A picture is worth a thousand words, and an image can make a computer a thousand times easier to use.
That's why the biggest personal computer software news in recent years has been last November's introduction by Microsoft Corp. of version 3.0 of its ''MS Windows," which is now sending reverberations throughout the industry.In the computer world, versions function the same way editions do with books - only more so. Software publishers let their customers know about small changes in programs by bumping up the decimal point side of the equation - 1.1, 1.2. Major changes are signaled by changing the primary number.
Windows 3.0's fundamental difference from earlier packages is its reliance on images to help people do their computing. Software developers call that a graphical user interface. Such interfaces were a central element in Apple Computer Inc.'s rapid growth.
Traditional computer packages force users to work with often arcane command structures. Graphical user interfaces rely on icons to represent commands and functions. Users need only move their cursors by mouse or track-ball to the image to execute the commands.
Software's Adaptability Is Unique
What truly separates Windows 3.0 from its predecessors is its ability to work with two of the computer industry's most widespread, and limited, operating systems.
An operating system is the software that tells a computer what to do with the programs it's working with.
The packages Windows works with are MS-DOS or PC-DOS. DOS stands for Disk Operating System. Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft created these programs in the early days of PC use for International Business Machines Corp.'s first personal computers. Many users found its arcane command structure difficult to use.
Even more important, DOS was designed for a maximum of 640,000 characters of in-computer memory. While this was more than adequate when IBM introduced its first PC in 1981, 640,000 characters wasn't equal to the memory-intensive demands of modern databases, spreadsheets and graphics files.
Designed for use on more recent microcomputer chips, Windows 3.0 requires a minimum of 1 million characters of memory for most uses. It can work with as many as 16 million characters of memory on older machines, and 48 million on newer ones.
Manufacturers Hail Windows
Virtually every major PC software publisher is rushing to create software designed to run under Windows. Microsoft says nearly 400 major software applications are being created or upgraded by their publishers to operate under Windows 3.0.
Two of the more interesting of the spate of new Windows-based products are Hewlett-Packard's NewWave and Asymetrix's ToolBook.
Palo Alto, Calif.-based Hewlett-Packard's NewWave 3.0 allows DOS and
Windows-based software packages to work together easily. It also can automate many routine computer tasks by recording macro-like commands, which Hewlett- Packard calls agents.
Bellevue, Wash.-based Asymetrix describes ToolBook as "a software construction set." The product is a group of application development tools that range from a color drawing package to an object-oriented programming language called Open Script.
ToolBook can create multi-media applications that include sound, graphics and animation.
The program can run under Windows 3.0 and IBM's new OS/2 operating system. In fact, Windows' huge popularity is casting doubts in some circles about the long-term prospects for IBM's OS/2, which was introduced as a replacement for DOS and with which it is incompatible.
In effect, Windows 3.0 gives older DOS computers many capabilities that IBM now touts for its newer OS/2 system. That could sink the already-struggling operating system, many computer experts fear.