of its LABTECH NOTEBOOK, which mimics the look and feel of Windows. "Our users demand a completely familiar Windows metaphor, not just a close approximation," says Putnam. "The familiar user interface makes LABTECH easier than ever to use."

The wide acceptance of Windows by application developers and users is likely to be ensured for years to come with these planned upgrades.
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Title Annotation:Software Review; Microsoft Corp.'s Windows software applications
Author:Studt, Tim
Publication:R & D
Article Type:Evaluation
Date:Mar 1, 1994
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