By Barry Simon
If Microsoft keeps to its promised ship date, you should be reading this shortly after the release of Windows 95. This is such a watershed event that I’m going to go beyond the usual scope of this column to spend much of it on this new OS. I’ll then discuss a few miscellaneous pieces of Judaic software that have recently crossed my desk.
I’ve been running Windows 95 on one of my two PCs since August of 1994 and have installed betas more recently on several other machines. Since I’ve been writing a book (The Mother of All Windows 95 Books with Woody Leonhard, to be published by Addison Wesley), I’ve poked and prodded it a bit.
In a Word, Upgrade
Of course, the first question is whether you should upgrade from Windows 3.x. In a word — yes! — at least with one hardware proviso. Microsoft claims the minimum configuration for Windows 95 is 4 MB of RAM. I disagree. While it may turn out to be true that your Windows 3.1 applications will run as well on a 4 MB machine under Windows 95, as soon as you succumb to the temptation to get one real Windows 95 application, you’ll hit a memory crunch.
If you have a 4 MB machine, stick with Windows 3.1 until you decide to upgrade the RAM or the entire machine. But with 8 MB, you’ll be able to run Windows 95 and a few applications at the same time. Of course, 16 MB is better, but it is definitely not a requirement!
You’ll also need some free disk space. If you install all the extras (and if you have the free disk space, I’d urge you to check the Custom Install option during install and then check off every option offered for what to install!) over Windows 3.1, figure about an extra 40 MB of disk space. If you’ve never installed Windows before, or you want to install a separate copy of Windows 95 and keep your old Windows 3.1 installation, figure 65 MB for everything, 35 MB if you pick a minimal installation.
By the way, I urge you to byte the bullet and install over Windows 3.1 instead of in a separate directory. Yes, it will be hard, if not impossible, to go back if you do that; but if you do a separate install, you’ll need to reinstall all your applications under Windows 95!
The computer magazines spend whole issues discussing what’s new in Windows 95, so in a few paragraphs, I can only scratch the surface. First, the interface has been revamped. If you’ve used Windows 3.x much, you’ll feel a little uncomfortable at first, but I’ve found that most people take to it very quickly. The interface is easier to use for novices, so some family members who have shied away from using that home computer may begin to take to it. Of course, if they kick you off the computer, you may regard this as a mixed blessing! And there really is a lot for power users, so much so that you’ll need a third party book to explore what’s there. (Ahem. I have one to recommend.)
For home PC use, you can set up the machine so each user has his/her own wallpaper, sound scheme, mouse cursors, desktop and launch menu. This will prevent many family fights as more homes have PCs shared among parents and kids.
There is a lot of thought going into the little things. When the clock changes for Daylight Savings time, Windows 95 will automatically adjust the time for you. If a setup rudely copies old versions of basic system files over the ones that are built in, Windows will pop up, warn you and offer to replace them.
CDs have special support, from a new faster file system to an audio CD player that pops up and starts playing the CD automagically when you insert an audio CD in the drive. Moreover, CD ROM vendors will able to configure their CDs to automatically start up when you insert them in the drive (think what this means for young kids using CD ROM resources).
There are also vast arrays of tools built into the system, from a rather complete FAX setup (you need a FAX modem to use it!) to simple internet access tools to file viewers to a complete universal email client.
I’ve no doubt that Windows 95 will be a smashing success and the computing world will move to it. I urge you to also!
Some Windows 95 Tips
A few tips for upgraders. First, the setup takes quite a bit of time — plan on two hours to be on the safe side. The actual file copying and configuration should take 45 minutes to an hour, but setup does some thorough checks and you are likely to find you need to run a scan disk or make some extra space on your hard drive.
Setup is extremely robust. Like the Energizer Bunny, it just keeps running. On almost all the installs I’ve done during the two reboots it does after file installation, something crashed or hung. But invariably, if I turned the machine off and back on when that happened, setup continued and completed successfully. So if you have crashed during install, reboot before panicking.
If you have a CD ROM drive, get the CD version rather than the diskette version. You’ll not need to shuffle floppy disks and there are extra bonuses on the CD, including a Windows Tour that I strongly recommend you take. If you pop the Windows CD into the drive after Windows 95 is installed, it will give you a menu from which you can pick the Windows tour.
To turn on the ability to save separate configurations for multiple users, open the My Computer icon, click on Control Panel and then on the Passwords icon. Click on the User Profile Tab if there are multiple tabs, click on the text that starts “Users can…” and make sure both check boxes are checked. When you next restart Windows, you’ll get a dialog asking User Name and Password. Each user pick a name and password. The first time that a new user logs in, they’ll be asked if they want a personalized desktop. Answer “yes” and then each user can personalize his/her setup without effecting other users.
One final warning. Hebrew fonts are not handled well by Windows 3.1 and also not by Windows 95. Programs with Hebrew fonts do all sorts of weird things to work with Windows 3.1. Many of these weird things no longer work with Windows 95. Expect programs that use Hebrew fonts and font managers like Font Minder to need upgrades before they will work with Windows 95. Be prepared to contact the vendors from whom you bought Windows software that uses Hebrew fonts.
The Software Inbox
Here are capsule reviews of three products from Davka Graphics (800-621-8227) which recently crossed my desk. The Hebrew Font Gallery is a collection of 27 high class True Type fonts, including script, ornate, prayerbook and standards like Frankruhl bold. The characters are mapped to lie at certain capital letters so the English keyboard is mapped much like a Hebrew keyboard is (for example, A corresponds to shin). That means you’ll be able to use these by hand in an standard English program, but likely not in a Hebrew English word processor like Dagesh. There are no nikudot.
Mitzvah Mania is a Windows based game that is a variant on PacMan with a less sophisticated maze. You have to run against the clock and worry about lost lives if the Aveirah man catches you. Instead of the PacMan fruits, you grab icons of a ram’s horn, tefillin, etc. You can get more time, but not more lives, by answering questions that I’d say were at a 7-9 year old level (although parents can add their own). While there are some cute aspects of this program, the links to educational content (i.e. the questions) are very weak and the game play is so far below what is currently available in the non-Judaic market, that I can’t imagine kids who’ve been exposed to many other games keeping much interest in this one.
Zmanim — The Hebrew Calendar for Windows is remarkably complete with a yahrzeit calculator, Hebrew English calendar, daily zmanim, list of holidays etc. It has a non-standard, but easy-to-use, interface. It is marred by a lack of online help, a terse manual and, on my machine, difficulties in printing, but is still by far the best Hebrew calendar program I’ve seen.
Barry Simon is a Contributing Editor of PC Magazine, and the author of The Mother of All Windows Books and The Mother of All PC Books.