ALL PCS RUNNING MICROSOFT Corp.'s Windows operating system have looked pretty much the same, screenwise, because they have all been using the same set of graphical elements, such as icons, buttons, and background imagery. But don't be surprised if, when you visit a computer store next fall, you see a variety of PC brands running what appear to be different versions of Microsoft's Windows 95.
In fact, they may be equipped with new software from Phoenix Technologies Ltd. that lets PC makers customize the look of Windows 95 to appeal to different types of customers--and distinguish their machines from competitors'. For instance, for home-office workers, Phoenix' MUSE (Multi-User Shell Environment) might show an office equipped with fax machine, typewriter, and telephone. Click on the fax, and the computer would call a standard fax program into action. For a more family-oriented appeal, PC makers might want to install a virtual living room. There you may see a CD player whose control panel would actually run the computer's built-in CD-ROM drive.
What's more, these virtual rooms and devices can be set up so that they're accessible only to those who know the proper passwords. That way, children won't accidentally format a hard disk or delete Mom's business files in an attempt to make room for their favorite shoot-'em-up game. Phoenix, known for its IBM-compatible PC BIOS software, plans to sell the new software to PC makers for less than $3 per copy.