Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 128 / APRIL 1991 / PAGE 30

GeoWorks Ensemble: the hot little GUI that can - and will - win your heart with powerful utilities, attractive displays, and multiskating. (software graphical user interface) (evaluation)
by Howard Millman

In fairy tales the good guys in variably triumph. Recall, for instance, the fable about the little engine that hauled a line of freight cars up the mountainside and seemingly accomplished the impossible.

GeoWorks' GEOS (Graphical Environment Operating System) may prove the modern equivalent of that fable. Facing an uphill struggle as it tries to penetrate a filed now dominated by Microsoft Windows, GEOS hopes to deliver the GUI goodies to the sizable market segment Microsoft seems to have overlooked.

Skinny Minimal

GEOS's minimum hardware requirements are indeed minimal. It operates on any PC-compatible computer system, including hard disk-equipped XTs with 512K of RAM, a mouse, and a monochrome or color graphics monitor. Estimates of the total number of XTs and 286s that can't do Windows right (Windows 3.0 was designed primarily for 80386-based computers) range as high as 20 million. GEOS may inherit this enormous market - providing that it survives. Considering the potential threat it poses to Windows, you have to wonder whether this kernel will take root and grow or wither in Microsoft's long, dark shadow.

The presence of expanded or extended memory will speed up disk-intensive operations, as will a fast hard disk (28 ms or less access time). Since GeoWorks Ensemble (the collection of programs and utilities GeoWorks has released to introduce the GEOS operating system) adheres to a standard known as Motif, its display screens comply with the Open Software Foundation's suggested standards for graphic interfaces. When compared with the Windows 3.0 interface, OSF/Motif's interface looks crisper, clearer.

Booting in its default configuration, GeoWorks Ensemble ($195 list, $150 street price) greets you with an inviting welcome screen that offers three large icons labeled Appliances, Professional, and DOS Programs.

Clicking on Appliances summons four deliberately innocent-looking software appliances: a standard (non-scientific) calculator, a Rolodex-like address book (with a built-in phone dialer), a handy calendar/date planner, and a notepad. No one requires detailed instructions on how to use a Rolodex or a calculator, so anyone can learn how to use these appliances within minutes.

The DOS Program button (naturally) leads to DOS. By default, this path guides you to only one destination - the DOS C> prompt. GeoWorks, however, enables you to subsequently set up your own selection of buttons, complete with representational icons, to launch BAT, COM, or EXE applications.

Working on a Professional Level

Clicking on the Professional button takes you to a screen that contains nine GEOS-specific programs including a word processor, a file manager, two telecommunications modules, and a draw program. These applications run in GEOS-supervised windows. The windows can be resized, minimized (collapsed to an icon), maximized (expanded to full screen), or moved by dragging the title bar with the mouse. Some windows elements, such as icons, can be dragged around to suit your preferences (or level of hostility).

Commands are selected with the mouse from GEOS's cascading (dropdown) menus. Most of the common commands have shortcut keys (usually a combination of Alt or Ctrl plus a mnemonic alpha key).

GeoWorks Ensemble's windows offer the expected complement of GUI features. Scroll bars and arrows in the right margin scroll the text up and down smoothly or screen by screen. Maximize and minimize buttons duplicate menu selections to expand or reduce the screen. With more than one window onscreen, you can switch between them by clicking inside of the window you want active. And finally, GEOS's omnipresent Express button provides a shortcut to switch between applications without first returning to a central file manager.

GeoWorks Ensemble employs preemptive multitasking (also called time slicing) to run multiple GEOS-specific applications in the background. GEOS prioritizes the running applications and then apportions time from the computer system's single CPU (whether the CPU is an 8088, 8086, 80286, 80386, or 80486) to all applications in the queue. This makes for fast, efficient multitasking.

Built-In Applications

The GEOS operating system could do little but promise without GeoWorks Ensemble, a built-in suite of applications. After you've put them through the hoops, however, a couple of the programs will leave you with curiously mixed feelings. On one hand, these applications are very technically advanced. But at the same time they're unexpectedly incomplete.

Consider GeoWrite, a first-rate WYSIWYG word processor with a rich assortment of page-publishing features. GeoWrite supports (as do all GeoWorks Ensemble applications) multiple scalable fonts to deliver nearly 800 text sizes (from a tiny 4-point to a billboard-sized 792-point). Its PostScript-like type manager blends bitmap and outline fonts, thereby ensuring that the typeface and font you see on your screen will match the one your printer produces, regardless of whether it's a 9- or 24-pin dot-matrix printer or a PCL-based (Hewlett-compatible) laser printer.

A Pretty Face

In a product packed with innovative technology GeoWrite's WYSIWYG display distinguishes itself. In addition to rendering manual leading (finely varying the spaces between lines) and positive/negative kerning (changing the space allocated to a character without changing its shape), GeoWrite's custom borders, drop shadows, and multiple columns enable you to enhance the appearance of even the most routine documents.

So what's not to like? Well, it's not what GeoWrite includes that's the problem; it's what it's missing: macros, search-and-replace capability, a thesaurus, and a spelling checker. When compared to the advanced bells and whistles GeoWrite offers, these missing features are as basic as toast for breakfast.

Surprisingly, GeoWrite Ensemble also omits a spread-sheet and a database, two essential applications. A company representative, however, said GeoWorks plans to release both applications later this year. Registered purchasers of GeoWorks Ensemble version 1.0 will receive a free upgrade.

More Geology

The rest of Ensemble's built-in applications will fulfill reasonable expectations and needs.

As the centralized rendezvous for all Professional applications, GeoManager's primary mission is to shield novices and occasional users from DOS's jargon; it does that well while providing full functionality via pull-down menus.

Within GeoManager, disk directories are depicted graphically as folders. Folders, in turn, contain subdirectories or files or both. Drive icons streamline switching to other system drives and displaying their files. By default, a drive's contents will display graphically, or you can change it to text listing (much like a standard DOS display).

GeoDraw's eight tools enable you to create geometric primitives (ellipses, boxes, lines, and polygons) as well as text. GeoDraw imports and exports PCX and TIF images and can transfer them to GeoWrite. Since GEOS (and therefore all of its applications) is object oriented, fusing and separating image components are quick and easily mastered. Likewise, when you use GEOS's font manager, GeoDraw's text and drawings print out beautifully, even on a 9-pin dot-matrix printer. You can also print text in solid colors, reverse, several vector patterns, and increasingly translucent half tones, as well as at any angle.

Keeping Track

GeoDex is similar to the address book available under the Appliance icon except that it offers such additional features as text searching and multiple-viewing modes.

GeoPlanner tracks your appointments by organizing and searching through multiple daily, weekly, monthly, or annual events. Alarms alert you to appointments.

GeoComm delivers the requisite telecommunications features. The dedicated access software for America OnLine, a subset of GeoComm, adheres to the GEOS graphic interface, so the feel and flavor of the geographical display remain consistent throughout your online time.

Seamless America

>From my meanderings through its Teflon terrain, I would say that America OnLine holds promise as a lowcost, easy-to-use source of information and entertainment. For example, America OnLine's People to People forum invites you to drop in anytime and participate in its forever ongoing discussions. Also, peruse America OnLine's numerous high-quality entertainment, productivity, and utility downloads.

Unquestionably, GEOS faces a long uphill climb. Still, tiny GeoWorks is off to an astonishingly good start and running strong. Now that reminds me of another story I heard as a child. This one's about a mouse that roared