If you're using Microsoft Windows 3.0 and you haven't decided whether to upgrade to version 3.1, don't wait another minute.
Microsoft has done a superb job of improving its popular graphical environment for IBM-compatible computers. While single-digit differences in software releases (as in 3.0 to 3.1) aren't supposed to be earth-shaking, this one is well worth the $50 upgrade price or the $100 for people who don't already own a version of Windows.
Microsoft claims it has made 1,000 different improvements in Windows 3.1. I don't doubt it. Some will appeal only to real power users -- the guys who dig out the details on Page 300 of the manual so they can produce four-color corporate reports with scanned photographs, animated spreadsheets and 20 different kinds of flow charts.
For example, power freaks are delighted because Windows 3.1 now has Object Linking and Embedding as well as Dynamic Data Exchange. But any improvement that takes a Ph.D. to understand will probably be lost on most of us.
However, a few major changes make Windows 3.1 a delight for everyone.
First, the new Windows is much faster than the old one. Graphical environments, which replaced the arcane command lines of earlier hardware and software with a picture of a desktop and icons that represent programs and files, take a lot of horsepower.
I'd probably buy nothing less than an 80386 processor running at 33 mHz for Windows. But Windows will tax whatever hardware you throw at it.
While it's hard to say how much faster the new Windows is, you'll notice a lot more snap right away. Programs load and run much faster, and scrolling through long documents isn't as much of a chore as it once was.
Part of this comes from Microsoft programmers tweaking the Windows code to optimize performance. Part comes from a new version of Smartdrive, the disk caching program that reads in and stores in memory large chunks of data from your disk drive. This makes disk access much faster -- and Windows spends a lot of time reading and writing to your disk.
Another major improvement -- and reason enough to upgrade -- is the inclusion of True Type font technology.
Developed jointly by Microsoft and Apple, True Type provides a variety of high-resolution, scalable type faces. That means you can print any type face at any size -- on any of 200 different printers. The same technology provides true WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) displays of those fonts on your screen.
To get that kind of quality and flexibility, previous versions of Windows required that you have an expensive Postscript laser printer or a third-party software font utility such as Adobe Type Manager (ATM) or Bitstream Facelift.
True Type is an excellent performer, much faster than either Facelift or ATM. If you've used ATM, which incorporates Adobe's superb Postscript typefaces, you'll feel right at home with True Type. The popular Arial and Times New Roman faces that come with Windows 3.1 are virtually identical to their Adobe counterparts.
The difference is speed. I tested both type managers (they'll coexist peacefully) with a one-page flier I created using the Ami Professional word processor. The document contains four different type faces, a vector-based graphic produced by AmiPro's drawing program and five small bitmapped pictures that I imported with a hand scanner.
Using ATM fonts and output technology, it took two minutes and 45 seconds to get the page out of my Hewlett Packard LaserJet II. When I converted the fonts to their True Type counterparts, the output time was a mere one minute and 15 seconds. That's quite an improvement.
Windows with True Type also did an admirable job of printing the same document quickly on a Panasonic KX-P1124i dot matrix printer. While no one will confuse the result with laser type, it was much better than anything I was able to get with the old version of Windows.
For those who are upgrading to Windows 3.1, Microsoft is offering a True Type font package that contains 44 additional type faces -- which will give you the same variety as most expensive Postscript laser printers. At $50, it's a steal.
Even if you like Adobe fonts better than True Type, Windows 3.1 will speed things up by 30 to 40 percent, thanks to a much more efficient print manager.
There are many other improvements in Windows 3.1, including a much more efficient file manager, a simplified installation process, and dozens of other details that make the software easier to use.