There is a temptation, when describing Microsoft Windows 3.0, to compare it with Apple Computer Inc.'s Macintosh system software.
The comparison belittles the Macintosh, which is easier to understand and use and which has a more consistent system of point-and-click commands and operations.
However, Norton Desktop for Windows, a utility program from the Symantec Corp., takes Windows several steps closer to being easy to use.
Experienced Windows users will see immediate benefits. But first-time Windows users will have to take it on faith that Norton will eventually make more sense than plain Windows.
Just as Windows makes it easier to deal with the underlying DOS operating system, Norton Desktop makes it easier to deal with Windows.
Where Windows has a confusing trio of Managers -- File Manager, Task Manager and Program Manager -- Norton consolidates file management into a single system that is much more flexible and sensible.
It also adds a number of popular Norton utilities that have been redesigned for Windows, including
a very good backup program and a disk analyzer, and some handy new tools for searching for text and viewing files.
"This is the interface that is missing in Windows," said Jeffrey Tarter, editor and publisher of Softletter, a newsletter that analyzes the software industry. "What Symantec and Norton have done is underscore how skimpy the basic tools and interface of Windows are."
As the name implies, Norton Desktop for Windows borrows the "desktop" screen concept from the Macintosh, adding some tools that Windows lacked.
The Mac desktop uses visual office symbols to make the computer operations easier to understand. For example, a document looks like a piece of paper, and it is kept in a file folder. To delete the document or file, the user drags it to a trash can.
Windows had no such easy visual clues. Norton adds them.
Actually, Norton adds a shredder as well as a trash can, although for legal reasons (fear of an Apple copyright lawsuit) it cannot use a trash can symbol. In its place is a "smart eraser" that makes a file invisible.
If the file was erased accidentally, then, it can be recovered easily. If the user really wants to wipe out a file so that no one can recover it, the shredder gets rid of it permanently.
Michael Goodman, manager of end-user computing at Dean Witter Reynolds Inc. of New York, said the "drag and drop" file management feature of Norton Desktop for Windows is also handy for sending a document to a printer or moving an entire subdirectory and its contents to another hard disk drive.
"Being able to do all that graphically is worthwhile," said Mr. Goodman, who has transferred about half of his company's 2,000 PC users to Windows 3.0.
File and program management are the real highlights of Norton Desktop. To work on a word processing report, the user simply points to it and clicks the mouse, and Norton activates the word processing application.
Or application icons can be scattered on the desktop, wherever they are convenient, and activated by double-clicking.
A big difference is that applications can be put wherever they make the most sense for the way a user works. Some people may want to scatter application icons; others may want to wrap them in neat packages and put them inside other packages.
Either approach, slobbish or fastidious, is available on Norton but not in Windows itself.
Norton Desktop makes icons to represent any diskette and hard disk drives connected to the computer, including drives on a local area network.
By clicking on a drive icon, one can open a window showing the "tree" structure of directories and subdirectories on the disk; another window shows the file names of the contents of any directory, and finally, a viewer window allows the user to see the contents of a file without really opening it.
To move or copy a file from one directory to another, even across a network, just highlight it, drag it and drop it at its destination.
Norton Desktop for Windows could be the program that finally transforms Windows from a curiosity to a truly useful environment.
Although Microsoft asserts that it sold 3 million copies of Windows 3.0 by the end of 1990, fewer than a million copies of Windows 3.0 applications -- word processors, spreadsheets, desktop publishing programs and the like -- were sold in the same time, according to Mr. Tarter of Softletter.
In other words, Windows appears to be the software equivalent of a best-selling novel that lots of people buy, put on the coffee table and never read.
Most people use Windows 3.0 as an easier way to switch from one DOS application to another and as "a glorified DOS shell" that makes it easier to perform common DOS functions, Mr. Tarter suggested.
"But Windows 3.0 lacks the navigational tools and utilities that a good DOS shell should have," Mr. Tarter added, and that is where Norton Desktop for Windows comes in.
Just as Microsoft Corp. took some good ideas from Norton's DOS utilities and incorporated them into DOS 5.0, perhaps Microsoft will look at Norton Desktop for Windows and borrow some ideas for future versions of Windows. Until then, Norton is handy to keep around.