I've been using Microsoft Windows 3.0 daily since it was released about two months ago. The software, which adds a graphical user interface to IBM and compatible PCs, has greatly boosted my productivity.
However, I've found some areas where I think Windows is weak. Fortunately, some of the problems can be solved by using add-on software utility programs that help manage files and programs.
I reviewed Windows 3.0 when it was released in May. It makes programs easier to use. Instead of MS-DOS' cryptic "C" prompt, Windows users see icons and pull-down menus. An icon is a small picture that graphically represents a program or file. Programs run in a graphical mode so that what you see on the screen is pretty much what you'll get on paper.
What's more, Windows allows you to run several programs at a time, each in its own window, or area on the screen. Data can easily be copied from one program to another. Windows requires an IBM compatible equipped with a hard disk, a graphics display and an Intel 80286, 80386 or i486 central processing unit.
Although I like Windows, I found myself frustrated by its program manager and file manager. The program manager is the first screen you see when you start Windows. It is used to launch, or run, application programs. To its credit, program manager is easy to learn and very attractive. Programs are represented by icons instead of words, as they are in regular MS-DOS. To launch a program, you simply click on its icon. If you add new programs, it's easy to add new icons. To help you remain organized, icons can be grouped into separate windows. When you get Windows, the program manager automatically creates groups for the programs already on your hard disk.
Program manager doesn't allow you to display the names of your files. For that you have to go to a separate program called the file manager. The file manager lists programs and data files by name and allows you to sort them alphabetically, by date last modified, by size or by type of file.
Taken together, program manager and file manager get the job done. But switching between them is inconvenient and sometimes time-consuming.
Fortunately, there is an alternative, but it doesn't come with Windows. Command Post, from Seattle-based Wilson WindowWare, is only one of many handy Windows utility programs that run simultaneously with Windows. Command Post is a separate program that provides most of the functions of both the program manager and file manager. It displays the names of all your files and allows you to copy, move, delete, rename or otherwise manipulate any files on your disk.
Command Post doesn't display icons to represent your programs. But it does let you design your own pull-down menus that can be used to run software, load data files or switch between programs that are already running. I'm now using Command Post instead of the program manager and file manager. I miss the program manager's pretty icons, but I appreciate the flexibility of Command Post's custom menus. Icons are great if you have just a few programs, but as my software library grows, so does my frustration at having to hunt around to find the right icon.
The only serious drawback to Command Post is that it is much harder to set up and modify than program manager. Program manager lets you add icons by pointing and clicking with your mouse. Modifying Command Post menus requires that you use a text editor to enter programming codes into a script. The codes, which are more or less in English, are not unlike the types of commands that users enter in MS-DOS batch files or high-level programming languages such as Basic.
Fortunately, the program comes preconfigured with some starter menus, including one menu that lets you run the basic programs that come with the Windows package. The initial menus get you started and provide examples that you can copy when you're ready to create or modify your own menus. I'm not a programmer but I'm familiar with the basic concepts, so it only took me a couple of hours to be comfortable with Command Post. Now, when I run Windows, I get my own customized menu system that allows me to select any program I want to run.
What's more, the program allows you to write codes that give it even greater intelligence. I have a lot of memory in my 386-based PC, so it's possible for me to run several programs at the same time. That way, if I'm temporarily finished with a program but plan to use it later, I'll just leave it running and switch to another program. Later, if I want to run the other program again, I just select it from the Command Post menu.