Written by David Tebbutt, Computer Buyer 07/91 - scanned


[Memory-hungry Windows is filling already-fat PCs, and users are finding their purses lighter than their workloads. At this rate, buyers might get fed up with the need to upgrade hardware - before Windows manages to carve out a market.]

A friend of mine, brought up in Singapore, told me about the agricultural salesman who went to a village in nearby Malaysia and sold a high yield rice, promising the villagers that his seedlings would produce 30% more than the strain then in use. Later, the salesman returned, to find that the villagers had planted an area exactly 30% smaller than before. They saw the high yield as an opportunity to do less work rather than to create a marketable surplus.

This has parallels to the way we use computers. We in Britain have traditionally had far less money than the Americans, and have always tried to squeeze more computing mower out of a given size of machine than our US brethren. We have gone for the higher yield from a small acreage.

When I started out as a programmer (cough) over 25 years ago, we had the equivalent of a 4K memory in our computers. We regularly squeezed payroll and accounting programs into this; our labour was a lot cheaper than buying extra hardware. (The machine usually cost about £15,000 while we earned around £1,000 a year.)

Well, things have come on apace since those days. Software publishers, in their desperate attempts to keep prices high, release huge, over-featured, programs - antics which play straight into the hands of the hardware makers who rub their hands at such profligate use of memory.

Let me give you some examples from my recent experiences with Windows 3.0. First, my copy of Windows takes up something like 3.5Mb of my 40Mb hard disk. I thought this was terrible until I was given a copy of Hewlett-Packard's NewWave. This program brings a lot of extra functionality to Windows - you can easily exchange information between programs, reach out into networks and so on - but at the cost of a further 13Mb of hard disk.

Last weekend, I decided to load Borland's C++ (a programming language) development system. That took up 15Mb of what by now was looking a very inadequate hard disk. Since I already had 10Mb of important stuff on the disk before I loaded Windows 3.0 and C++, I'd now filled up 28.5Mb of a 40Mb disk. There's not enough space left for NewWave, even if I wanted it.

The final straw was when I was shown a very nice presentation graphics package from IBM (a hardware manufacturer, just like Hewlett-Packard, you'll note). The package is called Hollywood and it is really very good. The program and its associated files consumed 8Mb of disk space. "Ah well," I thought, "at least I've still got 3.5Mb left".

Wrong. As soon as I wanted to read in a puny little illustration, Hollywood told me it didn't have enough workspace on the disk. In the end, I had to free 5Mb of hard disk before Hollywood could do its stuff. There's something seriously wrong here.

The average entry-level machine is an 80286 with a 20Mb hard disk and 1 Mb memory. Under DOS, this is a more than adequate system, but it falls well short of Windows 3.0's requirements. And what about those poor folk who are saddled with older 8086 machines? Some don't even have hard disks. I reckon a committed Windows user will need a machine with at least an 80386 processor, 4Mb memory, and more than 40Mb's worth of hard disk.

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that Windows 3.0 is a bit of a dog. If the hype is to be believed, it will be the working environment of the future, and it has much to commend it. But it's a dog because it has somehow become the catalyst for software developers to release huge applications which demand far too much of your precious computer resources.

Right now, I am using a Mac SE. Despite its small screen and lack of colour, I prefer it to using the desktop PC; I have all sorts of programs on it - database, wordprocessor, communications programs, spreadsheet, painting, drawing and graphics programs and a lot more besides. Yet the whole shebang takes up less than 30Mb of the hard disk. Windows developers know that hardware prices will tumble, and eventually we'll all be able to run their programs without a second thought. Perhaps that's why they're so complacent.

I think they're utterly wrong. If Windows is to become a genuine force in the industry, rather than a flash in the pan, software publishers need to show far more consideration to their prospective customers. And they need to start now.