Lately, one topic has consistently come up when I talk with non-profit executives about technology issues: Should we move to Windows or not? Asking me that question is like asking a Bedouin which snow sled is best. A computer expert I'm not. As long as it does what I need it to do, I couldn't care less what goes on inside the black box.
So, maybe eight months ago, hat in hand and heavily armed with ignorance, I approached the chief guru of our computer affiliate, Dr. Ed Boas of International Computer Associates in Chesapeake City. After a decade of saving the collective posteriors of our staff and clients from crashed systems and incomprehensible software manuals, Ed knows my limitations pretty well. Unlike many computer pros, Ed is bilingual. He speaks plain English, too.
Windows, he explained to me, is an operating system, like the Disk Operating System, or DOS, that we've been using for many years. Operating systems tell your computer how to handle software, where to store data and a bunch of other very useful things.
Unlike DOS, Windows is a graphical system, which means that there is this nice, intuitive, shell for communicating with your computer. What it boils down to is that pros like Ed don't really need Windows, since he actually enjoys communicating directly with his operating system, tweaking its gizzards with cute phrases like, "SysConfig nn*.* a: chkdsk b:/c
/nobak." When he saw my blank stare, he said that I'd probably do better with
Based on all the confusion surrounding Windows, I thought that if I can figure out its pluses and minuses, maybe I can help my readers do the same. So, with keyboard in hand, and Windows software from every major developer, I tried to answer two
First, is it worth the trouble and expense for non-profits to switch to Windows? Of course, we are talking IBM-compatible computers here, since Macintosh users have been using a graphical system for years. Second, if it is worth the trouble, what might be the "ideal" basic software solution for the typical non-profit organization?
The answer to the first question -- is it worth the trouble and expense to switch to Windows -- is a "yes" in my mind, but perhaps for different reasons than has been touted in the computer press. One of the most frustrating aspects of working with software running under DOS is that each one is so unique, it requires a motivated worker and lots of patience to climb the often confusing learning curve. Then, once learned, there is no way to cleanly transfer materials from a spreadsheet, for example, to your favorite word processing program.
Windows has changed all that. With Windows you get what is known as a common user interface. Whether your software is from WordPerfect Corp. or Microsoft, it utilizes a similar screen and set of functions. That alone flattens the learning curve, making employee training easier.
What else will the move to Windows accomplish for your non-profit organization?
Training is also facilitated by the incredibly user-friendly help screens that are common to all Windows programs. Best of all, you can take materials from any Windows program and transfer it to another. For example, you may need to give a budget report to your board prior to their monthly meeting. Just call up the spreadsheet, copy it and paste it into your Windows program.
Better yet, the Windows environment also allows you to "hot-link" data from one program to another. Using the example above, suppose the report format you use for your board is always the same. You can create a template for it in your word processor, then easily hot-link it to your spreadsheet. Each time you generate the report, it will automatically grab the latest spreadsheet data.
Finally, all Windows programs are WYSIWYG: what you see is what you get. This feature allows you to place graphics on a page and actually see it, manipulate it, move it. Results appear immediately, just like they will on paper.
So, what are the drawbacks?
Problem number one is that is takes money to upgrade to Windows, since none of your DOS software will work to full advantage under Windows.
A major problem with Windows is that software eats memory and disk space like Monday night football junkies eat beer nuts. So, not only do you have to change software, you will probably need to upgrade your entire system to run Windows to full advantage.
It is not uncommon for each Windows software package to use 8 or 10 megabytes of space. If you presently have a 40 megabyte hard drive, you won't have enough storage space.
On the plus side, the cost of upgrading is decreasing every month.
Still, experts like Ed and others I interviewed for this series predict most users will eventually move to Windows or some other graphical environment.
Next week I'll look at ideal software for word processing and spreadsheets, two of the most basic non-profit software needs.
Les Picker, a consultant in the field of philanthropy, works wit charitable organizations and for-profit companies.