Windows 3.0, you're no Macintosh

Stephen Manes

September 1, 1990

Coping with clunky DOS makes Windows a frustrating Mac-alike kludge.

I'VE WORKED with an Apple Macintosh. I've played with an Apple Macintosh. And some Apple Macintosh users are close personal friends of mine. Windows 3.0, you're no Apple Macintosh.

Windows 3.0, in fact, may just be the J. Danforth Quayle of PC software. Consider the similarities between our vice president and Microsoft Windows:

THEY THINK THAT THEY'RE AS CUTE AS BUTTOMS. Indeed, "3-D buttons" that visually "depress" when clicked are among the most darling of Windows' new features. However, the new screen fonts, while snappier than the old, lack Dan's vapid charm.

THEIR PASTS ARE BETTER FORGOTTEN. Quayle's handlers would have you disremember his younger days. Microsoft wants you to overlook its onetime claims that Windows would run just fine on a two-floppy 8088 machine, that adapting Windows programs to OS/2 would be virtually effortless, that Windows/386 would become a standard.

THEY'RE UNDERGOING IMAGE SHIFTS. Quayle's spin doctors emphasize his golfing talents to mask his political inadequacies. Windows' handlers point to its dazzling solitaire game to conceal its otherwise lame user interface.

THEY USE ENGLISH CREATIVELY. It's bard to remember which Quayle gaffes a are true and which are Jay Leno japes. In the Windows world, simply installing" a printer won't make it work; you must also configure" it. And even if you can't figure out why you'd want to, you can change your display's "granularity." But of course ! THEY'RE SUPPORTED BY MASSIVE HYPE. Unfortunately for Quayle and fortunately for the folks at Microsoft, political correspondents tend to be more savvy, willing to print the party line than their computer counterparts. Quayle is a media butt; Bill Gates is a hero.

So much for the Danalogy. What about the Macintosh? Well, Windows 3.0 provides a graphical user environment, and so does the Mac. But the Mac is a closed system, with integrated hardware and software designed for ease of use; Windows is a Mac-alike kludge forced to work with the anything-goes hardware and software of the chaotic DOS world. Windows does one thing the Mac can't: It frees Windows (and to some extent, DOS) applications from 640K shackles. it's a small wonder that it works at all, but easy to use it's not.

Look at the text files that come with Windows: one each for general info and facts about printers, networks and 3270 emulation; two about the mysteries of WIN.INI; and three about SYS.INI. That's 200K worth of documentation--and the very incomplete manual runs 600 more pages! Easy? Say that with a straight face once you master the differences between Standard Mode and 386 Enhanced Mode.

With a Mac, you can call a file "My nasty letter to Bill." With Windows, you have to learn DOS's backslashes, double dots and 8-point-3 filenames. Mac users needn't plod through explanations of memory modes, configuration files and STACKS, BUFFERS and FILES commands; Windows users ignore them at their peril.

Unlike the Mac, Windows generously includes system help, but it's not context-sensitive and you can't get it when you need it most--for example, at a dialog box with a bunch of puzzling choices.

Still, I might conceivably use Windows, mainly for its memory-management and background-operation capabilities. I also might not: Configuring it to be useful will clearly be a major time-wasting, steep-learning-curve pain.

At least I already own a fast 386 machine with a big hard disk and lots of memory. Millions of users, though, have 8088s, 8086s, slow 286s or bare-bones laptops and no real need for unique-to-Windows applications. For these user, there's no compelling reason to invest considerable resources in the hardware, software and training required for the switch to the supposed glories of GUI. OS/2 2.0 is due in a few months. Although it's more expensive than Windows and some are hinting that it will simply be Industrial-Strength Windows," who knows? Moreover, both OS/2 and Windows are likely to be improved considerably when Microsoft's True Image and True Type font systems emerge from the vapor. So why rush to switch?

I wouldn't bet on Windows taking over the world, but I wouldn't have put money on JDQ, either. We may find our veep on our TV screens throughout much of the nineties, and we may end up with Windows on our computer, screens for just as long. For now, none of the available alternatives seems strong enough to dislodge the front runner. But DOS remains a vigorous incumbent. And the Macintosh-the real Mac-could it be a dark horse?

COPYRIGHT 1990 Ziff-Davis Publishing Company