THE launch of Microsoft Windows for Workgroups is another step in Microsoft's stated mission to offer a wide range of products and services designed to make it easier and more enjoyable for people to take advantage of the full power of personal computing. For those individuals and organisations that take advantage of the software development platform it offers, it could provide much more in the future. Windows for Workgroups, launched in Hongkong at the end of last year, provided Windows users with networking and workgroup functionality. The most visible features of this are electronic mail, scheduling, and file and printer sharing. The fact that these features are built into the system, with the compatibility that this implies, must be a strong point for the majority of users. This personal review gives an account of my experience with the retail version of Windows for Workgroups version 3.1 over the past two months. The benefit of the Windows platform comes not from an individual component such as Windows for Workgroups, but from the tight integration of all the components that is possible within the Windows environment. In particular, there is the ability to extend the MS Excel and MS Word applications, and to make full use of the MS Visual Basic product. With this in mind, I see three roles for this product: Providing horizontal integration as a peer to peer networking extension to DOS/Windows offering basic file and print services; Providing vertical integration as a desktop client for local area networks (LANs), both LAN Manager and NetWare; As the desktop operating environment platform that provides the horizontal and vertical integration of desktops and networks required for workgroup computing. My requirement was for software that would allow me to connect up to 20 machines, located on the same floor, that were used heavily for word processing and spreadsheet use, and which would need to be connected to a LAN in the future. Windows for Workgroups promised to let me exploit each of these three roles as required. Technically, the product installed quickly and cleanly, once I had overcome the problems I created for myself by using one of the few network interface cards whose driver software was not bundled with Windows for Workgroups. For those who take advantage of the bundled package, with software and network card, the installation process is straightforward. Once installed, it has run as advertised with no perceptible performance problems, apart from a need on occasion to exit from Windows and restart so that memory ''lost'' by user applications could be reclaimed. In this it is no different to plain Windows 3.1. There are several notable features of Windows for Workgroups. Microsoft Mail allows users to read, compose, forward and reply to electronic mail messages, as well as to manage messages they receive. It also allows users to send entire documents from other business applications they use - including word processors and spreadsheets - as part of a mail message that can be directly opened and read by the recipient. Microsoft Schedule+ allows people to schedule group meetings and manage their daily calendars and task lists electronically. This application has obvious applications for individuals and in certain businesses that operate to fixed schedules, as well as those which need to co-ordinate access to shared resources. The improved Windows File Manager is perhaps the feature that will be used most often. In particular, a toolbar allows users to move quickly between multiple servers and directories to find widely scattered corporate data, which simplifies information sharing and use. Windows for Workgroups is designed to strike a balance between ease of access and security. Users can quickly make files, data and printers available to others, so that people within the workgroup can reach shared resources with the click of a button. Other users on the system can either be given full access to a directory or granted permission to read files but not modify them in any way. Windows for Workgroups provides developers of applications for Windows with a set of core services and programming interfaces that enable Windows-based applications to take advantage of workgroup capabilities. Microsoft's stated direction is to use these facilities to enhance Microsoft Excel and Word to automate common workgroup activities, such as document assembly and schedule tracking, forms routing and notification, information sharing and application-specific workgroup tasks. Other software vendors are doing the same, and with the MAPI controls provided in Visual Basic V2.0 Professional Edition, the in-house developer such as myself can develop applications that take full advantage of workgroup integration. This is the major benefit of Windows for Workgroups: it provides a set of services that allows you to build integrated system solutions based on application packages that are acknowledged to be leaders in their field. Graham Hay is a MIS development manager at a large Hongkong trading group.