One of the big buzzwords of personal computing these days is “multi-tasking.” It means the ability to have two or more programs running simultaneously.
It is the great advantage that the new OS/2 operating system is supposed to bring to IBM and compatible personal computers and that Apple will offer when it develops a multi-tasking system for its Macintosh.
But if you have an IBM PC or a compatible machine, you don’t need OS/2 to run two or more programs simultaneously or to switch rapidly from one program to another.
The inexpensive solution is called Switch-It, a $60 program from Black & White International in New York City that can run on virtually any MS-DOS PC without requiring lots of expensive additional memory.
A much more elegant solution, DESQview 2.2 ($130) or DESQview 386 ($190) from Quarterdeck Office Systems of Santa Monica, requires more sophisticated computers but does true multi-tasking with almost any existing PC software.
There are several differences between multi-tasking your programs and simply switching among them. In multi-tasking, two or more programs can share the computer’s microprocessor, its “brain,” simultaneously. They do it by “time slicing” the chip’s processing power so that each program gets its instruction code executed for a fraction of a second and then it is the next program’s turn.
To the user, it appears that the programs are running together smoothly. It resembles the way moviegoers see continuous action on the theater screen instead of the many separate still frames that actually make up the film.
One advantage of multi-tasking under DESQview is the ability to see several programs at once in separate “windows” on the computer screen and to transfer material between them. For instance, in creating a report with a word processor and a spreadsheet running, it is easy to move a copy of a table of numbers from the spreadsheet into the word processing report.
The more power you have available in your computer in the form of faster microprocessing speed and larger amounts of random access memory (RAM), the better DESQview will work. The details are a bit technical, but they are what determines how well DESQview will work for you.
With the maximum 640K of conventional memory that PCs and compatibles have, DESQview will run, at best, two or three programs. (DESQview needs at least 512K of RAM to run.)
You get much better performance if you have additional memory in your computer, but it has to be the right kind of memory. There is something called “expanded memory,” typified by the Intel AboveBoard and other boards that work the same way. DESQview can use that kind of memory to hold the data--text, spread sheet or database--that you are working on, but not the programs themselves.
To get the full benefit of DESQview, you need “enhanced expanded memory” such as AST’s RAMpage, SixPak Premium and Advantage Premium boards as well as Quadram’s EMS+ board. With that kind of memory, DESQview can break completely out of the 640K memory barrier and use all of the additional memory for both running programs and holding their data.
The biggest gain in performance comes with computers equipped with the high-performance Intel 80386 microprocessor. That powerful chip has a special design that gives it a sort of split personality. DESQview takes advantage of that to make the 386 behave as if it were several microprocessors running side by side. DESQview can use all the memory installed in such machines, which may be up to 16 megabytes, or about 16 million characters, of RAM in some computers.
Despite the complex ways DESQview works with various configurations of computers, the program is very easy for users to install and run.
It is able to determine how your computer is set up and it knows which programs are loaded onto the computer’s hard disk, so it automatically creates a menu for itself. From that menu, you can choose any of those programs you want to run.
If you add more programs later, in many cases you will find that DESQview already knows their specifications and they are easily added to the menu. Programs that DESQview is not familiar with also can be added to the menu by filling in the blanks of an on-screen questionnaire. Most of the information required is easily found in the instruction manuals that come with the new software.
Once DESQview is running, it allows you to divide your screen among the various running programs in virtually any horizontal or vertical design you wish. At any time, you can make a program run full size on the screen. That is helpful because there are some programs that can run only in the full-screen mode and when they are placed into smaller windows, they shut down.
You don’t need a graphics monitor to use DESQview, but if you have one, it handles graphics software very nicely. In fact, it even scales down graphic images on the screen when you reduce the size of a window into a graphics program.
Three utilities provided with DESQview are a telephone dialer that calls phone numbers displayed in the window currently in use, a macro recorder that remembers groups of keystrokes so that you can replay them and a DOS services feature that helps you with the housekeeping chores of using your computer files.
Not everyone needs DESQview, however. If all you want to do is quickly move back and forth between two programs, Switch-It is a nice way to go.
It moves the current program out of memory and puts in its place another program that you select. When you finish with the second program, the first is restored right where you left off.
Switch-It will work with any program that allows you to go to a DOS command without leaving the program, which means most of the software on the market these days.
It takes only an additional 14K of memory for Switch-It to do its job, so it works well in most configurations of PCs, even older ones with only 256K of RAM--as long as the programs being swapped are small.
Computer File welcomes readers’ comments but regrets that the author cannot respond individually to letters. Write to Richard O’Reilly, Computer File, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.
DESQview 2.2 and 386
DESQview allows computers with the MS-DOS operating system to run more than one program at a time, a feature called multi-tasking.
Features: Runs most PC software; automatically recognizes many popular programs, and other programs can be added by the user. Includes telephone dialer and keystroke macro programs. Data can be transferred among programs.
Requirements: DOS 2.0 to 3.3 and at least 512 kilobytes of RAM. Expanded memory and enhanced expanded memory cards add power to program. Computers with Intel 80386 work the best with DESQview 386.
Publisher: Quarterdeck Office Systems, 150 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, Calif. 90405. Phone: (213) 392-9851. Price for version 2.2: $130. Price for 386 version: $190.
Switch-It enables owners of IBM PCs and compatible machines to move quickly from one program to another.
Requirements: DOS 2.0 or higher. Needs only 14K of RAM for itself.
Publisher: Black & White International Inc., 23 West 88th St., New York, N.Y. 10024. Phone: (212) 787-6633. Price: $60.