BYTE's software reviews editor offers his views on the widening gap between hardware and software, Dennis Allen

If you've ever set out to accomplish a particular task on your PC only to find there was no software that could do it, you've experienced software lag. It's a frustrating feeling—knowing that your computer is capable of doing what you need but is prevented from doing so by the lack of the right software. You've been cheated. The computer that once promised so much

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now has so little to offer.

The root of the problem, is forked.  Neither IBM nor Microsoft has provided a 32-bit DOS-compatible operating system, and developers are still learning how to cope with many megabytes of data. As a result, the current crop of applications software often relies on brute force to get things done.

Not everything, however, is bad in the software world. In fact, there is evidence that applications software is headed for a common user interface, and that WYSIWYG may become a way of life.  And programs may even be getting smarter.

Although you don't need a crystal ball to predict that new changes in software are coming, exactly what the changes will be is less clear. But you can identify some of the forces driving the changes.  The one thing that is certain is that users know what they want.

The Operating-System Bottleneck

Of course, not all the fault for the software lag belongs to applications developers. They're missing an operating system designed specifically for 80386-based hardware. Although OS/2 happens to work on 80386 systems, it was not designed for them. It's a 16-bit operating system for 80286 machines.

On the other hand, developers have yet to conquer OS/2. Even the grandest application of them all—Lotus 1-2-3 release 3.0, which took years to produce - was designed for DOS 3.x. You'd be hard-pressed to walk into any computer store and find five OS/2 applications sitting on the shelf. A lot of software companies talk about OS/2 applications, but few have actually produced any.

The reasons offered are many, but it all boils down to a matter of investment.  While OS/2's complexities, such as multitasking and data sharing, ultimately offer more headroom for sophisticated programs, its learning curve for developers is more like a brick wall.

Even the software giants such as Lotus, Ashton-Tate, and Microsoft, with their abundant resources, have ex-perienced setbacks. Just consider the long waits for 1-2-3 release 3.0, dBASE IV, and a full-featured Windows word processor. And those are just DOS-based applications. The  point is that, even for these companies with their millions of R&D dollars, the number of labor hours needed to develop sophisticated applications is gargantuah.

Managing Megabytes

To complicate matters further, increased storage capacities have offered


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new op-portunities and challenges for applications developers. While more storage would seem obviously better, not every-one is certain how best to use the hundreds of megabytes that optical drives provide.

For now, publishers are using CD-ROMs to provide static reference materials. Notable examples are Grolier's Electronic Encyclopedia and Microsoft's Programmer's Library. But what most users really need is for their applications to manage dynamic archiving.

Currently, when your hard disk becomes nearly full, you have to remove your older files. Maybe you archive them on floppy disks. If you do, chances are that you don't bother referring to those files again because it's too much trouble:You would have to fumble through all your archive disks, trying one and then, another, to find a certain bit of information. You might even find it easier and faster to search through printed reports in a file cabinet.

That's one of the ironies of today's applications software. Although most of the modern world is convinced that you can do record keeping and manage things better on personal computers, you still have to resort to a file cabinet and Pendaflex folders to see your old records.

A better arrangement would be applications software that really takes advantage of read/write or WORM (write once, read many times) optical disks. Such software would, on a regular basis, archive your old records and files on optical disks. More important, the application program would manage those archives. It would continually update its indexes so that, say, five years from now, on a moment's notice, you could call up the spreadsheet for October 1989's production costs. If you needed to change optical disks, the program would fell you which one to insert.

Also, your application should be able to use that archived information. It should be able to correlate it with more recent information to generate comparative reports and to project the next year's performance.

Unfortunately, that kind of software does not exist today, even though the hardware to handle such tasks exists. The fact is, software for dealing with large amounts of on-line data is just emerging.  Consider Lotus Magellan and Traveling Software's ViewLink, for example. They are the first major attempts to help you actively manage several megabytes of disparate information. Either will let you peer into data files on your hard disk and view the data in its native format. Both will also search your hard disk for the file or files containing specific information.

But while Magellan and ViewLink work fine as utilities for managing what's currently on your hard disk, they're really no help at managing archives on floppy disks. Both would also fall short in handling a gigabyte

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or more of data on optical disks. Even worse, both of these programs create a whole new set of problems. Magellan takes up valuable hard disk space with its index, and it needs to update the index frequently, sometimes taking several minutes to do that. And because ViewLink doesn't use an index, its searches can take a long time if you're working with a large disk with lots of

data. Equally as bad, there are no Magellan or ViewLink equivalents for Windows or Presentation Manager (PM).