The Apple Macintosh has long been acknowledged as easier to use than the more widely sold IBM PCs and compatibles, and the key to that ease of use has been the computer's operating system software.
Apple Computer Inc.'s improved version of the Macintosh operating system, called System 7.0, adds more power to the computer without increasing its complexity.
The first thing a user will notice about System 7.0 is the subtle addition of 3-D effects and color shading on the "desktop," the area of the screen where work takes place.
But the beauty of System 7.0 is more than screen-deep, and executives who tap into its power will discover a series of features that will wring more power from their software.
But not all the features will be available immediately. Software developers will have to rewrite their programs to take advantage of the new tools in System 7.0, and that could take many months.
Once the applications software is widespread, System 7.0 will be a compelling choice for businesses that use Macintosh computers.
The Macintosh, introduced in 1984, was the first popular computer to use the so-called graphical operating system.
Instead of typing strings of arcane commands, the Macintosh allowed users to operate the system by pointing at menu items or symbols, and then selecting the action by clicking an ear on the mouse pointing device.
Since 1984, rival computer makers and software companies have moved toward graphical computing, including Microsoft Corp., of Redmond, Wash., with its Windows software, IBM of Armonk, N.Y., with its Presentation Manager for OS/2, and Tandy Corp., of Fort Worth, Texas, with its Deskmate software.
Last year Microsoft came out with Windows version 3.0, the first graphical system for PCs that could directly challenge the Macintosh. Microsoft has sold more than 3 million copies of Windows.
Now, with System 7.0, the first major overhaul to the Mac operating system, the Mac can once again claim features that set it apart from Windows:
* FILE SHARING. Macintoshes have long been able to share documents and other files on a network over a system called Appleshare, one of the simplest networking schemes available. System 7.0 goes beyond Appleshare in several ways, allowing a Mac user access to folders and files on the hard disk or CD-ROM drive of any other Mac on the network, assuming, of course, that the owner of those files wants them to be shared. The owner can block access or grant it selectively.
No longer is there a need to set aside one or more Macintoshes as a "file server," or central repository of common files. In effect, every Mac running System 7.0 on Appleshare is a file server.
* EASIER MULTI-TASKING. System 7.0 makes it easy to keep
several applications, or tasks, open at the same time. A word processor can operate in one window, a spreadsheet in another and a database in yet another, and the user can switch among them with a click or two. It is also much simpler to move information from one application to another.
* ALIASES. Although multi-tasking makes it easy to switch among applications, sometimes it is easier still to keep multiple copies of the same commonly used file. Before System 7.0, keeping multiple copies would cost multiple chunks of disk memory. System 7.0 allows the creation of "alias" files, essentially alternate doorways into the file that take up only a kilobyte or two. Clicking on an alias of a file in any directory takes the user through a shortcut to the master file, and any changes made will ripple through other versions of the file.
* VIRTUAL MEMORY. System 7.0 allows some of the newest Macintoshes, basically those with Motorola Inc.'s 68030 microprocessor and also the Mac LC, to use empty hard disk space to supplement system memory. More system memory allows the user to keep more and larger files in memory at any given time. It comes in handy, when working with big spreadsheet files and complex graphics.
* BALLOON HELP. A new icon, or symbol, in the upper right corner of the screen makes it simple to get help and advice on almost any function of the computer. It is called balloon help, because it looks like the voice balloons used in comics. When balloon help is turned on, the user simply points at anything on screen to see a description of that object.
* FONTS. System 7.0 marks the introduction of Truetype scalable type fonts, which, like the Type 1 type fonts from Adobe Systems Inc., are already supported by the Macintosh. With scalable fonts, the user can make text and number characters larger and smaller in a wide array of increments without a noticeable loss of quality.
* INTERAPPLICATION COMMUNICATIONS. This technology will eventually allow different applications, like word processors, spreadsheets, databases and graphics programs, to work more closely with one another. One facet of interapplication communications is called Publish and Subscribe, which allows the user to forge dynamic links among applications and files. One could use Publish and Subscribe, for example, to link a pair of spreadsheets, so that any change in one was reflected in another automatically.
If figures in a western region sales work sheet were altered, those changes would be reflected automatically in the national sales work sheet.
Or, an executive constructing a report in a desktop publishing program might incorporate text from a word-processing program, spreadsheet data, a computer-generated illustration and a chart.
Another aspect of interapplication communications is called Apple Events, which allows one application to use features of another.
For example, executives may prefer their own word processing programs, and each program probably has its own spelling checker.
However, their company might have developed its own electronic dictionary. Apple Events would allow an executive's word processor to work with the spelling checker in another application.
System 7.0 is supposed to be available without charge from authorized Apple dealers. Some are happy to help any customer who brings in eight blank and formatted diskettes.
Some dealers, however, seem willing to help only those customers willing to buy the system upgrade kit of software, manuals, documentation and telephone support for $99.