Switch to Mac!8 Apr 03: Avoid the problems with Windoze - get a Mac!
What I am looking for in software is a common, user-friendly interface which makes it easy to work on databases, spreadsheets and documents. Something that has the same look and feel between these applications and has a fast, flexible printer interface. Something that allows me to copy/cut and paste data between applications or to convert data from one format to another.
The database should support SQL relational queries, updateable dynasets, cross-tabulations and drop-down "must match" lists for field relationships. It must have a powerful, high-level programming language for application development and record manipulation. It must also support record locking on a network. Capacity to produce licence-free runtime applications would be an advantage.
The spreadsheet should have goal-seeking, advanced statistical functions and graphics.
The word processor should have template documents, spell-checking (with "alert" mode) and print preview.
I had all that more than 25 years ago, before Windoze was inflicted on the world! "Open Access" (no relation to MS Access) is capable of running on any IBM-compatible PC (or Mac) and takes up less than 6 megabytes of hard disk space. Its main (and big) disadvantage these days is that it is text based and therefore is not WYSIWYG and fonts are pretty dull. What are we offered in its place?
Have my wishes been answered? OpenOffice.org - "is both a fully-featured office suite compatible with leading office products, and a virtual community working through OpenOffice.org's numerous projects...a major new component, Base: an easy-to-use [SQL] database manager with a fully integrated database". But what about a programming language?
16 Mar 10 Filemaker: Filemaker Pro 11
- finally some database features like charting that I was using in Open
Access nearly 25 years ago! The scripting language is still tedious but
getting better. Its big advantage is the ability to open the same database in Windows or Mac OS X.
Windoze software looks very impressive on the screen and the printout can look just as good. There are many advanced features we now take for granted. And the convenience of the mouse of course - so that, on a laptop, we can spend our time chasing the cursor around the screen (spare a thought for the visually impaired).
It takes at least one second to move the cursor with the mouse
click on the desired item - often the wrong item is clicked with
disastrous results. By contrast, keystrokes take a fraction of a second
a competent typist can be very accurate. And yet "keyboard shortcuts"
most Windoze programs appear to be an afterthought - illogical and
There are some applications where a mouse is very useful, if not
- but word processing and database work can be much more efficient
the keyboard. No wonder office productivity has actually fallen over
past decade (see below).
I like to compare the development of PCs with that of motor cars ( others have had the same idea). Henry Ford's cheap and simple Model T was the equivalent of the IBM XT. The car manufacturers pushed Americans into ever larger cars, requiring bigger engines (read CPUs) to do the same job. Right now were in the age of the 1950s "Yank Tanks" (the endearing term for US cars in Australia) gaudy, overweight and ridiculously big for the main purpose. After this period the car industry had fierce competition and consumer/society pressures which led to the current generation of smaller, more efficient cars (for America).
The problem in the PC industry is that there is no real pressure to develop better, more efficient systems - they just get bigger with "add ons". The market "influence" seems to be that the CEO's secretary uses a particular word processor and it happens to be part of a suite of programs so everyone in the organisation has to use the same package - brilliant marketing but the people who actually have to use the package for "computing" don't get any say in the features of the product. Someone's done a course in "How you peddle excreta" (HYPE).
I still use Open Access (mainly for database and application development) but it seems that operating system vendors are making it harder and harder to run DOS programs. Of course, I now use Windoze software for day-to-day work, including word processing (I prefer to use the pioneering Windoze Word Processor, Ami Pro - in fact I started using Ami with "runtime" Windoze in the late 80s). Clients want data and documents in Microsoft software format so I have to use Word for Windoze from time to time - it is so tedious to use compared with Ami Pro. Update: 2006 Since 2003 I have been running Open Access and M$ Office on Mac OS X and very rarely run Windows under Virtual PC for OS X (Ami Pro conversions and M$ Access legacy databases).
Even working solely with M$ products has its traps. I developed a comprehensive relational database in M$ Access 2.0 because my client uses that version. To my horror, when I tried to open the database under Office 97 (to demonstrate it at a User Group meeting) it gave an error message like "Compile error: unable to open database". Apparently there were some trivial Access Basic programming language changes (underscores going to dashes or something) and I need to "convert" the database (a one-way process!). Secondly, I have always been wary of the M$ Access practice of lumping data, forms and programs into one large (*.MDB) file. I should have stuck with Open Access for that job (actually I convert some of the M$ Access data to dBase format so that I can process it in Open Access to automatically produce a fancy web page - see NCAPLIST for the results - M$ Access 97 has HTML generation features but they are not versatile enough for my needs).
As you can probably tell, I was rather angry when I started preparing this web page. Let me explain why. Due to a need to run 32-bit applications I reluctantly installed Windoze 95 on my business computer in January. After many days I finally had applications such as Ami Pro running like they had under Windoze 3.11 (those old installation disks get a bit unreliable after a few years but WIN95 insists that you use them).
The other day (early April 98) when I booted my computer I left the room. When I came back the (patronising) message "It is now safe to turn off your computer" was displayed - strange? After carefully watching the display during boot up I noticed an error message with the ominous words "You need to reinstall Windoze" before the screen went blank. Booting up with the /B switch to create a bootlog.txt file did not help explain the problem. Scandisk was no help. Oh well, looks like I have to reinstall Windoze 95!
Of course I back up my data regularly (by chance the day before - in fact 8 years of consulting documents and data compresses onto one 100Mb Zip disk - another advantage of Open Access). I decided, however, to back up all the programs. I had a spare gigabyte on another hard disk so I copied whole directories across. This took about 700Mb and one night of jumping up during the ads on TV to check progress.
Now to try reinstalling Windoze 95. Luckily the CD drive worked after I executed MSCDEX from "DOS". So far so good. Now start Windoze 95 Setup and hopefully it will keep the old configuration. No such luck. The retailer who installed WIN95 on my hard disk apparently did not use the same CD as the one that I have ended up with (was it still shrink-wrapped?). So Setup got upset when I tried to enter the registration number that came with the CD. It obviously found the ID on the hard disk from the previous installation. So I had to rename the Windoze directory (to Windows2) and make Setup think that it was a new installation. Several hours had passed by now but at least I had Windoze 95 running again. No programs working yet, mind you. They all need reinstalling from scratch - another couple of hours - you can't just copy the INI files across from the previous installation (I tried and managed to get WIN95 to crash again - this time at least it restored to the stage I had reached just before the crash).
Reinstalling and configuring the printers, networking and Internet (disabling Internet Explorer) took a few more hours and the total time spent recovering from the crash is now measured in days. I'm glad I didn't have an important project deadline at the time.
I still don't know the reason for the crash. Maybe a cosmic ray corrupted a bit of a byte on my hard disk. Maybe I have some more sinister problem that will reoccur. I certainly know that my business cannot afford to have this happen every few months.
The point is that this operating system seems to have grown too big and cumbersome for its own good. It is far too vulnerable to a variety of problems, including hardware faults, software bugs and viruses.
If you have any tips for making crash recovery less traumatic let me know and I will post them on this page. The "recovery" disk that Windoze 95 creates during installation is a joke ;)
I am not alone
Here are some things other people have said:
And some links with similar sentiments:
Click on the image at the top of the page to download alternative startup and close-down screens for Windoze 95. See README.TXT for instructions. See Windows 95 Annoyances for some important precautions about customising your PC since YOU ARE NOT IN CONTROL - backup those files first!
Better still, you can stop Windoze 95 booting automatically and stop your PC at the DOS prompt (yes good old DOS). From there you can load Windoze 95, Windows 3.11 or just run DOS. To do this edit the system file MSDOS.SYS to change BootGUI=1 to BootGUI=0, also change/add Logo=0 (see NC World for details).
Incidentally, adding the line Logo=0 to the MSDOS.SYS file turns
off the Windoze 95 startup screen, letting you see the boot process.
The MSDOS.SYS file can be edited with Notepad or Edit just like the
CONFIG.SYS file but you will need to change the read-only, system and
hidden attributes on the
file first. See Windoze
95 Annoyances for details.