Every now and then, I find that many of my assumptions about the world of computers are hopelessly wrong. For example, I really do seem to have convinced myself that Windows was a great boon to mankind. And then, two weeks ago, a friend called and asked for help in fixing her computer. Philanthropic chap that I am, I wandered off to Willesden one Sunday afternoon, ready to start tweaking INIs, backing up CVFs and generally getting my anorak well and truly muddied.
I arrived to find a Power Macintosh. This was not what I had really hoped to find, not least because I know nothing at all about such beasts. I'm on pretty familiar terms with standard edition Macs - one of the many ironies to be found at this magazine is that it's produced on Apple kit, with the Macintosh versions of QuarkXPress and Adobe Photoshop - but anything newer than a IIfx running System 6 is something of a mystery to me.
Still, taking this minor setback in my stride (and attempting to keep my seriously creaking street cred intact), I sat down and attempted to find the source of my friend's problem. And in the process, I discovered some pretty astonishing things.
I shan't trouble you with the precise details of this adventure, but I can tell you that Macintoshes (even Power versions) are prone to the same sorts of system crashes that appear so regularly on PCs, and that their causes appear to be much the same. I can also tell you that Macintoshes are capable of booting from a CD-ROM drive. I can exclusively reveal that reinstalling the Macintosh System 7.5 operating system is an almost surreally pleasurable thing to do. And, finally, I can tell you that the Macintosh user interface is a thing of great beauty - truly Apple's Esmerelda to Microsoft's hunchback.
I was, it must be said, somewhat taken aback by all of these discoveries. It had never occurred to me that a computer might be capable of booting from a CD-ROM drive; a PC doesn't even know that it's got a CD-ROM drive until you load ASPIDRV.SYS and CUNI-DRV.SYS and MSCDEX.EXE (not forgetting the intuitive /D:MSCD001/5/L:F), let alone boot from it. Installing operating systems is no one's idea of a good time, but Apple makes it as easy and successful as it's ever going to get. The interface is so elegant in its design and brilliant in conception that it's almost impossible to really go badly wrong. It's got help systems that actually work, and a delightfully simple way of putting things away and then finding them again. And so on. Suffice to say that I learnt more about this Power Mac in three hours than I have about Windows 95 in three months.
So what's my point here? Am I saying that you should all go out and buy Macintoshes? Well, maybe I am. System 7.5 may not be the last word in 32-bit design, but then Windows 95 won't be either. The Power Mac doesn't have as many bells and whistles, but it's much easier to use, which gets it my vote every time. And if you really need Windows, the new DOS compatibility card, which fits into a Power Mac 6100, lets you run your Windows Apps alongside a real operating system and interface.
OS/2 freaks have been telling the world for months, years even, that OS/2 is a better operating system than anything Microsoft has to offer. They are, I think, wrong - an opinion shared by the great many readers of this magazine who have tried out OS/2 Warp. The grim installation process and near-impossible configuration are good enough reasons to ignore any Windows compatibility claims.
Apple, though, whose voice seems to be getting ever quieter, really has got a good alternative. I'll tell you more next month; meanwhile, if you're in the market for a new PC, have a look at a Power Mac. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.
Windows User, July 1995
Editorial by Sean Geer
I got a good deal of flak from you lot after last month's editorial, in which I espoused the virtues of Macintosh computers and operating systems. This is a Windows magazine I was told; if we wanted to read about Macs we would buy a Mac magazine, thanks very much. And anyway, you went on, Macs are rubbish, Windows if fab and Windows 95 is going to be even more so.
Is it, indeed? Microsoft's big pre-launch publicity plan may well have you believe so. The policy - as you'll have noted from half a dozen or so articles in these very pages this year - has been to broadcast information far and wide from a very early stage, and it's one that has had a tremendous effect.
The result is that an operating system which is still three months from launch has been lionised to an extraordinary degree, pushing competitors such as IBM's OS/2 still further out of the picture and convincing innocent punters that when it finally arrives, Window 95 is going to redefine personal computing as we know it. And that's in spite of some seriously adverse publicity in the US, where other publications came across major flaws in the operating-system architecture that have since required a rewrite of some of the most critical code.
Whatever its technical limitations, the truth of the matter is that Windows 95 won't revolutionise anything, let alone personal computing. For the great majority of users it represents a good deal of hard work to learn, a likely investment in new hardware capable of running it at its full potential and a huge act of faith just to install it in the first place.
This isn't just a three-disk operating system, after all - we're taking about something that you'll have to find maybe 50MB of disk space in which to house it satisfactorily. Folders a long filenames or not, it's a big, complex under taking which you would do well to approach with much care.
You may think that I'm being unnecessarily cynical here. Indeed, after last month's editorial column some of you wrote to tell me that I have lost my marbles altogether. While this may well be true in a more general sense, consider this: I have just spent a week attempting to install and use Windows 95 on a bog-standard, big-selling Toshiba notebook PC and have come a cropper many times over.
Never mind about the flaws in the code - it was a pre-release version, and I wouldn't expect anything else - it is Windows 95's design and content that's awkward to get to grips with, and that isn't going to change between now and the final release. Barking mad I may well be, but I'm smart enough to recognise a flawed operating system when I see one.
Sure, Macs crash all the time too. I agree that, given a couple of years, you can probably learn enough about PCs and Windows to put together a pretty good desktop-publishing system which will give a Mac a good run for its money. "And it may be true that, megabyte for megabyte, you will get more bells and whistles in Windows 95 than in any current Macintosh operating system. But how much of that matters? What I need, and what many of you tell me you need too, is a computer that's easy to set up and use, and I don't think that Windows 95 is necessarily going to provide that.
What Windows 95 will provide is access to by far the biggest and most useful collection of software ever assembled for an operating system. That's what makes Windows compelling for me, and that's why this magazine exists. But that isn't enough to force us to ignore the rest of the computing world. You have my word that we'll continue to give you the best coverage of Windows and its software. We just won't swallow the hype that accompanies it.