Kinds of software

The information stored in the computer is called software. Most software stays in RAM temporarily and is erased from RAM when you no longer need it. But some software stays in the computerís circuits permanently: it hides in the ROM and is called firmware.

To feed firmware to the computer, stick extra ROM chips into the main circuitry. To feed other kinds of software to the computer, use the keyboard, disk, or tape: type the information on the keyboard, or insert a disk or tape containing the information.

You can feed the computer four kinds of software: an operating system, a language, application programs, and data. Letís look at them.Ö

Operating systems

An operating system is a set of instructions that explains to the CPU how to handle the keyboard, the screen, the printer, and the disk drive.

The operating system is divided into two parts. The fundamental part is in the ROM chips provided by the manufacturer. The advanced part is on a disk and called the disk operating system (or DOS, which is pronounced "doss"). So to use the advanced part of the operating system, you must make sure the computer contains a disk (floppy or hard) containing DOS.

Different computers use different operating systems:

Mac computers use an operating system called the Mac System.

Apple 2 computers use Apple DOS or Pro DOS.

Radio Shackís TRS-80 computers use TRSDOS (pronounced "triss doss").

DECís Vax minicomputers use an operating system called the Virtual Memory System (VMS).

Ancient microcomputers use the Control Program for Microcomputers (CP/M).

Big computers ó IBM maxicomputers ó use the Multiple Virtual Storage (MVS) system or the Virtual Machine with Conversational Monitor System (VM with CMS).

IBM PC and clones

Most of IBMís personal computers (such as the IBM PC, IBM PC XT, IBM PC AT, IBM PS/1, and IBM PS/2) use an operating system called PC-DOS. Clones use a variant called MicroSoft DOS (which is abbreviated as MS-DOS, which is pronounced "em ess doss").

Instead of buying MS-DOS (or PC-DOS), you can buy a newer operating system called Windows 95, invented in 1995 by Microsoft. Since Windows 95 is a complete operating system, you can buy and use it without buying MS-DOS.

Some computers still use an old Windows version, called Windows 3.1, which is not a complete operating system; instead, itís a supplement to MS-DOS. Before using Windows 3.1, you must put MS-DOS (or PC-DOS) into your computer. Having MS-DOS supplemented by Windows 3.1 is almost as nice as having Windows 95, but not quite!

A supplement (such as Windows 3.1) that modernizes an ugly operating system (such as MS-DOS) and hides the systemís ugliness is called an operating-system shell. Yes, MS-DOS is an ugly operating system; Windows 3.1 is an operating-system shell; Windows 95 is a good operating system.

A competitor to Windows 95 is Operating System 2 (OS/2), invented by IBM. Since Windows 95 is easier to learn than OS/2 and compatible with more hardware and software than OS/2, few people choose OS/2.

Another alternative to Windows 95 is Windows New Technology (Windows NT), an operating system invented by Microsoft. Like OS/2, itís incompatible with much hardware and software and unpopular.

PC-DOS, MS-DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows NT, and OS/2 are all called operating environments.


AT&Tís Bell Laboratories invented an operating system called Unix. Itís pronounced "you nicks", so it sounds like "eunuchs", which are castrated men. (Be careful! A female computer manager who seems to be saying "get me eunuchs" probably wants an operating system, not castrated men.) "Unix" is an abbreviation for "UNICS", which stands for "UNified Information and Computing System".

The original version of Unix was limited to DEC minicomputers used by just one person at a time. Newer versions of Unix can handle any manufacturerís maxi, mini, or micro, even when shared by lots of people at a time.

Microsoft invented a slightly improved Unix called "eXtended Unix" or Xenix (pronounced "zee nicks"). It runs on the IBM PC and other microcomputers.

A Finnish programmer named Linus Torvalds (whose first name is pronounced "lee nuss") invented a Unix imitation called "Linus Unix" or Linux (pronounced "lee nucks"). Itís free! It runs on 386, 486, and Pentium computers and also on Atari and Commodore Amiga computers.

Though many programmers adore Unix, it wonít outsell MS-DOS & Windows, since Unix is harder to learn, runs slower, consumes more memory, usually costs more, and had its best features stolen by new versions of MS-DOS & Windows.


Languages that humans normally speak ó such as English, Spanish, French, Russian, and Chinese ó are called natural languages. Theyíre too complicated for computers to understand.

To communicate with computers, programmers use computer languages instead. The most popular computer languages are BASIC, LOGO, PASCAL, C, DBASE, and COBOL. Each is a tiny part of English ó a part small enough for the computer to master. To teach the computer one of those tiny languages, you feed the computer a ROM or disk containing definitions of that tiny languageís words.

The typical microcomputerís ROM chips contain part of BASIC and part of the operating system. To use the computer fully, you must insert a disk containing the rest of BASIC and DOS.

Different people prefer different languages. Most students prefer LOGO in elementary school, BASIC in high school, PASCAL in college, and C in graduate school. To do accounting, most business executives prefer DBASE on microcomputers, COBOL on maxicomputers.

Although those six languages are the most popular, many others have been invented. Five old languages still in use are FORTRAN, RPG, LISP, PL/I, and SPSS. Five new languages are FORTH, PILOT, PROLOG, ADA, and MODULA.

The Secret Guide to Computers tutors you in all those languages and more, so you become a virtuoso!


The computer will do whatever you wish ó if you tell it how. To tell the computer how to do what you wish, you feed it a program, which is a list of instructions, written in BASIC or in some other computer language.

To feed the computer a program, type the program on the keyboard, or buy a disk containing the program and put that disk into the drive. But before buying the disk, make sure it will work with your computer. For example, if the disk says "for MS-DOS computers", it will work with an IBM PC but not with an Apple.

A person who invents a program is called a programmer. Becoming a programmer is easy: you can become a programmer in just a few minutes! Becoming a good programmer takes longer.

You can buy two kinds of programs. The most popular kind is called an application program: it handles a specific application, such as payroll or psychotherapy or chess. The other kind of program is called a system program: it creates a system that just helps programmers write more programs!

Main applications

An old-fashioned office contains a typewriter, filing cabinet, and calculator. A modern office contains a computer instead.

To make the computer replace your typewriter, buy a word-processing program. To replace your filing cabinet, buy a database program. To replace your calculator, buy a spreadsheet program. Each program typically comes on a set of disks.

Why computerize? To save time! A word-processing program lets you edit mistakes faster than a typewriter. A database program lets you find info faster than thumbing through file cards. A spreadsheet program lets you revise numbers and totals faster than rekeying them on a calculator.

But even the most modern computerized offices still contain typewriters, filing cabinets, and calculators. Those pre-computer relics arenít used much, but theyíre still used occasionally, to accomplish tiny tasks for which a computer would be overkill.

A typewriter is more practical than a computer, if what youíre typing is short (a paragraph or less), or if youíre typing answers onto a form somebody mailed you. A filing cabinet is more practical than a computer, if youíre filing fewer than 100 items, or if youíre filing documents that were mailed to you and that would take too long to retype into the computer. A calculator is more practical than a computer if youíre manipulating fewer than 10 numbers or writing numbers onto a pre-printed form.

But for most tasks, the computer is far superior to pre-computer relics. Here are the details.

Word processing A word-processing program helps you write memos, letters, reports, and books. It also helps you edit what you wrote.

As you type on the keyboard, the screen shows what you typed. By pressing buttons, you can edit whatís on the screen and copy it onto paper and onto a disk.

The most popular word-processing programs are Word Perfect and Microsoft Word. Each runs on the IBM PC and the Mac.

During the late 1980ís and early 1990ís, most IBM PC users preferred Word Perfect, and most Mac users preferred Microsoft Word. During the 1990ís, Microsoft Wordís IBM version improved dramatically but Mac version did not. Now preferences are reversed:

Businesses using the IBM PC had preferred Word Perfect but now are switching to Microsoft Word.

Businesses using Macs had preferred Microsoft Word but now are switching to Word Perfect.

Though Word Perfect and Microsoft Word are popular among experts, theyíre complex. Many simpler word-processing programs have been invented for beginners.

Spreadsheets A spreadsheet program handles tables of numbers. For example, it can handle your budget, inventory, general ledger, baseball statistics, and student test scores.

As you type the numbers, the computer puts them onto the screen in neat columns. You can tell the program to compute the totals, subtotals, and percentages and put them on the screen also.

The computer lets you revise the numbers. Whenever you revise a number, the computer instantaneously recalculates all the totals, subtotals, and percentages and shows them on the screen, faster than your eye can blink!

When the numbers on the screen finally appeal to you (for example, your budget finally balances), press a button that makes the printer print onto paper the entire table of numbers, including even the totals, subtotals, and percentages. Pressing another button makes the computer copy the table onto a disk. The most popular spreadsheet programs can also graph the data.

Spreadsheet programs can become weapons that mesmerize people into believing everything you say ó even if what youíre saying is wrong.

For example, suppose you want to submit a budget. If you scribble the budget on a scrap of paper, nobody will take you seriously; but if you put your data into a spreadsheet program that spits out beautifully aligned columns with totals, subtotals, percentages, bar charts, and pie charts, your audience will assume your budgetís carefully thought out and applaud it, even though itís just a pretty presentation of the same crude guesses youíd have scribbled on paper.

The most famous spreadsheet program is Lotus 1-2-3, which runs on the IBM PC. Discount dealers sell it for $290.

For a fancier spreadsheet program, get a competitor called Quattro Pro, which discount dealers sell for just $63!

The fanciest spreadsheet program of all is Excel, invented by Microsoft. It requires either a modern IBM PC (containing Microsoft Windows) or a Mac. Discount dealers sell it for $299.

The typical spreadsheet program expects the entire spreadsheet to fit in the computerís RAM. If your spreadsheet contains too many rows and columns to fit in RAM, your spreadsheet program will slow down ó or, if itís old-fashioned, stop working altogether! Youíll want to buy more RAM ó or switch to using a database program instead, since database programs handle disks better than spreadsheet programs.

Databases A database program helps you manipulate long lists of data, such as names, addresses, phone numbers, birthdays, comments about folks you know (your friends, customers, suppliers, employees, students, and teachers), past-due bills, and any other data you wish!

As you type the list of data, the computer automatically copies it onto a disk. The computer lets you edit that data and insert extra data in the middle of the list. The program makes the printer print the data in any order you wish: alphabetical order, ZIP-code order, chronological order, or however else you please.

The program can search through all that data and find, in just a few seconds, the data thatís unusual. For example, it can find everybody whose birthday is today, or everybody whoís blond and under 18, or everybody who lives out-of-state and has owed you more than $30 for over a year.

The best easy-to-use database program is Q&A (which stands for "Questions & Answers"). It costs $149. It also includes an easy-to-use word processor, at no extra charge.

Q&A requires an IBM PC or clone. The DOS version of Q&A works well, even if you have Windows. Never buy "Q&A for Windows", which is a totally different product and terrible!

To computerize your business cheaply and pleasantly, get an IBM PC clone and the DOS version of Q&A. If your business is typical, Q&A is the only applications program youíll ever need, since Q&A includes a top-notch database system and an easy-to-understand word processor.

Although this book discusses hundreds of application programs, I use only two of them on a daily basis: Q&A and Microsoft Word. I use Q&A to run my book business, course business, accounting, and life. To type this book, I could have used Q&A but decided to use Microsoft Word instead, because Microsoft Word lets me perform extra word-processing tricks that make the book look pretty.

So Q&A and Microsoft Word are the only two application programs I need. Maybe youíll discover theyíre the only application programs you need!

If you have a Mac, you canít run Q&A. Instead, get Filemaker Pro. Itís an easy-to-use program that performs almost as many database tricks as Q&A but lacks a word processor. Discount dealers sell it for $177. Filemaker Pro is also available for IBM PC computers using Windows.

If you need different database tricks than Q&A performs, get Filemaker Pro or Alpha or Approach or Microsoft Access (which is harder) or Paradox (which is even harder) or invent your own database program (by using a programming language called DBASE or an imitation called FOXPRO).

The typical business makes the mistake of buying DBASE and hiring a consultant to write DBASE programs. Six months later, the business complains that itís paid the consultant $2000 in fees and the consultantís program still doesnít work. The business would have been better off using Q&A, which is so easy it doesnít need a consultant.

Compulsive perfectionism

The most successful business programs are the ones that make work become fun, by turning the work into a video game. Thatís why word processing programs and spreadsheet programs are so successful ó they let you move letters and numbers around the screen, edit the errors by "zapping" them, and let you press a button that makes the screen explode with totals, subtotals, counts, and other information.

Sometimes, word processing can be too much fun. Since itís so much fun to edit on a word processor, people using word processors edit more thoroughly than people using typewriters or pens. Word processing fosters compulsive perfectionism.

Word-processed documents wind up better-written than non-electronic documents but take longer to finish. According to a survey by Colorado State, people using word processors take about 30% longer to generate memos than people using pens, and the word-processed memos are needlessly long.


The first easy-to-use graphics program was Mac Paint, developed by Apple Computer Incorporated for the Mac. It lets you use the Macís mouse to draw pictures on the screen, copy them onto paper, and perform special effects. Itís fun. Itís the program that made the Mac popular.

Mac paint has been replaced by dozens of fancier programs that run on the Mac, IBM PC, and all other popular computers.

Architects and engineers draw blueprints by using a program for computer-aided design (CAD).

If youíre giving a talk at a business meeting, you can illuminate your talk by creating a slide show. Each slide contains a summary of your advice, with pictures, photos, and graphs. The computer can help you create those slides, if you get a presentation program. The best presentation-graphics programs are Microsoftís Power Point and Lotusís Freelance.

Desktop publishing

A program that lets you combine graphics with text ó to create posters, ads, and newsletters ó is called a page-layout program or desktop-publishing program. The fanciest desktop publishing programs are Pagemaker, Frame Maker, Quark XPress, and Ventura Publisher. Each runs on the IBM PC and Mac. They let you easily create headlines and multiple columns with graphics.

Theyíre complex and expensive.

For the IBM PC, you have a simpler, cheaper alternative: Microsoft Publisher. Discount dealers sell it for just $69. It asks you questions about what you want to create; then it creates a mock-up of what you desire. Just edit the mock-up (by changing its words and pictures to the ones you want), and youíre done!

Office suites

Instead of buying a word-processing program, a spreadsheet program, and other programs separately, you can buy an office suite, which includes them all!

The best and most popular office suite is Microsoft Office.

It comes in three editions. The standard edition ($445) includes a word-processing program (Microsoft Word), spreadsheet program (Excel), and presentation program (Power Point). The professional edition ($530) resembles the standard version but also includes a database program (Microsoft Access). The small-business edition ($445) includes Microsoft Word, Excel, and a desktop-publishing program (Microsoft Publisher).

Its main competitor is Corelís Word Perfect Suite.

It comes in two editions. The standard edition ($280) includes a word-processing program (Word Perfect), spreadsheet program (Quattro Pro), and presentation program (Corel Presentations). The professional edition ($345) resembles the standard version but also includes a database program (Paradox).

Another competitor is Lotusís Smart Suite ($358), which includes a word-processing program (Word Pro), spreadsheet program (Lotus 1-2-3), database program (Approach), and presentation program (Freelance).

Integrated programs

Instead of buying an office suite, you can pay less by getting a cute little program, called an integrated program, which does a little bit of everything!

The best integrated programs are Q&A, Microsoft Works, Claris Works, and PFS First Choice. Hereís how they compare.

Q&A is the best at handling databases. Q&Aís main weakness is that it does not handle spreadsheets at all. Get the DOS version, since the Windows version is terrible.

Microsoft Works is the best at handling word processing and spreadsheets. Its Windows version is good; its DOS and Mac versions are not. The best way to get Microsoft Works is to buy Microsoft Home Essentials, which requires Windows 95, costs $109, and includes Microsoft Works, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Money (a checkbook-balancing program), and Encarta (a computerized encyclopedia).

Claris Works (by the Claris division of Apple) is the best at handling desktop publishing. Itís available for the Mac and Windows.

PFS First Choice is the easiest to learn how to use and its also the cheapest ($39); but youíll outgrow it soon, since it lacks advanced features. The only version is for DOS.

Old IBM clones built by Tandy came with an integrated program called Deskmate.

For the Apple 2 family, the most popular integrated program is Appleworks. Itís mainly a spreadsheet program but also handles word processing and databases.

Creative applications

You can buy programs that teach you new skills, produce music, play games, and perform wild tricks.

Vertical software

Software that can be used by a wide variety of businesses is called horizontal software. Programs for word processing, spreadsheets, and spreadsheets are all examples of horizontal software.

Software targeted to a specific industry is called vertical software. Programs specifically for doctors, lawyers, and real-estate management are all examples of vertical software.

Vertical software is expensive because it canít be mass-marketed to the general public and isnít available from discount dealers. The typical vertical-market program costs about $2000, whereas the typical horizontal-market program costs about $200 from discount dealers.

Until the price of vertical software declines, use horizontal software instead. With just a few hours of effort, you can customize horizontal software to fit your own specific needs.


Some nasty programmers have invented computer viruses, which are programs that purposely damage your other programs and sneakily copy themselves onto every disk that you use. To avoid catching a virus, make sure that the only software entering your computer comes from a reputable, safe source.

Pages 595-597 explain the different kinds of viruses and how to eradicate them.


If you buy a simple, old program, it comes on a floppy disk. Hereís how to use that program disk, if you have just one floppy disk drive and no hard drive.

First, put the program disk into the drive, and press some buttons (or type a word) that makes the computer look at the disk. (To find out which buttons to press, read the manual that came with the program.)

When the computer finishes looking at the disk, remove the disk from the drive.

Insert a second disk, called the data disk. At first, the data disk contains no information; itís blank. Put your fingers on the keyboard and type the data that you want the computer to manipulate. The computer will display your data on the screen and copy it onto the data disk.

At night, before you go to bed, hide the data disk (which contains all the personal data you fed the computer) to protect it from any accidents and from any competitors, vandals, toddlers, pets, and goblins that go bump in the night.

Two floppy drives

If your computer has two floppy disk drives, put the program disk in the main drive ("drive A") and the data disk in the other drive ("drive B").

Hard drive

If your computer has one floppy disk drive plus one hard disk drive, put the program disk in the floppy disk drive, copy its program onto the hard disk, then use just the hard disk. The hard disk holds the program and data.

CD-ROM drive

If the program comes on a CD-ROM disk and your computer has a CD-ROM drive, put the program disk into the CD-ROM drive. Then copy its program onto the hard disk.

The CD-ROM disk that contains the program might also contain lots of music, video, and other data. If the data is too big to fit on the hard disk, you must keep the CD-ROM disk in the drive while running the program, so the computer can access whatever part of the CD-ROMís data is needed at the moment.

Software companies

Will your computer be pleasant to use? The answer depends mainly on which software you buy. Software companies will influence your life more than any hardware manufacturer.

The 16 dominant software companies are Microsoft, Novell, Corel, Lotus, Borland, Symantec, Oracle, Computer Associates, Intuit, Netscape, Claris, Adobe, Autodesk, Electronic Arts, Broderbund, and The Learning Company. Hereís why.Ö


The most important software company is Microsoft, which takes in about 11 billion dollars of revenue per year. It makes the most popular operating system (which is MS-DOS). The companyís main founder, Bill Gates, became a billionaire when he was 30 years old and appeared on the cover of Time Magazine. On October 28, 1995, Bill celebrated his 40th birthday ó and was worth 14.7 billion dollars. At the beginning of 1997, he was worth 24 billion dollars; seven months later, at the end of July, he was worth 40 billion dollars. He doesnít have that much cash in his pocket, of course: most of his billions are invested in Microsoft stock. Heís the richest American, just because Microsoftís stock is ridiculously overpriced.

40 billion dollars is a lot of money! For example, even if you earn 40 million dollars per year, youíll need to work 1000 years to get what Bill has. Programmers often measure their salaries in microbills, where a microbill is defined as being a millionth of Bill Gatesí worth, so a microbill is currently $40,000. Bill plans to donate 95% of his wealth before he dies;. heís begun by giving a large grant to libraries. Billís 40 billion dollars is enough to give $150 to each American, or $6.70 to each person on the planet. His 40 billion dollar bills, if laid end-to-end, would stretch to the moon and back, 8 times.

Microsoft is the most diversified software company: besides selling MS-DOS, it also sells other operating environments (Windows and Xenix), programming languages (Microsoft BASIC, FORTRAN, COBOL, C, and others), a word-processing program (Microsoft Word), a spreadsheet program (Excel), database programs (Access and Fox Pro), an integrated program (Microsoft Works), a computerized encyclopedia (Encarta), and a wide variety of other software. Itís the main software publisher for the IBM PC and Mac. It also wrote the versions of BASIC used by the Apple 2 family, Commodore Amiga, Commodore 64, and Radio Shack TRS-80.

Microsoft continually develops new products because of pressure from competitors. For example, Microsoft was forced to improve Microsoft Word because of competition from Word Perfect and improve Microsoft C because of competition from Borlandís C. Those continual pressures to improve keep Microsoft a vibrant, dynamically changing company.

Novell & Corel

Novell makes Netware & Intranetware, which are programs letting you wire computers together so the computers can communicate with each other.

In 1994, Novell bought Word Perfect Corporation, which made the most popular word-processing program, Word Perfect. Novellís purchase was natural, since both companies were in Utah. Word Perfect Corporation sold out to Novell because Word Perfect Corporation was having financial trouble, since many customers were switching to Microsoft Word, which has been improving dramatically.

Novell also bought a product called Quattro Pro, which was invented by a company called Borland. Borland sold that product to Novell because Borland was having financial trouble competing against Microsoft.

Novellís founder, Ray Noorda, has quit. Novellís new head, Robert Frankenberg, is trying to make the company smaller and more manageable, so in 1996 he sold Word Perfect and Quattro Pro to a Canadian company, Corel, which is famous for inventing a graphics program called Corel Draw.

Novell takes in about 1Ĺ billion dollars per year. Corel takes in about half a billion dollars per year.


Lotus made the most popular spreadsheet program (which was 1-2-3). For too many years, Lotus sat on its laurels, and customers gradually began to switch to competitors such as Microsoft Excel and Quattro Pro. We expected Lotus to die.

But during the 1990ís, Lotus displayed good taste and made wise moves: it dramatically improved 1-2-3; it bought a company called Samna, which made the nicest word-processing program (Ami Pro), so Ami Pro became a Lotus product; it began selling an easy-to-use presentation-graphics program, Freelance; and it began selling a product called Notes, which helps people send electronic mail to each other and edit each otherís documents.

In 1995, IBM bought Lotus, so now Lotus is part of IBM, which takes in about 76 billion dollars per year.


Borland was started by Philippe Kahn, who grew up in France.

To study math, he went to a university in Zurich, Switzerland, where he got curious about computers and decided to take a computer class.

The university offered two introductory classes: one explained how to program using a language called PL/I, the other explained PASCAL. Since PASCAL was brand new then, nobody had heard of it, so 200 students signed up for PL/I and just 5 students signed up for PASCAL. Philippe signed up for PASCAL because he hated big classes. His professor was PASCALís inventor, Niklaus Wirth.

In 1983, Philippe went to California and started a computer company. Since he was an illegal alien, he tried to pretend he was thoroughly American and named his company Borland, in honor of the land that produced astronaut Frank Borman. His first product was Turbo PASCAL, which he had created back in Europe with the help of two friends.

Most other versions of PASCAL were selling for hundreds of dollars. Philippe read a book saying people buy mail-order items on impulse only if priced under $50, so he charged $49.95. The book and Philippe were right: at $49.95, Turbo PASCAL became a smashing success.

Later, Philippe improved Turbo PASCAL and raised its price to $149.95. He also bought other software publishers and merged them into Borland, so Borland became huge.

Philippe occasionally experimented with dropping prices. For example, he dropped the price of Borlandís spreadsheet program, Quattro Pro, to just $49.95, even though Quattro Pro was in some ways better than 1-2-3, which Lotus was selling for about $300. Microsoftís head, Bill Gates, said that the competitor that worried him the most was Borland, because he feared Philippe would pull another publicity stunt and drop prices below $50 again, forcing Microsoft to do the same.

During the 1980ís, Borland bought two companies that invented wonderful database programs: Reflex and Paradox. Borland eventually stopped selling Reflex, but Paradox lives on.

Paradoxís main competitor was DBASE, published by a company called Ashton-Tate. Philippe decided to win the competition against Ashton-Tate the easy way: he bought Ashton-Tate, so now Borland publishes both Paradox and DBASE. Philippe said he bought Ashton-Tate mainly to get his hands on Ashton-Tateís mailing list, so he could sell DBASE users on the idea of converting to Paradox.

But Philippe paid too much for Ashton-Tate, whose products, employees, and mailing lists were all becoming stale. Since Ashton-Tate was bigger than Borland, Philippe had to borrow lots of money to buy Ashton-Tate, and he had trouble paying it back. Buying Ashton-Tate was his biggest mistake.

By 1994, he was having trouble competing against Microsoftís rapidly improving products and also having trouble repaying the money heíd borrowed to finance the take-over of Ashton-Tate. Financially strapped, he sold Novell his crown jewel, Quattro Pro, gave Novell the right to make a million copies of Paradox.

Novellís founder, Ray Noorda, said candidly he wasnít thrilled by Quattro Pro but wanted to buy it anyway, just as an excuse to give Philippe some money, so Philippe could stay in business and scare Microsoft, so Bill Gates would devote his energy to fighting Philippe instead of fighting Novell.

In 1995, Philippe stepped down from being the head of Borland ó though heís still on Borlandís board of directors. Now Philippe spends most of his time running a new start-up company, called Starfish Software.

Why fight?

The heads of computer companies still act like a bunch of tussling toddlers. Iím waiting for their mama to say, "Boys, boys, will you please stop fighting, shake hands, and make up!"

If Israel can make peace with the PLO and Jordan, why canít Bill Gates make peace with his competitors? Answer: theyíre all greedy ó and Bill is brash. (For example, during an interview with CBSís Connie Chung, he walked out when she mispronounced "DOS" and asked a pointed question about a competitor.)

But Billís actually somewhat glad at his competitorsí successes, since Microsoft needs to have enough successful competitors to prevent the Justice Department from declaring that Microsoftís too big a monopoly. By letting several competitors invent new ideas and bring them all to market, we consumers get to choose for ourselves which ideas are best ó and vote on them with our dollars ó rather than kowtow to a single dictator.


My favorite database program, Q&A, is published by Symantec.

Like Lotus, Symantec shows good taste in acquisitions: it bought two companies making good versions of the C programming language (Lightspeed and Zortech) and also bought two companies making DOS utility programs that fix DOSís weaknesses (Peter Norton Software and Central Point Software). Now Symantec takes in about half a billion dollars per year.

Symantec tries hard to improve all those acquired products, but I wish it would improve Q&A instead! Iím sad to see Q&A, the worldís best database program, be neglected and fall into obsolescence.

Specialized companies

Oracle and Computer Associates (CA) make software that runs on computers of all sizes: maxicomputers, minicomputers, and microcomputers.

Oracleís software handles databases. CAís software handles accounting (such as bill-paying, bill-collecting, inventory, and payroll).

Oracle takes in 5Ĺ billion dollars per year. Computer Associates takes in 4 billion dollars per year.

Intuit makes programs that handle accounting on microcomputers. Intuitís programs are cheap: under $100.

Intuitís most popular accounting programs are Quicken (which tracks expenses and balances your checkbook), Quickbooks (which handles all major business accounting), and Turbo Tax (which helps you fill in your 1040 income-tax form for the IRS). Turbo Tax used to be published by a company called Chipsoft, but Intuit bought Chipsoft in 1994.

In 1995, Microsoft tried to buy Intuit ó and Intuit agreed ó but Microsoft changed its mind when the Justice Department accused Microsoft of becoming too big a monopoly.

Netscape makes Netscape Navigator, which helps your computer communicate with an international computer network called the Internet.

Claris, which is owned by Apple, makes the Filemaker Pro database (which is as easy as Q&A) and the Claris Works integrated package (which resembles Microsoft Works). Claris programs run on the Mac. Out of pity for folks who donít have Macs, Claris also sells versions that run on IBM PC clones using Windows.

Adobe makes Postscript software (used in many laser printers). In 1994, Adobe bought Aldus (the company that invented the first desktop-publishing program, Pagemaker).

Autodesk publishes Autocad, which is the fanciest program for handling computer-aided design (CAD).

Electronic Arts and BrØderbund make the best educational games and low-cost tools for budding young artists and musicians. Those two companies planned to merge but changed their minds, so theyíre still separate.

Softkey, Spinnaker Software, and The Learning Company all published lots of cheap programs, priced between $2 and $40 each. Those three companies have merged: the combo is called The Learning Company.

Buying software

Youíll want four kinds of software: an operating system (which teaches the CPU how to handle the keyboard, screen, printer, and disks); a computer language (such as BASIC); application programs (such as a word-processing program, a spreadsheet program, and a database program); and data.

When shopping for a computer, beware: its advertised price usually does not include all four kinds of software. Ask the seller which software is included and how much the other software costs.

The typical fancy program (such as a word-processing program, database program, or spreadsheet program) has a list price of $495. Thatís also called the manufacturerís suggested retail price (MSRP). If you buy the program directly from the softwareís publisher, thatís the price youíll pay. (Youíll also pay about $7 for shipping & handling. If the publisher has a sales office in your state, youíll also be charged for sales tax, even if youíre phoning the manufacturerís out-of-state headquarters.)

That list price is made ridiculously high as a marketing ploy, to give you the impression that the program is fancy.

But if you walk into a typical computer store, you will not pay $495 for the program. Instead, youíll pay $299. Thatís called the street price because itís the price you see when you walk down the street and peek in the windows of computer stores. (Youíll also pay sales tax.)

Instead of charging $299, mail-order dealers charge slightly less: $279. Thatís called the mail-order price. (Youíll also pay about $7 for shipping & handling, but you wonít pay tax if the mail-order company is out-of-state.) Another way to get that kind of price is to visit a discount computer superstore such as Comp USA.

Version upgrades

If you already own an older version of the program, you can switch to the new version cheaply, by asking for the version upgrade, which costs just $99. You can order the version upgrade at your local computer store, or from mail-order dealers, or directly from the programís publisher. The most aggressive dealers (such as Comp USA) charge slightly less: $95.

To qualify for the version upgrade, you must prove that you already own an older version of the program. You can do that in several ways:

If youíre ordering directly from the programís publisher, the programís publisher will check its records to verify that you had sent in your registration card for the previous version. If youíre ordering at a local computer store, bring in the official instruction manual that came with the old version: the store will rip out the manualís first page (the title page) and mail it to the publisher. If you lost that manual, you can instead give the store Disk 1 of the old versionís set of disks. The store needs the original title page or disk; copies are not accepted. If youíre ordering from a mail-order dealer, send the dealer the title page by mail or fax.

Some manufacturers (such as Microsoft) use a simpler way to qualify you for the version upgrade: when you install the new version, it automatically searches your computerís hard disk for the old version and refuses to run if the old version is missing.

If you bought the old version shortly before the new version came out, you can get the new version free! Just phone the publisher and ask for the free version upgrade.

Hereís how you prove you bought the old version shortly before the new version came out (where "shortly before" is usually defined as meaning "within 60 days"): mail either your dated sales slip or a "free version-upgrade certificate" that came in the old versionís box. Though the upgrade is "free", you must pay an exorbitant charge for shipping and handling ($10 for just the disks, $30 for disks plus manuals).

Competitive upgrades

If you donít own an older version of the program, you canít get the version-upgrade price. Hereís the best you can do: if you already own a competing program (such as a different brand of word processor that competes against the word processor youíre trying to buy), ask for the competitive-upgrade price. Itís usually $129, which is just slightly higher than the version-upgrade price. Get it from your local store, mail-order dealer, or directly from the publisher.

To prove you qualify for the competitive-upgrade price, provide the title page or Disk 1 of the competing program (or have Microsoftís software automatically scan for such programs).

Copying software

If you buy a program, you should make backup copies of the disks. Use the backup copies in case the original disks get damaged.

Youíre not allowed to give copies of the disks to your friends. Thatís against the law! If your friends want to use the program, they must buy it from the software publisher or a dealer, so that the programmer receives royalties.

If you give copies to your friends and become a lawbreaker, youíre called a pirate; making the copies is called piracy; the copies are called pirated software or hot software. Donít be a pirate! Donít distribute hot software!

Some software publishers use tricks that make the computer refuse to copy the program. Those tricks are called copy protection; the software is copy protected. But even if the software publisher doesnít use such tricks, itís still against the law to make copies of the program for other people, since the program is still copyrighted.

If your friends want to try a program before buying it, donít give them a copy of the program! Instead, tell your friends to visit you and use the program while they sit at your computer. Thatís legal, and it also lets you help your friends figure out how to use the software.

If you buy a version upgrade, youíre not allowed to give the older version to a friend to use on a different computer.

You must destroy the older version ó or keep it just for emergencies, in case the newer version stops working.

Demo disks

Besides sitting at a friendís computer, another way to "try before you buy" is to phone the programís publisher and ask for a free demo disk.

Although some demo disks are just useless animated ads, the best publishers provide useful demo disks (called trial-size versions) that closely imitate the full versions. For example, the typical trial-size version of a word-processing program has nearly all the features of the full version, but it refuses to print memos that are more than a page long and refuses to copy your writing onto a disk.

Trial-size versions are nicknamed crippled software, because each trial-size version has one or two abilities cut off. Playing with crippled software is a great way to give yourself a free education!


Software that youíre allowed to copy and use freely is called freeware. For example, most demo disks and trial-size versions are freeware.

Most software invented by schools, government agencies, and computer clubs is freeware. Ask!


Shareware is software that comes with a plea: although the author lets you copy the software and try it, youíre encouraged to mail the author a contribution if you like what you tried.

The suggested contribution, typically $25, is called a registration fee. It makes you a registered user and puts you on the authorís mailing list, so the author can mail you a printed manual and newer versions of the software.

Though most shareware authors merely "ask" for contributions, other shareware authors "demand" that you send a contribution if you use the software for longer than a month. Software for which a contribution is "demanded" is called guiltware ó because if you donít send the contribution, the author says youíre guilty of breaking the law.

To get shareware, copy it from a friend. If none of your friends own the shareware you want, buy the disks from a computer club or store for about $5 per disk; but remember that the $5 pays for just the disk, not the registration fee (which youíre honor-bound to mail in if you extensively use the program).

Beta versions

After inventing a program, its publisher must test it, to make sure it works on many kinds of computer equipment and in many situations. At first, the publisherís employees test the program on their own computers: thatís called alpha testing. Next, the publishing company lets outsiders try the still-not-quite-perfected program: thatís called beta testing.

The outsiders who try it are called beta testers; the version being tested by outsiders is called a beta version. Beta versions are sometimes distributed for free or at a reduced price; but if you use a beta version, donít rely on it, since it hasnít been perfected yet.

Special deals

If your office wants many employees to use a program, ask the publisher for a site license, which permits your company to make copies for all employees in the office. Typically the employees are not allowed to take the copies home: the copies must all be used at the same site.

If youíre in a school and trying to teach kids how to use a program, ask the publisher for a trial-size version or academic version or educational site license.

If you own two computers and want to put the same program on both, you must typically buy two copies of the program. For example, if you want to put Windows 95 on two computers, you must buy two copies of Windows 95 (to avoid piracy), unless both computers are on the same site and you have a site license. Microsoft, Claris, and some other major software publishers permit this exception, called the 80% rule:

If youíre in an office and hog a computer (so 80% of the time that a humanís at the computer, the human is you), youíre allowed to copy application programs from that computer to your home computer (or laptop computer), so you can take work home with you. This rule lets you copy just application programs (such as Microsoft Word), not operating systems (such as Windows 95), not programming languages (such as C). Moreover, the application programs must have been purchased normally (not site-licensed).