If you've been sitting on the sidelines wondering whether to invest in Microsoft Windows, you can stop waiting.
The attractive "user interface" software, Windows version 3.0, has sold more than a million copies since it hit the market six months ago, making it a mega-hit by any measure. There is no question now that Windows is the new standard for DOS machines.
You can't go wrong if you buy it, but you might go wrong if you don't. If you don't become a Windows user, you will find the software world rapidly beyond your reach.
Hundreds of software publishers are rewriting programs or developing new ones specifically to run under Windows. The familiar aspects of a Windows application program -- pull-down menus, "dialogue boxes" that you click with a mouse to give commands, easy transfer of data from one program to another -- are so common in the DOS world now that only a truly oddball software house would dare bring out a program that doesn't have the Windows look.
There was some doubt last May, when Microsoft announced the new Windows, as to whether and how fast the package would catch on. Any remaining doubts were eliminated at the giant Comdex computer show last month. Scores and scores of new Windows applications appeared.
Even software firms that turned up their corporate noses at Windows a few months back are joining the fold.
Word Perfect has announced a Windows version of its best-selling word-processing program, due out early next year. This should be the first version ever of Word Perfect that you can use without hours of total immersion in the manual beforehand. Lotus is not only designing 1-2-3 for Windows but has acquired the company that makes Ami, a likable Windows word-processing program.
Even without this overwhelming support from the software world, Windows is a good investment because it is a darn good piece of software. It organizes all the various jobs your computer handles for you. And almost everything about the package is well-designed.
Officially priced at $150, Windows version 3.0 sells for about $90 at many discount and mail order software shops. But moving into the Windows world may cost you more. It says on the package that Windows will run on any DOS PC with at least 1 megabyte of memory. But to make the investment worthwhile, you need more power than that.
An 80386 or 80386SX microprocessor and at least 2 megabytes of memory are about the minimum necessary for Windows to do its stuff without intolerable delays. If you plan to do much switching between programs, you'd better think about 3 megabytes of memory or more.
Some readers are trying to use Windows without a mouse -- that is, using the arrow keys instead. This is downright crazy because it's so slow. Buying a mouse adds another $100 or so to the total cost of running Windows, but don't even think about trying to get by without one.
The undeniable success of Windows version 3.0 has several implications for the PC universe heading into 1991.
Almost in spite of itself, the small computer industry seems to be headed toward a fairly standard user interface. Whether you're sitting in front of a $1,500 DOS clone running Windows, a $3,000 Apple Macintosh running Finder or a $10,000 Sun workstation running Unix, you're likely to see the same basic "desktop" screen, with icons, selection boxes and a menu line of assorted commands along the top border.
This is tough news for Apple in two ways. Now that Windows provides a cheap way to make almost any DOS machine look reasonably similar to the Macintosh, it's not so clear what Macintosh has to offer that can lure users to a non-Windows system. As for Apple's copyright suit against Windows, it's hard to imagine that any ruling would be a knockout blow for the Microsoft product. Windows is such a central part of the PC world now that the industry won't let it go.
For all these reasons, Windows version 3.0 would make a fine Christmas present for any computer jock who doesn't own it yet. If your favorite PC freak already has Windows, we have a charming little gift suggestion that makes the Microsoft program look nicer.
An outfit called Software Workshop (1-800-762-9550 in Orem, Utah) makes a program called "Icon Pak." This small piece of code dumps the rather drab black-and-white program icons that come with Windows and replaces them with colorful and fun icons that brighten up the screen considerably.
Icon Pak I gives you 101 different icons, including those for all the most popular application programs, for $50. The same company offers a bigger version, "Icon Pak II" for $100, but that's getting a tad too expensive for a piece of software that is really nothing more than Windows dressing.