Computers: Feedback: Olympia's shop window

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THE Windows User show at London's Olympia this week was not quite as hellish as these things normally are, but there was no obvious novelty, writes Andrew Brown.

The nearest thing was probably Microsoft's Creative Writer, reviewed on this page. The companion program, Fine Artist, which was to have been launched at the same time, is still nowhere to be seen.

IBM had a large, defiant stand promoting OS/2, their rival operating system to Microsoft's Windows. But there were only a handful of the scuzzy little stalls with software boxes piled ceiling-high that make these shows a delight for bargain hunters. These were, though, the most crowded.

The software I saw most likely to sell was on the AutoRoute stand. AutoRoute is a popular program that does maps. You tell it where you want to go, and it will draw, rapidly, a map of the relevant bits. But the maps it shows and prints can be cluttered and ugly. The new toy is an extra program that makes the AutoRoute screen look like a proper map: either a fairly large- scale Ordnance Survey or, for London, an A to Z. It should be on sale in a couple of months.

The most fun was the Opus and Bill screen saver from Delrina, based on the penguin and the cat in the cartoon strip Bloom County. It is monumentally silly and no computer should be without it.

Slightly more useful was a complete set of Internet tools: Telnet, Finger, FTP, Gopher, Mail, a newsreader and all the other craft a cybernaut needs. These things can be found in the public domain, but it is a tedious task to find them.

Chameleon, from Netmanage Software, is beautifully easy to install. The only snag is the price: at the show, it was available for pounds 99. Unfortunately, the normal price is a jaw-dropping pounds 395, since the product is really aimed at corporate networks. A cut-down version is promised for June.

Autoroute, 0784 421422; Delrina, 081 207 3163; Netmanage, 0101 408 973 7171.

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