ISSUE 442: For The Record- April 14
THE HIGH-TECH OFFICE--Alan Zisman
New Deal offers updated GeoWorks program
that transforms old PCs into usable machines
Let's point the old time machine back to 1990
-- about four generations in computer time, or about four centuries in
That was the year Microsoft released Windows
3.0 -- a.k.a. the Macintosh for the rest of us -- the first popular
graphical user interface for the PC platform, at least if you had a
then high-end 386 with an expensive four megs of RAM.
At the same time, though, a small Berkeley company, GeoWorks,
produced an alternative to Windows. GeoWorks Ensemble offered a
graphical user interface and suite of software applications that ran
without the overhead of Windows, giving the user an attractive and
usable interface that worked well even on the garden-variety 286s of
the era. Despite superior performance and a larger potential user base
than Windows, however, GeoWorks went nowhere. Microsoft's marketing
muscle and -- more importantly -- the lack of any GeoWorks
applications, were to blame.
Back in 1998, hundreds of millions (and several
generations) of computers later... There are still some 30 million 286s
and 386s in use, unable to run the latest software, but with the
potential to remain productive tools. Yet more and more, they're being
consigned to the scrap heap, as businesses find they can't even give
Enter New Deal, based in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, and Montreal (www.newdealinc.
com). They've licensed GeoWorks Ensemble, brought it up to date and
made it Internet capable. The resulting New Deal Office is an
inexpensive product that offers the ability to bring those older, but
still working computers out of the closet and back onto the desktops.
New Deal provides icons, menus, mouse support, along
with long file names, and preemptive multitasking and multithreading,
just like Windows 95 or NT, or the not-yet-released Macintosh Rhapsody
operating system. But the program works on a 10-year-old 286 or 386,
with 640kb of RAM and a 20- or 40-meg hard drive.
Of course, you won't be able to run Microsoft Office
on it, or any Windows or Macintosh software for that matter. To get the
benefits of New Deal, you need to run New Deal software and, as was the
case for its predecessor GeoWorks, there isn't much of that --
essentially what comes packaged with the operating system. Still,
what's in the box will meet many people's needs. There's a word
processor, with most required features and a lot of page layout
capability, a spreadsheet, a database and a graphics program with lots
of Corel Draw-like bells and whistles.
All members of the suite are drag-and-drop-enabled.
You can drag the graphic or the spreadsheet chart into the word
processor window, and add it to your report.
I installed the package on a decade-old IBM
PS/2 Model 55: a 16-MHz 386SX with 2 megs of RAM. It fit tidily onto
the 40-meg hard drive and gave impressive performance, even with
multiple programs open at once. In fact, in this era of 300-MHz
processors, with 32 megs and more RAM, and operating systems that
require 200 megs or more of drive space, it's amazing to see the
performance that the right software could coax out of this old
The New Deal package is a bit of a moving target. In
the copy I got, for example, the Web browser and Internet connection
software weren't included, but the company claims the programs are in
the versions shipping now. Similarly, Internet-standard Pop3 e-mail
isn't quite here yet.
The bundled applications can read files from today's
standard programs such as MS Office, but only if saved in older file
The company has even got a Visual Basic-like
development application in the works (with beta copies available for
The company is targeting the home/small office market,
along with schools and non-profits. Potentially, businesses could use
it to bring their older machines back out of the closet.
Travellers, who are justifiably wary of toting a
$5,000 notebook around the world, may want to consider taking an older,
New Deal- equipped model (especially after the company gets the e-mail
software out the door).
In a just universe, there'll be a market for this kind
of software, which has the potential to breathe new life into old
The cost? $99.
But don't take my word for it. You can download the
shareware edition, featuring the interface, file manager and word
processor for free (registration is about $15).
Of course, that 286 or 386 probably doesn't have
Internet access, does it? Instead, contact Western Canada regional
sales manager Geoff Clay at 618-1739.*