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IBM, Microsoft Software Takes a Cue From Apple

Times Staff Writer

International Business Machines and Microsoft Corp. on Monday unveiled the final piece of the new operating system software that the two powerhouses expect to dominate their personal computer product lines--and perhaps the entire PC industry--well into the next decade.

The software, Presentation Manager, gives IBM’s new PS/2 line of high-performance personal computers and compatible machines many of the visual features that made Apple Computer’s Macintosh model so popular. Basically, the software allows computer users to select symbols to direct a computer’s operations, eliminating the need to type dizzying sequences of commands. Computer users can select symbols, also known as icons, by clicking a pointing device called a mouse.

The entire software package also allows the computer screen to be divided into several “windows” that can simultaneously handle different tasks. Presentation Manager plugs into OS/2, the operating system written for the new PS/2 and compatible machines.

Other Programs Needed

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Although the product is ready for immediate shipping, analysts said initial sales of the complete OS/2 package will be slow for at least 12 to 18 months. The reason: There are almost no application software programs--such as spreadsheets and word processors--available that will take full advantage of the new operating system’s complete capabilities. While an operating system serves as a computer’s traffic cop, applications programs perform specific tasks.

Fred Thorlin of Dataquest, a San Jose high-tech market researcher, predicted that there will be an ample supply of applications software designed to work with OS/2 within two years. He has projected that by 1991, at least half of all corporate PC users will have at least one OS/2 machine and by 1992, more than 25% of all PCs sold will be able to run the new advanced operating system.

“We think it’s going to be a very important development,” Thorlin said. “It’s hard to find a software developer who has not committed to writing programs for it.”

Among the software publishers already writing programs for OS/2 are Ashton-Tate of Torrance, which will develop a new version of its top-selling dBase database management program, and Borland International, which is writing a new version of its spreadsheet program, Quattro.

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Other analysts were less enthusiastic. “This is not an exciting technology,” said Jeffrey Tarter, publisher of Softletter, a newsletter for the software industry. “People are not saying ‘Wow! I’ve got to have this.’ ”

Tarter complained that Presentation Manager is a “less impressive clone of the 5-year-old Macintosh” graphical user interface--its visual appearance--and was not designed for the most powerful PS/2 machines.

“It’s a case of too little, too late,” Tarter said. “But because it’s Microsoft and IBM, it will sell.”

There is a potential legal problem involving Presentation Manager, which took five years to complete. Earlier this year, Apple Computer sued Microsoft for alleged copyright infringement. The suit claims the “look and feel” of visual features in new Microsoft software mimics that of the Macintosh graphical user interface. Analysts have said, however, the suit is likely to be settled out of court.


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