Why Apple shouldn't fear Windows 3.0

Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser 04/90 item 02 - scanned

Personal computer users come in two main flavours - Macintosh users and everyone else. Most outsiders are completely baffled by the affection that the Macintosh induces in its users. They hear the monkey beeps and they look at the icons and say to themselves "At Apple prices, who needs it?" They can't or won't understand that the attraction of the Macintosh runs deeper - that it lies in the lover of integration of its applications and in the completeness of the user-interface.

Most of these outsiders live in the world of PC's and the DOS operating system. They got to their work through an arcane command line but they can put up with this, knowing that they got real work done once inside the program. If pressed, they might admit it but they wouldn't want to pay much for it. They weren't impressed by the first two versions of Microsoft's Windows graphical user-interface and probably wondered why Apple was getting so wound up about the 'look and feel' of the Macintosh.

Well, now I know exactly what the fuss was all about. I temporarily acquired a beta copy of Windows 3.0 and, in many respects, it is as satisfying to work with as using a Macintosh. Perhaps more importantly, it will run in colour on a fairly low priced machine - £1400 or less. If I were a PC user wondering whether to move across to Macintosh, the arrival of Windows 3.0 would stop me dead in my tracks. I could have almost the functionality of the Macintosh at a tiny fraction of the cost of moving to another machine, and I wouldn't be forced to throw away my present investment in software, learning and data.

The Windows environment incorporates a number of useful programs (called accessories), including a wordprocessor, a painting program and a communications package. In fact, it gives enough for an individual to get going and, in the process, it overcomes the major criticism of DOS-based GUIs, which is that there is no operating consistency between programs.

Being written specifically for Windows 3.0, these programs dance to the same tune, so a brand new user would be blissfully unaware of the incompatibilities of the DOS world beyond Windows 3.0. All the major developers are certain to be writing Windows versions of their programs because, by getting into the market early, they maximise their chances of domination.

With Macintosh developers like Farallon and MacroMind moving into the Windows 3.0 world, and Claris rumoured to be anxious to join the fray, the newcomer to computing may even stop considering the Macintosh as a viable option. The effect of Windows 3.0 will be profound. It will sustain the popularity of DOS running on 80286 and later processors. Established PC users will now need very strong reasons to replace their present equipment with either the Macintosh or with IBM's PS/2.

Macintosh users can console themselves with the fact that, underneath the gloss, their user-interface appears better than Windows 3.0. In the version I used, Windows insists that your file names follow the DOS convention of no more than 11 characters, plus a full stop to separate the two parts. Your files do not appear on screen as icons - you have to access them through a file manager or through the application's File menu.

There are other similar restrictions, but the overall effect of Windows 3.0 is still stunning. And if these shortcomings have been rectified in the final version, then the news for Apple and IBM is bad indeed.

I would guess that companies like Olivetti Office will be offering some very attractive bundles. Compare the costs of an Olivetti PCS comprising 3M memory, a 40M hard disk, an 80286 processor and a VGA colour screen with a Mac IIcx with 2M memory and an 8-bit colour option. The machines are an approximate match, but the prices are 1898 and 4740, respectively. If I were Olivetti, I'd be considering a bundle based on this configuration, including Windows and all its applications for just under 2000. How many people would see the difference as being worth 2740? What would this money be buying, precisely? The Macintosh difference will continue to exist, but the gap is greatly diminished.

Visually and superficially, you've got a colour Mac at less than half the price. Apple has got to respond to this. It could claim that it's really in the workstation business, which would explain its lack of activity at the entry level and would be an unforgivable desertion of many faithful followers. Or it could beef up the entry level offerings. Or it could crawl all over Windows 3.0 and tell everyone clearly and unequivocally what Macintosh provides which makes it worth the extra.