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Window Gadgets

This is absolutely no good. It must stop, and soon! Companies have begun to release Windows utilities that don’t exist as a higher life form on the Mac. Sheesh, how will we Mac chauvinists maintain our self respect? Ah, well, it’s probably good for us all.

A standard piece of equipment on the Amiga and on certain Atari computers is the so-called "blitter" chip, which handles the graphics drawing. Did you ever wonder how those machines handle such impressive graphics? Well now you know. Do you wonder why the Mac and PC-clones don’t have blitter chips? Me too. Weitek recently announced a User Interface Controller chip that intercepts graphics calls and processes them in the fast hardware rather than using Windows’s own sluggish software. Much like a math coprocessor, which intercepts all the math calls and speeds them up, the Weitek chip should significantly increase the speed with which Windows draws the screen. Some operations speed up 25 times – other only four times, but even still, that amount of speed will help make Windows more usable.

The Mac doesn’t suffer from super-slow graphics performance because the Apple designed its OS for graphics, but Weitek is apparently talking to Apple as well. Heck, System 7 zooms windows slowly on the slower machines, and a blitter board would smooth out some of those rough spots. Murph Sewall also mentioned that Apple is looking at Edsun’s CEG (Continuous Edge Gradation, I think) chips, which make a standard VGA display look like it’s working in 24-bit color. Add that chip to the Mac, and it would spruce up all those Apple 13" color monitors in 8-bit mode that will be running multimedia applications now that the QuickTime multimedia extensions are out. I can’t remember how much the Edsun chip costs, though it was under $200 or so, but the Weitek chip should be showing up in PC boards for about $150. I think Apple should jump at both of these technologies, because I see no point in wasting CPU power on something that specialized hardware can handle. To be fair, Ergon just announced the XLR8-IT accelerator board for Windows. It does exactly what boards built with the Weitek chip will do, but costs a great deal more at $499.

Probably the biggest news in the Windows world in the last few weeks has been Visual Basic from Microsoft. Put simply, it is a version of Basic along with a screen painter tool that allows programmers to quickly create full-fledged Windows applications. Only time will tell, but VB applications apparently run faster and look more professional than equivalent HyperCard applications. This has led to the release of a number of tools from third parties that add functionality to VB. Already you can get SQL tools, graphic tools, special effects, communications tools, financial and scientific functions, terminal emulation tools, and neural network tools to simplify your development efforts. Visual Basic lists for $199 and should ship in the next week or so. From what everyone has said (there’s only been one lukewarm article in the magazines – everyone else has been drooling over this program), if you wish to develop in Windows, you’d do well to take a look at what Visual Basic can do for you, especially since you might be able to sell VB programs, unlike HyperCard (or anything else) stacks. Two features that don’t yet exist in Visual Basic are support for Object Embedding and Linking (OLE) and Microsoft’s Multimedia Extensions, although Microsoft has promised them for a future release.

Merasoft has announced an interesting program that combines the best features of QuicKeys with the ability to sit in the background and look for certain conditions. E’vent Manager can add application-specific hotkeys to any application, locate files on a hard disk (a useful feature under Windows), launch programs, add an autosave feature to any application, and save and restore working environments of multiple applications and documents. The program’s main claim to fame is that it can watch for certain events, such a pattern of keystrokes or application launches, and perform predefined actions, such as opening documents or changing default settings. Merasoft claims that creating the conditions requires no programming experience since users can merely select the statements they want from a list of acceptable commands. In my experience, that sort of programming (because that’s what it is, call it what you will) is clumsy but effective.

The final application that will inspire some jealousy in Mac folks is Relate from ObjectSoft. Relate allows users to create links between applications, inserting a small icon at the source end of the link. Clicking on the icon brings up a list of links from which the user can select the appropriate link, which will then open the document defined as the destination end of the link. I haven’t seen this program, so I don’t know how well ObjectSoft implemented it in ToolBook (anyone want to try doing this in HyperCard 2.1?), but I suspect that the entire utility rests on how well Relate integrates into the rest of the environment. Still, it’s a neat idea and one that is at the heart of Ted Nelson’s Xanadu system, although links are bidirectional in Xanadu, which is far more powerful.

Ergon — 601/856-4968
Microsoft — 800/426-9400
Merasoft — 801/225-9951
ObjectSoft — 201/930-0582

Related articles:
PC WEEK — 27-May-91, Vol. 8, #21, pg. 17, 31
PC WEEK — 20-May-91, Vol. 8, #20, pg. 5
InfoWorld — 27-May-91, Vol. 13, #21, pg. 28, 31
InfoWorld — 20-May-91, Vol. 13, #20, pg. 5, 19, 34
InfoWorld — 06-May-91, Vol. 13, #18, pg. 1
InfoWorld — 18-Mar-91, Vol. 13, #11, pg. 13

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