In the Windows seat from Waterloo

Dorothy Walker loads up her PC and gets on board Eurostar, where she persuades her fellow passengers to have a go with the new software
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With Windows 95 loaded on a muscular little Toshiba Portege 610CT Pentium 90 portable computer, I set out from Waterloo International on Eurostar to answer two questions: can people use Windows 95 - and will they?

Peter and Margaret Milliken come from West Drayton, Nottinghamshire. Peter says: "I use a computer for air traffic control and flight planning." I show him the Windows 95 opening screen, which contains six icons. How would he start to find his way around? "As I do at work," he says, and hits the F2 key. Nothing happens. He tries some more keys and up pops a window, offering to search for any file.

He carefully types his name, explaining: "I am trying to gain entry - I suppose it must have lots of passwords. Oh look, there's something called 'start' at the bottom of the screen - that's a strange place to put it. I don't think this software is idiot-proof."

Jerry Cohen, director of ABC Workstation Solutions, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, says: "We sell computers with the Unix operating system, so we would be users rather than sellers of Windows 95. I saw the software before it was launched, and it looked useful, particularly for preventing DOS-based programs from running out of memory.

"Our in-house PCs run accounting programs and databases, for serious business use, so we would wait for six to 12 months, until Windows 95 settles down, before we upgrade. If we buy new machines, we will take them with Windows 95, and run them alongside our existing systems for a few months."

John Rickman, author and retired racing correspondent, from Sussex: "I have never touched a computer. I have abandoned my typewriter, and write my books in longhand. The words come out of my head and on to the paper much better. If this computer thing had happened 20 years ago, it might have been useful. But at the age of 82, I don't want the upheaval - I'm too busy doing other things."

Undeterred, I introduce John to Windows 95, explaining that the software is supposed to be intuitive to use. If he was writing a chapter of a book, where would he start? With faultless logic, he says: "At the Inbox, definitely. That's where you put the content in. And I suppose the Recycle Bin is where you rewrite things." Unfortunately, the Inbox is for electronic mail and the Recycle Bin is for deleted items.

Jane Kelly, information technology manager, SBF, Great Dunmow, Essex, is on a works outing with a lively group who are in the direct mail business. She says: "Who hasn't heard of Windows 95? We have been sent at least 20 Windows 95 mailshots - come to think of it, we probably sent them to ourselves. We're going to have a demonstration of the software, because we are curious to see what it can do. I've heard the positive and negative publicity, but it's the same for any new software. I have been using Windows for eight years, and Microsoft gives me very good support when I need it."

She looks at the screen, brings up a few menus, and says: "Yes, I could pick this up fairly quickly. I would use the Briefcase [for keeping copies of documents stored on desktop and portable computers up to date] and the electronic mail facilities. We'll upgrade as the need arises, probably when we buy new machines. You have to move with the times."

Julia Reed, a London-based retailer, says: "I haven't heard of this - where was it written about? We have three computers at home for the children, but it's all foreign to me." Studying the screen, she says: "I like the pictures, but I wouldn't know where to begin. It would take me hours fiddling with the keys to find my way around. Computers would be useful for stock control, but I will have to go on a course. It's impossible to teach yourself. You don't know all the functions and you can't ask questions when you need to. And I wouldn't just play with a computer - I'm frightened I would break it or lose what was stored."

Christian Georges, research analyst, Credit Lyonnais Securities, London: "Our bank's information technology department is testing Windows 95 now. About18 months ago, some of us were given the first version of IBM's OS/2. It was much better than Windows at handling memory, but we had problems with it, so we asked to be returned to Windows.

"I build models using spreadsheets, and link them to a wordprocessor to produce research reports. We send information all over Europe, and it has to be compatible with most people's PCs, which are Windows-based.

"Windows 95 is ahead of its time in terms of the hardware you require, but still behind the Apple Macintosh on the functionality of the software. I have used Apple Macs. But I like the Windows 95 Briefcase - I don't think the Apple Mac has that.

"Banks are always at the forefront of information technology. However, research analysts aren't waiting for Windows 95, but for more memory and faster computers. The problem is speed, not access. Calculations are where you lose time. It will take about two weeks to get used to Windows 95, but getting used to new versions of word processors and spreadsheets will take much longer. You only open Windows once - unless your machine crashes, of course."

On the homeward trip, I meet a BBC employee returning from business in Paris who says: "The Windows 95 launch was the most boring non-event in the history of the world. This thing about the PC is totally exaggerated. It's only a tool - you don't get all that marketing hype about a new spade. No, you can't use my name."

Ben Bramwell, aged four, from Sydney, Australia, is returning from Disneyland Paris. Ben is already a satisfied Microsoft customer and he loves the Dangerous Creatures CD-Rom that is on the PC at home. His face lights up when he sees the computer. Ben is just beginning to read, so he cannot understand any words on the Windows 95 screen, but that does not put him off. Fearlessly, he whacks the keyboard and mouse until something happens, and he seems to memorise each successful operation. Somehow, he finds his way into "games", and works out how to play a card game called Hearts.

"Can I show this to your Daddy?" I ask. "Not yet," says Ben.

Ben's father, Nigel, explains that he was just about to buy Windows 95 before he left for Europe. He works for a Vodafone distributor and does a lot of mobile computing. Windows 95 offers Plug and Play, so he will be able to attach modems and other devices on the move, without having to tweak the computer.

After Ben has experimented with switching the machine on and off in the middle of doing things (both Windows 95 and the Toshiba survive), he finally hands it back to me. His verdict: "Wow!"

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