GeoWorks Ensemble on the UltraLite

Brian Smithson (brian@king.ca41.csd.mot.com)
Fri, 1 Nov 1991 13:46:00 -0800

As part of my endless search for en-lite-enment, I got a copy of the GeoWorks
Ensemble "working model". Ensemble is based on a neat little Motif-like
windowing environment called Geos, which runs on everything from an XT to
whatever. Along with the environment, Ensemble includes a bunch of
productivity applications. It costs around $125 and $150, but the working
model only costs $9.95 (refunded with purchase). The working model does
everything except save files, so you can use it to try all of the display
options, printing, configuration, or whatever.

Ensemble needs about 3.6MB for a full install, or 2.6MB for a "minimal"
install. Naturally, this presents a challenge for the UltraLite user.
However, even the "minimal" install included printer, memory, keyboard, and
display drivers which aren't needed for the UltraLite, so I figured I could
squeeze it in to a Stacker disk volume. What I did was I installed it on an
AT clone and then lap-linked files over to the UltraLite. It really ate up
the UltraLite disk, but it worked.

Ensemble comes up with a pretty welcome screen and three goofy big buttons:
"appliances", "professional", and "DOS programs".

The appliances are simple productivity things which you could use exclusively
if you wanted to. They include a calendar/planner, address book, notepad,
calculator, etc. (I say "etc." because I removed some of them to make some
working space).

"Professional" brings up a window manager which follows Motif conventions.
The initial window is a file manager, GeoManager, and it starts out
displaying a directory containing a set of "advanced" applications: a somewhat
different notepad, calendar/planner, address book, and calculator, plus a
terminal emulator, draw program, and word processor. The "Professional"
environment can be set up to be the default at startup so that you don't have
to go through the welcome streen.

"DOS Programs" is a thing which allows you to launch arbitary programs from
icons. You can select the icons (and, hopefully, create your own icons), and
configure the launching to include predefined command line options or
interactively determined options. I haven't played with this much yet, but
when you run a DOS program, Geos shuts down and gets out of the way, then
restarts when the application exits. It's little time consuming...

Given that I've only been fooling around with this since about 9:00pm last
night, my comments are a bit preliminary. It's been fun enough that I wanted
to write about what I've found so far.

General impressions:
-------------------

First, I never thought I'd see windows of any kind running on this machine.
The processor is too weak, there isn't enough memory, and the display
resolution is too coarse. Nonetheless, Geos works on the UltraLite, runs
acceptably quickly, and even looks pretty good.

Display:
-------

When I first ran it on my desktop system (it's an Everex 286/20 with a nice
VGA monitor), I figured that the UltraLite would be really disappointing. It
was especially discouraging when I switched the Everex into mono CGA mode --
the fonts looked ugly and everything was horribly jagged. But, on the
UltraLite display it looks OK. I got the best result when I configured
Ensemble for inverse mono CGA mode; otherwise, I got a lot of smear and had to
adjust contrast quite a bit. The main point of suffering with the UltraLite
display (or any CGA) is that the icons look a little rugged. The graphics are
just too small for a good display in 640x200.

Speed:
-----

It comes up in about 30 seconds from DOS to the Welcome screen. That includes
a little diversion where you are given an 800 number to call to get a "real"
copy. Presumably, it would be a bit quicker coming up without that. Other
kinds of operations, like starting applications, switching between windows,
and dragging things around the screen, happen at a leisurely but acceptable
pace.

GeoManager:
----------

I don't have a lot of experience with other file managers of this kind, so I
can't really draw any comparisons. I've always managed files with "ls -l" and
"rm -rf" :-) . With that said, this file manager seems to do what I'd want it
to do. I can select one or more files, drag them to other windows, throw them
into the wastebasket, or double-click to run them. It will display icons,
names, or names with details. It also has a file tree viewer.

GeoWrite:
--------
I haven't investigated this much, but it supports fonts and styles and sizes
and stuff like that. Looks OK for writing letters or memos, but probably not
novels or technical manuals.

GeoDraw:
-------

A very simple draw package. Primitives include open and filled rectangles and
ellipses, lines, polylines, and text. Again, I haven't played very much with
it, but I did notice that a polyline was reshaped when I selected it and
resized one dimension, so it's not entirely brain-dead. Good enough for
simple drawings. Presumably, one can paste them into GeoWrite documents.
There is also some clip art provided with Ensemble.

GeoPlan:
-------

Not a bad calendar/planner. Supports repetitive events and alarms, and can do
look-ups in GeoDex (below). I'm really picky about these sorts of things, and
I think I can live with this one. It doesn't really handle "to-do" lists,
though. That would be a nice addition to GeoPlan or perhaps a nbew appliction.

GeoDex:
------

This is the "advanced" address book. It has several methods for searching and
browsing, and will dial phone numbers for you. My only complaint so far is
that it doesn't appear to be able to comprehend the notion of a local area
code.

GeoTerm:
-------

This was the most disappointing of the applications. Maybe I'm just spoiled
with DGTERM? It looked promising, because it had support for several kinds of
terminal emulations and a script language for automating calls. When I
actually used it, however, I discovered that it couldn't do more than 18 lines
on the CGA display (how do you emulate a VT100 in 18 lines??), only supported
xmodem for file transfer, and the VT100 emulation appears (at first use) to be
broken or maybe just very very incomplete. Running full screen applications
was hopeless, and even when I was just doing normal things, I got a lot of
escape sequences printed out on my screen instead of being interpreted. I'll
look into this more later and perhaps will have some better news about it.

Configiration and preferences:
-----------------------------

The GeoWorks people did a really nice job on this. It is especially forgiving
when you play with different display modes. When you change display modes, it
restarts Geos and puts up a test pattern, and if it looks like hell then you
can simply type F10 and it will revert to the previous selection. I think
that it also times out to that mode so that if you can't even see the choices
on the screen, it will revert automatically. It has the usual variety of
preference options such as mouse speed, background screens, etc. It also has
some tuning parameters for memory and swap stuff which I didn't dare touch
just yet.

Reliability:
-----------

I've crashed it a few times, especially when I was doing massive
reconfiguration. It restarts quite well, and cleans up an messes it left
behind. I'm hoping that the software isn't particularly buggy. For that
matter, I never had much luck with MS Windows either. I read someone's
complaint about Ensemble crashing or hanging, but they were referring to an
older version. We'll see...

So now what?
-----------

Well, I think that it is cool enough that I'm going to fork over the $1XX and
get a real copy. Unfortunately, I'll also have to shell out another $1XX for
one of those little laptop trackballs. Right now I'm using a mouse from my
desktop unit, and the mouse seems about half as big as the UltraLite itself!

The only things I want to try first are to run it in a really stripped down
MKS Toolkit environment (exec'ing it from LOGIN.EXE, and running ksh and vi
from
the DOS Programs thing), running 123 from a ROM card from DOS Progrms, and
running it in conjunction with DGTERM and Lotus Metro TSR's. If all of that
works OK, I'll be shopping this weekend!

-- 
-Brian Smithson
 Motorola Inc., Computer Group, Commercial Systems Division
 2001 Logic Drive, M/S 1-E10, San Jose, CA 95124 USA, (408)369-4104
 brian@ca41.csd.mot.com, {apple | pyramid}!motcsd!brian