NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, July 2002
Ten Years Ago
A look back at a column that deals with the transition to Windows in 1992.
"The Ongoing Windows Dilemma"

by Steve Bass, Pasadena IBM Users Group
(click to email author)

If you're like many computer users, you're gradually making the switch to Windows. You've abandoned some of your DOS applications and forced others to work in Windows and maybe even found some neat replacements that are designed for Windows.

If you play around with a few Windows applications, the advantages are easy to see. To begin with, Windows applications all adhere to the same basic interface. That means once you've grown accustomed to clicking the mouse on the File portion of the menu in one application - for example, to Save, Open, or Print a file - you'll discover it's in the same place on all Windows applications. That reduces the learning curve on new applications and, well, just makes each product easier to use.

From Here to There
You'll also find out how easy it is to transfer data from one Windows application to another. That's because all Windows products - as opposed to DOS programs - are generally made to work in the same way thereby allowing them to share data. And because Windows is a graphical environment, it means you can easily see things on the screen just as they'll look when you print them out.

Some adjustments, however, are harder to make. Because I come from a DOS environment, I rarely used the mouse. Unfortunately, Windows word processing programs are notorious in their attempt to make me use the rodent. When I write - as opposed to working in a spreadsheet - I like to keep my fingers on the keyboard. So along with learning to use the mouse, I've searched out keyboard alternatives to mouse clicks.

It's not that difficult, but, as you may have discovered, not always a slick solution. Especially if you're used to a series of DOS keystrokes.

To get around the problem, I've taken advantage of the macro function of most Windows programs. A macro gives me the ability to assign numerous keystrokes to one or two key combinations, easily duplicating keystrokes from my old DOS programs. Now I know you're going to laugh but the first Word for Windows macro I created was CTRL-T.

Borland's Quattro Pro for Windows, the star of Windows spreadsheet programs, took a bold - but obvious step - in making the mouse more useful. If you've highlighted a spreadsheet cell and click on the right mouse button, for example, you'll get a dialogue box allowing you to modify the properties within that cell. Pretty bright. Not only that, as you scroll across QP/WIN's Speedbar, a brief description telling you what each icon does appears on the bottom of the screen. Boy, does that help in learning.

Overall, I think the most daunting part of switching to Windows is first facing - and then choosing from - the staggering number of Windows applications on the market.

The problem is they're all solid contenders. (We should always have such problems.) In the last month, for example, I've tried to decide on a word processor. Because of my work with PC World (I have to test every user group tip so I've tried lots of software), I've played with Lotus' Ami Pro and Microsoft's Word for Windows. Both products are winners and each has half a dozen features I like.

For example, Ami Pro's Smart Icons - shortcut buttons that help me get to many other features - are a great help with navigating through the program. I can move the icons to just about any location, handy if I'm fiddling with some design at the bottom of the page. Ami Pro's Icons are colorful, something I didn't think was important until I compared it to Word for Windows' monochrome Toolbar.

But wait, Microsoft has some neat things too. Word for Windows' Create Envelope feature lets me address and print an envelope in less time than it takes to lick a stamp. The outlining feature, something I've ignored in stand-alone programs because it was so hard to get to, was addicting. The Page Preview functions in Word for Windows are glorious.

Too bad I can't combine the best features of both and call it BassWord WinPro.

Need a Database?
The one program that I'm still up in the air about is a Windows database.

The two software giants are slugging it out, each vying for my attention, trying to get me to buy their database. And if you played your cards right, you cashed in on the ridiculously low prices. I mean, Microsoft's Access for $99 bucks. Hell, it's almost like buying shareware.

Then Borland, with its stock wallowing in the low twenties, (it looked like it dropped a point for every day Paradox was delayed), tempting you with user group specials. Paradox for Windows for $125 and, for another $55, Quattro for Windows. At the Borland meeting, one guy bought five copies and said he was a commodities broker. Sure, I'll take a hundred pork bellies, a bushel of soy beans and a handful of PDX/WIN's.

Look, the prices are low because there's a lot at stake for both companies. Generally, the product you start with is the one you'll stay with because you've spent so much time learning the keystrokes. So if they can get the product into your hands before the other guy, well, you get the picture.

And we're in the catbird seat because they look at user groups' members as Influential End Users. They figure that if you buy one and like it - and with any luck use it - you'll likely tell ten other users. Then if you like it and you're MIS, well, they've really hit the jackpot.

But I Digress...
Hey, did I get off the subject?

Both Access and Paradox for Windows are great products. Microsoft's tempts you with Wizards and Templates while Paradox for Windows mesmerizes you with power, speed and, the best of all, familiarity. You already know Paradox, why learn something new?

So which one are you going to choose? It's the perennial battle, the one you face with every program you see at Egghead.

Steve Bass is a Contributing Editor with PC World and runs the Pasadena IBM Users Group. He's also a founding member of APCUG. Check PCW's current edition at http://www.pcworld.com/resource/toc/index.asp and sign up for the Steve Bass online newsletter at http://www.pcworld.com/bass_letter.

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