Special Report on Office Automation: Window of opportunity to boost your power: Adrian J Morant on the software that helps you get more from a PC

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The Independent Online
THE applications available on early PCs were limited: word processing, spreadsheets and data bases. And only one option could normally run at a time. One exception was Sidekick - a mini pop-up program described as a 'desktop organiser' providing accessories such as a diary, notepad and calculator.

Since then software has become more sophisticated; the price we pay is the need for more powerful machines with more memory and larger hard disks.

As all applications were then character-based, rather than the WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) Graphical User Interface of Windows, they imposed far lower demands on the PC. Even entry-level machines today are more powerful than top-range machines of a year or two ago. Israel Wetrin, managing director of Elonex plc, says Windows has become the environment of choice for most users because 'it really does make computers easier to work with'.

He adds that running applications on an inappropriate machine can be 'painfully slow and inefficient. Many of our customers want us to pre-load applications such as Microsoft's Word for Windows, Excel spreadsheet and the Access database together on their PC and we're delighted to oblige. We could make it a little cheaper for them by using 386 microprocessors, but we would not be doing them any favours . . . the difference in price between 386 and 486 chips was insignificant in comparison with difference in performance.'

The growing number of applications available to users include desktop publishing, drawing and presentation graphics, accounts, communications, personal information management programs, plus 'utilities', such as PC Tools, which enable the user to get the best out of the PC. Even though Windows may not enhance a user's productivity, its provision of type styles and sizes, plus the use of icons and menus, is less daunting to the average user. Furthermore, one effect of the improved usefulness designed into today's programs is that users can extend their use of a PC to three or more programs and can readily switch between them.

Not only does Windows offer a common platform, it provides a means to 'cut and paste' data from one to another. This is taken a step further with object linking and embedding. This enables data to be merged in a dynamic manner so that, for example, when printing out the monthly report using a a word processor, the program automatically inserts the updated sales figures from the spreadsheet.

Thus, the user can concentrate on work while the machine concentrates on the housekeeping. The business benefits from staff who find their work more interesting and varied.