A couple of years ago, hardware superpower Apple Computer hit software superpower Microsoft with a corporate version of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. With nary a word of warning, Apple filed a massive lawsuit against its erstwhile ally, charging that Microsoft had stolen the basic design of its Windows operating environment from Apple's famous "desktop" environment for the Macintosh.
At the time, most analysts opined that Apple didn't have much chance to win the suit. For one thing, there was a labyrinthine network of licensing agreements running back and forth from Apple to Microsoft. For another, Apple had to deal with the uncomfortable fact that it, too, had copied the "desktop" idea from another corporate giant, Xerox.
But many people thought then that winning was not Apple's real goal. The theory ran that Apple filed suit for a reason the lawyers call the in terrorem effect. That is, the mere fact of the pending suit was supposed to frighten other software developers from developing programs to run under Windows. That lawsuit now seems unlikely to win much of anything for Apple. Success in court seems unlikely.
As for the in terrorem impact, it appears to have been a complete dud. For when Microsoft last month rolled out the latest version of Windows -- that is, the much-ballyhooed Windows 3.0 -- the firm also released an enormous list of programs from hundreds of software publishers designing applications to run under Windows.
If there were still any need for proof of Microsoft's Olympic-class clout in the microcomputer business, the industry's response to the new Windows should settle the matter once and for all.
The companies writing programs for Windows include all the usual software suspects -- Ashton-Tate, Lotus, Borland, Word Perfect, Aldus, IBM -- plus scores of smaller outfits. To get the word out to every owner of MS-DOS or OS/2, Microsoft has set up a toll-free "Windows Hotline" (800-323-3577) to tell you when you can expect a Windows-compatible update to your favorite software program. This means that quite soon there will be a large body of software for IBM computers and their clones that is as consistent, as friendly and as easy to learn as Macintosh software is today. But will the Windows environment really be as good as the Macintosh system?
As noted last week, Windows can't touch the speed and simplicity of the Mac on low- or medium-powered PCs. You pretty much need a fast 80386 or 80386SX microprocessor to make Windows run as well as a Macintosh.
I recently ran the new version of Windows on a new French portable PC, the Goupil Golf, a petite package equipped with an 80386SX processor running at the comparatively fast clock speed of 16 mHz, four megabytes of RAM memory and a razor-sharp monochrome VGA display that is simply stunning for a traveling computer. In that upper-bracket configuration, Windows positively flies. It's fast and beautiful -- a real delight.
But there are things Windows can't do as neatly as the Mac. To cite one glaring example, Windows still employs the antique DOS rule that a file name can't be longer than 11 letters (with a period stuck in the middle).
On the Macintosh, you can write a letter to Harry Jones about the rent on your Palmer Lake building and then save it to disk with a meaningful name, such as "H Jones, Palmer Lake rent letter." But Windows still requires you to squish all that to "HJNSPLRT.ltr." Three weeks later, you'll see that file on your disk without the slightest idea what it is.
You have to assume Windows will eventually fix this gaffe (Version 3.1, anyone?). Meanwhile, there is a solution for you MS-DOS buffs, but you have to pay $89 for it.
We're talking about a clever little program called "Extend-A-Name Plus" (World Software, 800-962-6360). It's a memory-resident utility program that permits you to give any file a name up to 60 characters long. The 11-letter DOS file name is still in the system, if you want to work with it. But this program will pop up on your screen anytime you need to choose a file from disk, showing you any sub-directory with all the files listed under their longer Extend-A-Name labels.
Move the cursor to the file you want, hit Return, and the program automatically loads the application program that created the chosen file and the file itself. Extend-A-Name works fine on any PC, and there's a network version ($450 for 10 nodes) that will let a whole office or company put meaningful names on its computer files.
It seems a shame that DOS users still have to shell out extra for this file-management convenience, which comes built-in with any Macintosh. It's just one more indication that Windows hasn't quite arrived yet as an equal to the Mac. But with all those hundreds of software publishers, large and small, turning out Windows programs now, it seems clear that the two different worlds of personal computing are getting closer together.