Why I like DeskMate; Tandy’s graphical interface simplifies using DOS-based computers – Software Review – Tandy Corp.’s DeskMate integrated software – evaluation

Jack Nimersheim

Why I Like DeskMate

Tandy’s Graphical Interface Simplifies Using DOS-Based Computers

Several months back, my publisher called to ask if I would be interested in writing a book about Tandy Corporation’s DeskMate. At the time, I didn’t believe that I was a logical choice for this assignment.

One of DeskMate’s principal selling points is that it augments your normal PC activities with pull-down menus and interactive dialog boxes, thus simplifying many DOS operations. I’m pretty much of a DOS purist (one of those strange people who actually enjoys working with the cryptic C [is greater than] prompt), so I wasn’t sure how objective I could be about DeskMate, since it takes so many liberties with DOS. But I’m also a professional, so I asked to be sent a copy of DeskMate to determine whether my initial skepticism was justified.

To make a long story short, I wrote the book. That’s because I ended up liking DeskMate, for a number of reasons. Before getting into these, however, maybe I should explain what DeskMate does.


Do you remember the old commercial for Certs, the one that promoted the product as “two, two, two mints in one”? DeskMate embodies this familiar phrase in that it, too, is two products in one. First, there’s the DeskMate environment itself, which is reminiscent of Microsoft Windows in both design and function (see feature, “Windows 3.0: What’s in It for You?”). This portion of DeskMate is actually a DOS shell of sorts, a graphical user interface (GUI) that DeskMate uses to communicate with your computer. DeskMate’s GUI makes use of those pull-down menus and dialog boxes I mentioned earlier.

The second part of DeskMate is a series of applications and accessories incorporated into the basic package. Except for DOS-level operations–such as creating directories, changing active disk drives, and formatting disks–the DeskMate applications and accessories are where you do your real work in the DeskMate environment. They’re what you use to write letters, create budgets, set up mailing lists, and the like.

Included among the DeskMate applications are a word processor (Text), a spreadsheet (Worksheet), a database manager (Filer), time-management software (Calendar), a graphics program (Draw), and a communications program (Telecom). The DeskMate accessories are a series of mini-programs available from anywhere within a DeskMate session, so long as the program you’re running is compatible with DeskMate. The various accessories include an alarm, a calculator, a to-do list, a phone dialer, and the like. While none of the DeskMate applications or accessories will ever threaten top-selling stand-alone programs like Lotus 1-2-3 or WordPerfect, each contains some surprising features.


DeskMate has five things going for it that make it an ideal small-business solution for many operations.

First, its hardware demands are minimal. Originally designed for the Tandy 1000 series of computers, DeskMate will run well on any standard PC with an 8088 or 8086 microprocessor or better. Compare this with Windows, for which Microsoft now recommends at least a 286-based AT. Consequently, millions of PC owners can use DeskMate without having to upgrade to a more powerful (and, by extension, more expensive) system.

Second, unlike some GUIs–GEM immediately comes to mind–you don’t need a mouse to run DeskMate, although having one does simplify things. Third, the DeskMate GUI, like any good GUI, ensures consistency in all your DeskMate operations. Consequently, once you get up to speed on one DeskMate application, learning the others is greatly simplified. Fourth, who can resist DeskMate’s price: $99 for just about everything you need to start being productive on your PC?

Fifth–and most important–software companies other than Tandy have released programs designed to run under the DeskMate environment. In most cases, these programs are more impressive than the various applications found in the basic package. How does a Lotus spreadsheet strike you? Or a DeskMate version of Q&A Write? For desktop publishing, what about PFS:First Publisher? (See box, “DeskMate Software.”) And you’re not limited to DeskMate-compatible applications, either. A special Run option starts standard DOS programs from within DeskMate. Programs loaded in this manner run as they normally do and will not take advantage of the DeskMate GUI. However, when you quit a standard DOS program, you’re automatically delivered back to the DeskMate desktop.


Taken together, these features led me to feel comfortable enough with DeskMate to write that book, a book in which I recommend it as one of the best DOS alternatives I’ve seen to date. Here are some of the things you’ll be able to accomplish should you follow my recommendation and incorporate DeskMate into your day-to-day operations.

The key word to understanding DeskMate’s potential is integration. Any DeskMate-compatible program, whether from Tandy or not, will share data with any other application. For example, it’s child’s play to take the company logo you created in Draw and incorporate the graphic into a Q&A Write document. Viola! Instant letterhead–almost as good-looking as what you might get from a print shop, especially if you use a laser printer.

Or you could use DeskMate’s Address Book application (in reality, a preprogrammed Filer database) to record names and addresses of business contacts. Call up the DeskMate Mail Merge application–a database file linked to both Text and Address Book–and combine selected records in your Address Book file with a Text-created form letter (after, of course, running that letter through DeskMate’s built-in spelling checker). Before you know it, your printer will churn out a customized mass mailing, with each letter personalized for its intended receiver. Ask Mail Merge to sort the letters by zip code, and DeskMate saves money by letting you take advantage of bulk-mail rates.


DeskMate is not for everyone. Specifically, if you require the muscle of Microsoft Windows-based applications–or WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3, dBase, or any of a dozen other high-end DOS programs–then DeskMate is not for you.

If, however, you’re in the market for several inexpensive, but impressive, integrated applications with a few utilitarian accessories thrown in, DeskMate may be what you’re looking for. If you’re also interested in a logical alternative to the cryptic DOS prompt, DeskMate crosses the line from maybe to mandatory. It’s enough to make even an old DOS dog like me consider learning a few new tricks.

PHOTO : The DeskMate desktop includes a calendar and a to-do list.

COPYRIGHT 1991 Freedom Technology Media Group

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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