Home Computer: Brave new world of shifting shapes and flashing colours: Richard Davy explores 'Windows' computing for the first time, but wonders about the real benefits when the intoxication has worn off

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The Independent Online
HAVING a fast, modern computer on loan was like changing from a Ford Escort to a Ferrari - and provoked the same questions. Was it fun? Yes. Did I need it? No. Would I spend my own money on one? No. Did I want to give it back? No.

The Compaq Prolinea 4/33 is not quite the latest model in its bracket but it is quite good enough and pleasant to use, with 4 megabytes of main memory and a 100-megabyte hard disk. It came with a superbly vivid screen but a keyboard that was not quite as crisp and fast as that of my old IBM PS/2 Model 30.

But the important thing was that it enabled me to have my first encounter with the Windows operating system, long after most people seem to have decided that it is the only way to work on a PC-compatible. It was quite exciting at first to leap from the monochrome modesty of an old IBM into this new world of shifting shapes and flashing colours.

Leaning languidly back with the mouse in one hand, I savoured the intoxication of power as I shifted about the icons - the pictograms that represent programs in graphics-based operating systems. That was after the pictures had begun to do as they were told, which for some time they did not. If the hand of authority fumbles they display an alarming will of their own, jumping about, vanishing and reappearing suddenly with total contempt for their ruler. At one point I managed to screw up the whole system by mistakenly copying over some stuff from my own computer. But after a while I began to establish a semblance of control.

The system came with ClarisWorks for Windows, a program that has what is known as 'frame-based architecture'. This combines different functions in one application, so you can work on text, graphics, spreadsheets of figures and charts in a single screen, instead of having to switch from one to the other. Create a document, write in it, include a chart or a box, drag in a selection of tools from the side and draw graphs or coloured pictures for your children.

It is a fluent and easy program. Text goes into a frame that looks like a piece of paper. This wastes space on the screen and means the typeface has to be small if you want to view the whole page, but it enables to you to see instantly what your layout looks like and even to view several pages at once. What you see is what you get. It also provides some simple fun if you want to play around with typefaces and colours, or put everything into handwriting or Greek lettering.

The main disadvantage is that it has no communications program. To send or receive a document through a modem, you call up the Windows communications program but this is basic and slow, so some other communications software really needs to be added.

However, the question I gradually found myself asking was whether, after the initial excitement, it was worth making the switch to a Windows system. My old machine does most of what I want. It writes, stores data, does accounts and communicates through a modem - fast enough for using the Internet information network. What extra do I get from Windows?

Not much, really, and productivity drops sharply when switching from Dos, the PC's basic text-based operating system, because of the unfamiliarity. You do not even get all that much extra usable space on the modern machine because Windows programmes eat up enormous quantities of capacity.

If I needed to write reports with graphics, charts and complex layouts, and to print in colour, Windows and ClarisWorks would come into their own, as they do for many business applications, including publishing newsletters and prospectuses. The colour and speed of a modern machine are also handy for games - if you are the sort of person who finds release in killing a few baddies after lunch.

But to write this article I returned with relief, admittedly tinged with regret, to the calm, grey, predictable world of monochrome Dos.

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