Microsoft Upgrade Takes Bite of Apple

The computer industry gave a deep bow to Apple Computer last week when Microsoft Corp. unveiled version 3.0 of Windows for MS-DOS computers.

That will seem incongruous only for a moment. Windows and the computers it runs on are, of course, competitors of Apple’s Macintosh. But they are competitors on the Mac’s court. Windows’ graphical interface, made popular by the Macintosh, is now the rage of the market. That is now unmistakenly conceded by Microsoft.

Microsoft first announced Windows in 1983. When finally shipped, it was a disappointment. It was slow and there were no programs that ran under it. A second version was not much better.

Meanwhile, Microsoft and IBM were developing a successor operating system to MS-DOS, OS/2. One of its promises was a graphical interface called Presentation Manager. It was undoubtedly one of the reasons for interest in OS/2. But OS/2 bombed and Microsoft pulled back from its plans to have it supplant MS-DOS. Apparently Microsoft’s genius CEO, William Gates III, was hedging his bets by continuing to develop Windows, despite its initial lukewarm reception.

To judge by the reception of version 3.0, the market is hungry for a graphical interface. For the uninitiated, this is a method of operating a personal computer that relies on symbols, or icons, representing tasks, rather than arcane commands. Using a mouse, or pointing device, you manipulate the symbols to start programs, copy and delete files, and do other things.

The Macintosh popularized this approach. When the Mac was introduced in 1983, it was up against the formidable IBM standard, which used the less-intuitive verbal interface that incorporates letters of the alphabet with control and command keys.

That the Mac succeeded in creating a second standard indicates that users appreciated its more natural operation. Microsoft’s investment in Windows, and IBM’s support for it, are conclusive evidence. It would be no startling development if in five years all PCs had Windows built in. Many manufacturers will soon be giving Windows away with their computers.

The irony of all this is that Microsoft is a key provider of software for the Macintosh. The top three Macintosh applications, including Word and the spreadsheet Excel, are made by Microsoft. So the software giant is competing with itself.

To the extent Windows costs Apple sales, Microsoft will cost itself sales. Of course, there are MS-DOS versions of WordPerfect and Excel, but there is more competition for Microsoft in that realm also – especially from WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3.

Another wrinkle is that Apple is suing Microsoft, claiming that Windows violates Apple’s copyright. The Apple-Microsoft association gives new meaning to the notion of love-hate relationship.

For users committed to MS-DOS machines, and especially those wishing to run more than one program at a time, Windows is something they will want to check into. For the first time, Windows will be able to exploit the native power of the 286, 386 and 486 processors.

It can also use extended memory beyond one megabyte. But to use this power, most programs that run under previous versions of Windows will have to be rewritten. This will probably happen quickly with major programs. Existing versions of the software will work, but only when Windows is operating in a less-powerful mode.

Whether the new Windows will harm Apple depends on, among other things, its speed. The problem with previous versions was its slow, clunky feel. With newer, faster computers, one would expect Windows to fly. But InfoWorld reports that its early tests show Windows 3.0 running on a 386 computer slightly slower than version 2.11.