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Through a Window (Darkly)

Outdated material; included only for historical reference

an old pile of papers. Originally published in the Boston Computer Society's "PC Report". A few of my opinions have changed since then.

I may as well come right out with it. I like Windows 3.0, I use it, I love it. This is from a man who thinks Macs are for wimps, a man who couldn't see the point of DESQView and who only acquired a mouse by accident. Yes, the days of "the DOS prompt is good enough for me" are gone. My AUTOEXEC.BAT ends with a call to "win" and this very article was written using Write, the word processor that comes with Windows.

What is even more astonishing is that I am running Windows on an 8 MHz 286 and, due to some unresolved BIOS issues, I am yet to escape Real Mode!

You may wonder how this all came to be. I'm not entirely sure, but it all started with that darn mouse..

I cannot remember just what I was thinking when I bought my first mouse. I only bought it because my partner pointed out that they were on sale and I ought to get one "just in case". In case of what? I had no idea, but I bought the silly thing and stowed it away, unopened. "Just in case", indeed. I had no use for this rodent, and besides it needed to be installed inside my computer. Opening that computer is always traumatic - not because I'm afraid of anything inside, but because the cover sticks and warps and won't come off without fighting me every inch of the way, and after I'm done poking around inside, it gives me twice as much trouble going back on again. Also, I always lose at least one screw. Trust me, I was in no hurry to install this "Microsoft Bus Mouse with Paintbrush".

Except there was that Paintbrush thing.

You see, a lot of people in my family are really artistic. Most of my immediate relatives can take up a pencil and whip off a credible rendition of a horse, a house, or anything else. Some of them even get paid for doing that sort of thing. None of them can program a computer, or play a decent game of chess, but they can draw. I can draw stick figures. Somehow that artistic talent passed me by.

But there is some small part of that artistic heritage in me. Although I have no talent, I like to doodle. Pathetic though the results may be, I like drawing things. It's fun, it relaxes me. So that "with Paintbrush" intrigued me. Maybe part of my artistic ineptness could be helped by the computer, I wistfully thought. Maybe I just need some electronic assistance. Maybe..

So one morning when I had nothing better to do, I wrestled off that cover, installed the mouse, put it back together, and installed the software. The cover was its usual recalcitrant self, but this time the results were worth all the trouble. I loved Paintbrush. I relived that wonderful part of my childhood that was Finger Painting, but now my finger was a mouse and it was even better! I produced all sorts of colorful garbage that my more talented relatives would be amused by, but boy did I have fun!

So that's how the mouse got into my machine. I only used it for Paintbrush. Even when some program technically could use a mouse I'd just move the pointer as far off the screen as I could and ignore it. This was a well rested mouse.

And then came this thing in the mail offering Windows 3.0 for $79.00 or some such price. I looked at it, laughed, and tossed it aside. Heck, most of my living comes from Xenix and Unix - why would I need to know anything about Windows? A waste of time and money, and "the DOS prompt is good enough for me".

I think it was the pretty icons that got to me. I had tossed the ad aside, but it had landed where I could still see it as I worked at my desk. Day after day, the pictures nagged at me subliminally. So colorful and the windows overlaying each other was interesting. Obviously this was appealing to the smothered artist within me. Windows 3.0 sure looked pretty. Also, SCO had started advertising a GUI called "Open Look", which was much more expensive than this, but I knew I'd have to learn about that sooner or later.. maybe I should "get my feet wet" with this Windows thing.. I ordered it.

I guess it is fortunate that I was not then aware that a 33 MHz 386 with 16 MB of ram is considered minimum hardware for Windows. Installing that on my wheezing 8 MHz 286 was folly, but I didn't know that, and it did actually work. Slow, yes, but I am a patient person.

So now I use Windows. I can switch programs on the fly, and cut and paste between them, but really none of that is critically important. I just like the icons and the pretty windows. That's a silly reason to slow down an already slow machine, but there it is. I like the pretty pictures and I like moving them around, and making them bigger and smaller, overlapping.. it's that inept inner artist, isn't it? Well, that's OK. I still like finger painting with my mouse, too.


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