Old alternative reborn as New Deal

by Alan Zisman (c) 1998. First published in Computer Player, June 1998

New Deal Office Suite/New Deal School Suite
$99 CDN
Minimum platform: 640 kb 286 with 9 megs of hard drive space
from:  New Deal, Inc.
(800) 985-4263 or (514) 633-6370

So imagine it?s 1990. You?ve got a powerful PC, say a 286 running at 12 MHz, with a full 1 meg of RAM, maybe 2 megs even. A big 40 meg hard drive.

And you?ve heard of this new program from Microsoft, it?s getting a lot of hype in the media. It?s called Windows 3.0. It?s supposed to let you run graphical programs, and even multitask?run more than one program at a time. So you buy a copy.

And it makes your powerful machine run in slow motion. And it crashes, often, saying something about an ?Unexplainable Application Error? or something.

And maybe, if you?re lucky, you hear about a program called GeoWorks Ensemble, from a little company in Berkeley. It makes the same sorts of promises as Windows 3.0, but it actually runs in something resembling real time on your hardware.

But outside of the sample applications that come in the box, there?s no software for it. And it seems like the whole world is moving to Windows. So, somewhat reluctantly, you upgrade your hardware. You get a 386SX16. And then a 386DX33. And a 486. And a Pentium. And then?

And meanwhile, Windows 3.0 is replaced by Windows 3.1, and by Windows for Workgroups. And Windows 95, and Windows 98. And maybe you should think of moving to Windows NT.

And you sort of lose track of those GeoWorks people. Whatever happened to them, anyway? Nice idea, but it seems you just can?t fight Microsoft.

So now, suddenly, it?s 1998. Tens of millions of users with powerful, new computers, running powerful new software. But also tens of millions of computers and computer users abandoned by the never-ending push for newer, faster, more powerful.

From nowhere, though, GeoWorks returns, with a new name, a new company, and spiffed up for the new millennium.  New Deal, based in Cambridge, Massachussetts (the Berkeley of the East Coast) and Montreal, and run by a former GeoWorks vice-president, has licensed the GeoWorks Ensemble software, and has released it in two versions, as New Deal School Suite and New Deal Office Suite, aimed at schools, non-profits, homes, and offices running older PC hardware.

In case you missed it the first time around, GeoWorks/New Deal features an operating environment that, like early versions of Windows, runs on top of DOS. It offers an attractive graphical user interface, based on Unix Motif. It runs happily on 286 and 386 computers with as little as 2 megs of RAM?4 megs makes it really happy.

It supports long file names, multitasking New Deal applications (but not DOS applications), and offers well-implemented drag and drop between virtually anything and anything else, the outcome of everything being programmed as objects. Like Windows (any version), it comes with a collection of applications? a word processor, a graphics program, a calendar, modem software. Unlike the original GeoWorks, there?s now a web browser, and Internet connection software.

But like its 1990 predecessor, there?s still no 3rd party software to use with it. Luckily, the collection of programs that comes with it is reasonably competent? sort of the equivalent, say of Microsoft Works. But if you want something else, you?re out of luck.

Still, as long as you?re satisfied with what?s in the box, you?ll find that that 386SX-16 that you pulled out of the closet feels about as lively as a Pentium running Windows 95. If you?ve been forced to work with aging hardware, with no hope of replacement, or if you?ve got storerooms and closets full of computers, invest  $99 (CDN) in a copy of New Deal, and see if it works for you. Or download the shareware version, complete with interface, file management, and word processor, from the company?s Web site.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan