Special Report on Business Computing: Adopting a Gui may raise sticky problems for you: A screen composed of windows is supposed to be more 'user-friendly'. But compatibility may be an issue, writes Emma Mansell-Lewis

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GRAPHICAL User Interfaces, or Guis, have become increasingly popular over the past few years. The benefits of using a screen composed of windows, that are manipulated not by a keyboard and function keys but by the point and click of a mouse, have been widely documented.

For purchasers, adopting a Gui raises significant problems. Currently there are several options: Microsoft Windows, IBM's OS/2 Presentation Manager, OSF's Motif and Apple's Macintosh. None of these options is compatible. The question is, how can an organisation safeguard against adopting a Gui that the market may later reject?

Many organisations are awaiting a clear sign from the market, but there is nevertheless considerable user pressure for Guis. The ease of use of such interfaces is tangible and users do not always consider the far-reaching impact of their demands. The issue is compounded by the fact that Microsoft's Windows is bundled up with a growing number of products and has infiltrated a vast proportion of organisations worldwide.

In addition, there are many existing applications, which have often been written in fourth generation languages without Guis. How can they be migrated to a Gui environment? Patrick Chang, of the management consultants KPMG, said: 'There are several options. But these existing character applications were not designed to be run graphically and as a result will not make use of the full Gui functionality. It is just window dressing.'

To attain the real benefits from a Gui, it is necessary to redevelop the applications using Gui tools from the fourth generation tool suppliers. However, there are few organisations are in a position to undertake such a large investment.

There is a growing range of cheaper tools designed to aid companies seeking to develop applications for the Windows Gui - but many of these will only work with Windows. Even if it is not possible to safeguard against the introduction of new Guis, it is possible to ensure that the Gui tools support more than just one of the current crop of Guis.

The Gui decision cannot be made in isolation. If an organisation is contemplating a move to new hardware or new operating environments, they must ask if the Gui tool available in those environments?

However, while tools may run in different environments, they do not provide true portability between Guis, although many make that claim. Although such products enable an organisation to move from one Gui to another, they take the lowest common denominator approach: using the common functionality between Guis, not exploiting the full functionality of each. While these products have limitations, they do overcome the initial barrier towards Gui portability.

Oracle is due to launch tools intended to overcome this problem in the next few months. Neil Morgan, of Oracle, said: 'The Oracle Adapter User Interface will enable you to take an application from one machine to another and it will adapt to the native Gui look and feel on that machine.'

This will only apply to applications developed using the Oracle tool set but no doubt other vendors will follow suit in time.

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