Even your mom can use the innovative IBM PS/1


TWO OF THE BIGGEST names in personal computing have taken direct aim at the home computer buyer.

IBM has introduced the compact and innovative PS/1. Initially available in just three markets -- Dallas-Fort Worth, Chicago and Minneapolis-St.Paul -- it went on sale nationwide last week.

Meanwhile, Tandy brought out the Tandy 1000 RL, nearly as trim as the IBM model and loaded with software meant to appeal to home users. It already is in national distribution.

(I'll describe the IBM PS/1 this week and then devote my next column, two weeks hence, to the Tandy 1000 RL.)

Priced at $1,999, IBM's top-of-the-line PS/1 model comes with a high-resolution VGA color monitor, a hard disk with storage for 30 million characters of data and programs, a fast 2,400-baud modem for telecommunications and excellent built-in software.

With its Intel 80286 microprocessor running at 10 megahertz and a megabyte of RAM operating memory, the PS/1 is more powerful than IBM's classic PC/AT design, but a modest performer compared to today's 386 powerhouse computers for the office.

Three lesser-equipped models are available, beginning at $999 for a black-and-white monitor, 512 kilobytes of memory and TC single floppy disk drive. One intermediate model costing $1,499 adds a color monitor to the base model, while the other retains the black-and-white monitor but adds the hard disk and one megabyte of memory for $1,649.

To get full benefit from the PS/1 you need the hard disk. Color adds greatly to your enjoyment, too, especially if anyone in your household plays computer games. So I would recommend the top model for most people.

The PS/1 is IBM's best job of packaging ever. From the single box containing all components to the opening image on its screen to its software, the PS/1 is designed for easy access. It can be purchased from IBM dealers or three department stores -- Sears Brand Central, Dayton-Hudson and Dillards -- depending on where you live.

Computer enthusiasts may sneer at the PS/1. A few weeks ago I listened to a couple of columnists for PC Magazine run it down quite harshly.

I think they missed the whole point of the PS/1. This is a computer you could give to your mother. She would love you for it and probably not even have to pester you too much with questions about how to work it.

I set it up in five minutes and loved it. It is small and quiet and elegant. You plug it in and something actually happens. Impressive images pop onto the screen and you can understand what to do. Move the mouse - they all come with a mouse - to point at an image of what you want to do and, in an instant, you are computing.

Some friends who came over were intrigued with it, so I packed it up and sent it home with them. One of them unpacked it by herself, plugged the components together in five minutes and set about teaching herself how to use it with the built-in tutorials. It was easier than using a VCR, she said, and she was reluctant to give it back when I said time was up.

The PS/1 is packed in a single, 52-pound box, about the same size as two VCR boxes. When you open the lid, a "start here" pamphlet guides you.

There are three components. The largest is the 12-inch monitor, which also contains the power supply for the system and has two permanently attached cables that fit into the back of the computer unit. The 11-inch-wide, 14-inch-deep and 3-inch-high central processing unit contains the floppy and hard disks and the 2,400-baud modem. It rests unobtrusively beneath the monitor.

Unlike the fatal mistake IBM made in giving its ill-fated PC/Jr a toy keyboard, the PS/1 keyboard has the same 101 keys as other IBM computers. But the size was whittled down by trimming the case close to the outer edges of the keys. It is a much handier size than the standard keyboard of the PS/2 models.

As soon as you plug it in and turn it on, you are ready to go because all the software is already installed on the hard disk. (That's one important reason to get the hard disk model.)

In just a few seconds, a handsome and detailed opening screen appears, illustrating the program choices available. It is easily understood, but avoids being patronizing.

The screen is divided into four quadrants. The upper left "Information" section has a picture of a globe, a telephone and four books. Move the mouse-controlled arrow into that area to select either of two well-done tutorials, or the on-line information and entertainment service Prodigy or Prodigy's PS/1 User's Club that IBM has created.

Moving the mouse pointer to the upper right screen, with its picture of a calculator, diary, letter and pie chart, gets you into Microsoft Works. This is a superb integrated software package providing word processing, spreadsheet, database and telecommunications that is perfect for home or small business use.

The lower left quadrant depicts file folders. This is where you reach the programs and games that you install in the PS/1. Every time you put a new program on the hard disk in its own subdirectory, a new folder is created and labeled automatically. It is the easiest way to manage programs in an MS-DOS computer that I have seen -- a lot nicer than Microsoft's vaunted Windows 3.0.

The last quadrant, on the lower right, takes you into the DOS commands. You can even get to the old-fashioned C prompt, if you really want to. You won't want to do that very much, however, nor will it be necessary.

The PS/1 is just fine for its intended home and education market, and probably will find its way into small business offices, too. But it has limited expansion and networking capabilities that make it unsuitable for corporate computing.

There is enough power to run all of the popular DOS software programs such as Lotus 1-2-3, Quattro Pro, WordPerfect, Paradox 3.0 and Microsoft Word. It also runs Microsoft Windows 3.0, Excel and Word for Windows, but those graphics-intensive programs are better on faster machines.

Musicians will enjoy the $249 audio card/joystick option that that allows the PS/1 to be connected to musical keyboards with a MIDI interface. It will also accept joysticks for controlling games.

If you need to expand its capabilities, there is an external three-slot expansion chassis available. I haven't seen it and don't know how well it fits with the other components. Using that chassis, RAM memory can be expanded to seven megabytes. Alternatively, cards for fax, CD-ROM players or tape backup units could be installed.

An easily-installed $449 letter-quality printer will be available within a few weeks.

For the first-time buyer or the casual user with no ambitions of running processor and memory-hungry graphics software such as desktop publishing, the PS/1 is a dandy machine.

You can buy more powerful clone computers for less money. But you'll have to work harder and learn more to use them. The PS/1 is the closest machine yet to a computer appliance for your household.

Computer File welcomes readers' comments but regrets that the author cannot respond individually to letters. Write to Richard O'Reilly, Computer File, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror 8 Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.


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