Personal Computer News6th April 1985
Published in Personal Computer News #106
The WIMPs Are Set To Take Over - Homefront
WIMPs are fashionable, WIMPs are in. And they herald a new interest in computing. Official endorsement for WIMPs arrives in the form of GEM (Graphics Environment Manager) on April 15 1985. That's the day Digital Research releases its PCDOS front end, GEM Desktop.
WIMPs are important not because they bring any more computing power (though they usually need 16-bit architecture); if anything, WIMPs slow things down because they involve a lot of extra processor work and memory capacity (RAM and disk).
What makes them important is what they are - nothing more than a very straightforward front-end or interface: an imaginative combination of existing ideas.
The most important item in the WIMP concept is the mouse. Similar to an upside-down tracker ball, it's little more than a glorified joystick. As you move the mouse round the desktop, a pointer moves on the screen. The mouse has from one to three click buttons. To select an item from a menu you move the pointer to the menu title at the top of the screen, then click to select it, making the whole menu drop down from its title.
A window is a rectangle on the screen which usually contains information (such as the icons representing the files on a disk) or a menu. A window can be moved round the screen, made larger or smaller, all by mouse clicks and movement. And an icon is a tiny picture (sprite) that represents programs, files, disks, the wastebin, etc.
One of the most important functions of the mouse is 'dragging'. This is when you select an icon by clicking over it then, holding click down, you move the mouse and the pointer drags the icon round the screen. So, to copy a file from one disk to another, you simply drag the file's icon from one disk's directory window to another's. To erase a file, drag its icon over the wastebin icon and release it.
There's general agreement among users that WIMPs make computing easier, faster and relatively hassle-free 'PIP A:BAKfile. BAK = B:filename.BAK' seems like something out of a history book. Those less used to computers tend to reach with: "Why aren't all computers like this?" And first-time users find applications and file management easy to learn.
End users want WIMP systems - they look good (very sci-fi and hi-tech), they're easy to use and they're a novelty. So DR has produced GEM and Microsoft is working hard to get Windows out by May 1985. Atari has taken GEM on-board - literally, it's in ROM on the ST - and ACT has licensed GEM for its Apricot range.
The ACT tie-up, and the fact that the first release of GEM will only run on the IBM PC, AT and XT, will bring pressure to bear on OEMs like Olivetti to license EM for their PC compatibles, or other (perhaps 68000-based) micros. And that's where companies like DR and Microsoft earn their bread and butter.
GEM threatens Apple and Microsoft. Because DR is keeping prices down, and hopes third-party software publishers will do likewise, a PC with GEM, a GEM-licensed compatible or an Apricot may be a more attractive proposition than a Macintosh.
Microsoft could run into trouble with its Windows, largely because of the long delay between announcement and launch.
So where does all this leave the home micro market? For a start, moves are afoot to raise home micros above the status of games machines. Micros are being given more facilities (QL, CP/M for Amstrad and BBC) and if Atari can keep the ST below £400, it will threaten Sinclair and rock the boat for low price, small business micros. The upmarket version could be a match for the ACT Apricots and IBM PCs.
Micros without 128K RAM, disks and a monitor can't benefit from WIMPs, though it is possible to produce emulations, e.g. the AMX mouse for the Beeb. Given the sales performance of the most recent 8-bit home micros (Enterprise and MSX), it looks as if we won't see any more 64K, Z80, eight colour, 'Basic in ROM' machines.
To compete with Commodore's Amiga and Atari's ST they'll have to be 16-bit, and with 64K RAM chips down in price, why not slip in GEM, or your own front-end to make it more attractive?