Before you get carried away in the stampede of enthusiasm for the new Microsoft Windows, you might want to consider ways you can get some of the benefits of Windows without the expense of the high-powered hardware Windows requires. An obvious alternative to Windows is Quarterdeck's DESQview, which, like Windows, permits several programs to be loaded and/or running at the same time.

DESQview ($129.95 list) runs on a standard PC or XT. What's best about it is that, unlike Windows, it works well with standard PC applications, allowing you to run several of them simultaneously in windows on your screen. This so-called "multi-tasking" is also one of Windows's attractions, but Windows's memory and processing demands are such that you need a powerhouse system.

DESQview is simple enough to use once you've got it configured to recognize your programs. You start it and, once it's running, run your other programs under it. It can be operated with a mouse, or not. When you start, it puts a box of options on your screen.

You invoke the "Open Window" option by moving the cursor over that option or hitting the "O" key. That leads to another box containing a list of your programs. You run one by moving the cursor over it and hitting the return key or by typing its two-letter command.

That program then runs, just as if you had started it from the DOS command line, except that it will appear in a window occupying either the top or bottom half of your screen. If you want to go full-screen, you tap the Alt key (or right mouse button) and the DESQview menu box appears again. You choose the "Zoom" option, and the program will fill the screen. You also may choose the "Rearrange" option, which permits you to adjust the size of a window, or hide it completely.

Let's say you've started your word processor and finished a long message. You would like to start on another but you need first to send your message by electronic mail. You bring up the DESQview menu box, and choose the "Open Window" option. When your program menu appears, you choose your modem communications program.

Once it's running in its half-screen window, you dial your E-mail service and start sending the message. In the meantime, you can switch to your word processor in the other window (either move the mouse or use the DESQview menu's "Switch Window" option) and start to work on another document. The communication program will complete its task in the background.

DESQview does this by adroit management of your computer's main memory, and by sophisticated use of what is called "expanded memory." You will need about a megabyte of expanded memory. DESQview can keep more programs going than normally would fit in your system's memory by "swapping" them in and out of expanded memory. Note: Unless you have a 386 PC, DESQview can't do much with the "extended memory" that comes with many AT-class or 286 computers.

Because it is not a graphical interface, DESQview will run faster than Windows on similar machines. But it suffers by comparison with Windows in other ways. For example, Windows now has an elegant system of file management, using the mouse pointer and file icons to carry out an array of computer housekeeping chores. You can do most of the copying, renaming, moving, and deleting of files without ever having to type in a DOS filename or "Path."

DESQview, by contrast, only has "DOS services," which permits a limited number of DOS functions to be performed from a menu, but not without entering file names from the keyboard, one of the most onerous chores required by MS-DOS.

What's more, Windows comes with a number of small, but useful programs built-in, including a competent personal word processor (Windows Write) a telecommunications program (Terminal), a calculator, calendar and a paint program. DESQview has none of these, though you can pay $99.95 extra for a set of similar desktop utilities called DESQview Companions.

Setting up DESQview to run your own programs also takes some doing. You need to know, for example, whether your program writes directly to the screen, or uses the computer's BIOS (basic in-out system).

Finally, there is the question of memory. DESQview can make clever use of your computer's memory, but you may be asked to disable part of your system's main memory so it can be "backfilled" by memory on your expansion board. Disabling and backfilling are another example of things most normal people shouldn't have to think about.

Brit Hume is a contributor to the Washington Post Writers Group. He is chief ABC News White House correspondent and the founding editor of a computer newsletter.