Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 11 / NOVEMBER 1984 / PAGE 214

Of mice, windows, icons, and men. (Philosophy - how it ought to be) Harvard Pennington.

The past is a blueprint for the future. In times past--the dark ages (about 1978, actually)--we were excited about floppy disk drives. Wow! 40 tracks! And double density controllers should be available before the end of the year. Why for a mere $1000 you could have almost 164K on a 5 1/4" disk. Within a few months, there was another craze followed by yet another, then another, and another. Then the hot stuff was mostly hardware. Today it is hardware and software.

Where will the future take us? The people who predict such things haven't done very well. They have mostly been wrong. Remember the bubble memory craze? What about the coming home computer market? They have been predicting it was just around the corner for the past years. It ain't here yet. The Home Office

Then there are those who are predicting the work at home office. People will go to work by simply hooking up to the office computer. At 5:00 p.m. they will just log-off and call it a day. Fat chance. Can you imagine having to type everything you need to say? The average person can type only about 20 words a minute, and that's without counting mistakes. Can you imaging a three-way conversation through a computer keyboard and video link? What about a sales meeting?

Then, assuming that the office of tomorrow will be staffed by the current products, of the American sschool system, how are they going to communicate? Here is an actual example of a letter I recently received: I REASENTLY BROUGHT A COPY OF YOUR ELECTRIC PENCIL VERISON . . . I FIGUER IT MUST BE IN THE BOOT SECTOR SOME WERE, CAN YOU CHECK . . .

Before the dream can be fulfilled, we are going to have to do something about the educational system. The people who run the school systems tell us that the students are smarter and more sophisticated than their predecessors. They can prove it, too. With statistics. Hah! When they can prove it by interviewing them for jobs, I'll believe it. What Else is New?

So, what is in our future? Windows? A mouse? Icons? Concurrent processing? Multi-user systems? And integration--don't forget integration. This is the hot stuff for 1984. How do we know it is the hot stuff? Because the computer press tells us, that's how. And how do they know? Because the marketing people tell them, that's how. How do the marketing people know? Because the finance people have determined that a market of a given size will net X dollars if they can come up with the next "hot" item, that's how. How does the financial community know that? Well, the truth is, they don't. However, no one is going to tell them to take their money elsewhere. In fact, if you can come up with an idea that is bizarre enough, you can probably raise a couple or three million dollars to bring it to market. Icons

The best ideas (to raise enormous amounts of money) are those that propose to offset ignorance with technology--I call it ignotech. (I thought about calling it ignorology, but that sounded too much like the study of ignorance.) Icons are an idea based on ignotech. The use of icons supposes that you cannot read or comprehand words and therefore need a picture--icon. If you want a file from a disk, for example, there is an icon representing the file--a file folder or a file cabinet. With your mouse, you point at the icon and select files by pressing the mouse-button. (See, you don't even have to know how to type to use this computer.)

Icons and a mouse will not make a non-literate person literate. Pointing at pictures (icons) can last only so long. Sooner or later you must stop pointing and selecting, and begin to think and type.

"Here, Zork, just point at what you want and then click the mouse button."

"UUUHHHhhhaaaaggg!" (Mouse: "click.")

"Oh, you want to write a letter. Ok, just sit here and type."

(Sounds of keyboard being demolished.) "Now, now, Zork, don't get frustrated. We're working on a new word processor that presents the entire English language in icons. It should be ready as soon as there are disks with giga0-megabyte storage (next year's hot item)."

So much for icons. Windows

The magazines are full of articles and ads about windows. I noticed one ad just today. Its headline screamed, "Our windows reflect the way you work." The picture accompanying the ad shows a screen with two window displays split about evenly across the middle of the screen and two smaller windows covering the two main displays in the background. The large background windows are impossible to read because of the two smaller windows over them. The two smaller windows are displaying less information than a $49 Timex display. I don't know about you, but I sure don't work with my reference material covered up.

Have you been around computers long enough to remember the "great screen width" controversy? (Would you believe that 80-column screens were once a "hot" item?) If not, I'll tell you about it. I got my first computer in March 1978. It was a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model I. It was a collection of grey boxes with 48K of user memory and a 64-column screen. It had some problems (enough to earn it the uncomplimentary nickname "Trash-80"), but it was a computer, and at the time, the best there was. Apples were not readily available, and the other choices had to be built from kits or were very expensive compared to the TRS-80.

I was an immediate convert to computer life. I preached to all my friends, made everyone who came into the office sit at the keyboard, and spent hundreds (if not thousands) of hours convincing everyone with whom I came into contact that they needed one, too. However, the gurus of computing said that the TRS-80 was a "toyputer" because it didn't have an 80-column screen. "You need an 80-column screen for serious business applications," they said. The fact that we were getting our work done while they were contemplating the meaning of the mysterious BDOS ERROR ON A message on their Altos or Cromenco or whateve, didn't seem to faze them. As a matter of fact, I am still using those Model Is--all 19 of them. We don't even call them Trash-80s, anymore; "Cash-80" is much more appropriate.

This 80-column business went on until the advent of windows. Early last year (1983), we heard the first window announcements. Suddenly, it was fashionable to have displays of fewer than 80 colums. In fact, it become fashionable to have some of the windows cover up others. Eighty columns are out; 10, 20, 30, 40 columns (anything less than 80) are in.

Who is promoting this lunatic idea? Who is behind the window craze? Is it a communist plot? A devious government ploy to undermine our freedoms? Or is it the usual hype that we normally associate with things like Veg-A-Matics, Slim Whitman record offers, and the Pepiel Pocket Fisherman? My choice is the latter. It is hype. Of course, the popular press, as well as the computer press, has picked up on it. To read some of these "news" articles, you would think the magazine authors and news reporters had spent the last 20 years working beside Grace Hopper developing some of this "great stuff." (I always get a kick out of reading their explanations of what bits and bytes are.)

Overlapping windows require a lot of memory and processor time. Because of their very nature, they are a "graphics" presentation which requires graphics memory for the video screen, as opposed to normal video memory for text.

Does this mean that I am opposed to wondow? Not on your life. I like the split screen variety. They are quite useful from time to time. On occasion, I even split my Electric Pencil PC, VisiCalc, and MultiPlan displays.

So, what is all this whining and bitching about overlapping windows, the mouse and icons? What is their future? They are here to stay. They will be promoted as "features," on countless products. That does not mean that they will be used. (How many people actually use a Veg-A-Matic?)

The real future is in smarter software--not ignoware for ignotechies. It is in more versatile hardware. Cheaper hardware. Faster hardward and more efficient languages (the language of the future has not been invented yet). The future is also "on the shelf." It is right before our eyes. All we have to do is use what we have to make a better (if you'll pardon the expression) mouse trap.