A secretary’s desk surface isn’t the only, or necessarily the best, metaphor for computers. Engelbart’s early ’60s demos introduced many of his ideas for core visual interfaces without it. Alto itself was built on a concept called Dynabook. Dynabook creator Alan Kay envisioned it as an educational computer designed for kids who may have never seen the inside of an office. During the development of Lisa, an interface from his MIT Spatial Data Management System, his designer Bill Atkinson, a personalized computing environment known as “Dataland” with maps that users can fly using a joystick. Inspired. In the 80’s Amiga released an operating system built on the utility workbench metaphor.
By then, however, the major computing companies were marketing their products to an audience of administrative assistants and other office workers. “Engelbart’s idea was that the computer was a tool that augmented the human mind, enabling it to solve the big problems of the world and society,” says historian Hansen Shu of the Computer History Museum. . The idea was introduced that knowledge workers could greatly expand their capabilities with better interfaces. At Xerox, and then Apple, that idea is reflected in creating the desktop of the future.
The benefits weren’t just practical — they were cultural. In computing heaven like MIT, typing was accepted as part of coding. But in the business world, it was associated with secretarial, or women’s jobs, and wasn’t something executives should care about. I used it to create a visual application called “SimKit” that allowed me to simulate running a business without touching a keyboard. Adele Goldberg, a PARC researcher, said: lightning dealer“We knew they wouldn’t type. At the time, it wasn’t macho.”
The idea might have seemed obvious without Lisa or Xerox Star. When Lisa’s team was digging into its design, they came across Pictureworld, her IBM research concept from 1980. send By email—put it inside a virtual envelope and drop it in your outbox. But IBM reports that Pictureworld is theoretical, showing behind-the-scenes value in things like banking and booking airline tickets. He professed to make computers attractive by explaining them. “If living with a computer makes you nervous, consider another unsettling possibility: in one of his early ’80s ads, above clip art of a man hiding from a bank of mainframes.” A warning is displayed.
And without testing, Apple’s vision for the “desktop” might be very different from what users expect today. For example, the original Lisa design didn’t use the ubiquitous file and folder system today. That idea was deemed inefficient and was scrapped, instead settling for text-based filers that asked increasingly specific questions about how and where to create, store, move, or delete files.
Filer was seen as the best system on paper, but the team saw people using it and realized it wasn’t fun. In a 1997 retrospective, designers Roderick Perkins, Dan Smith Keller, and Frank Rudolph noted that the constant prompting “made the user feel like he was playing a game of 20 questions.” I wrote. They expressed their concerns to his Atkinson, and the group crafted alternatives from her Dataland and Pictureworld workshops and submitted them to Lisa’s engineering her manager, Wayne Rosing.
However, there was a problem. Twenty Questions was already locked by Lisa and was about to ship. Rosing didn’t want other teams to start adding new systems. According to Herzfeld, Rosing also had a bigger fear. If Apple co-founder Steve Jobs found out about the idea before it actually worked, he could delay the entire schedule of doing it. out.
The result was an excuse that didn’t sound out of place. stop and fireAtkinson and the Interface team spent two weeks building a prototype in secret, hurriedly stopping whenever they heard Jobs approach. Realizing that they were hiding something, Jobs showed it off and fell in love instantly. rear They hammered out most of the twists.
The team learned that icons and folders do not make creating and moving files more efficient. But users universally preferred them over playing Twenty Questions. They invited people to explore interfaces with the familiarity that they give to physical space. “The screen has become real in a way,” Lisa’s creator later wrote. “The interface started to disappear.”
Looking at the current Lisa, we can see that the system still grasps the limits of its trope. For example, one of its unique quirks is that it ignores application logic. You don’t open the app to create or start creating spreadsheets. Look at a series of pads with different types of papers and tear off a piece of paper.
But the office trope also had more specific technical limitations. One of Lisa’s core principles was to allow users to multitask like an assistant. This will keep the user distracted as they move between windows. It was a sophisticated idea that we take for granted on modern machines, but at the time it pushed the limits of Apple’s engineering and dramatically increased the price of the Lisa. And when Apple was finishing the Lisa, it was already working on another machine: the cheap and simple Macintosh.
“The problem that both Xerox and Apple have encountered with their $10,000 machines is that users end up becoming secretaries, and no company wants to buy a $10,000 machine for a secretary. Let’s go,” Hsu says. “He really needed a Macintosh to bring the cost down to a quarter of what he did.”
After all, the real breakthrough in graphical interfaces isn’t that virtual worlds are more accessible, but that they make things easier. Physical 1. “It wasn’t really there until desktop publishing became available with PageMaker and PostScript and laser printers. [you got] A compelling use case for a graphical user interface-based computer—something command-line-based computers just couldn’t do. ”
Non-graphical interfaces never went away completely. Apple has brought back modes in the form of keyboard shortcuts. The system is very powerful, yet mysterious enough to surprise even the most experienced users on a regular basis. Indeed, 40 years after Lisa’s launch, engineers still regularly wrestle with the command line. But for most people, all they’ve ever known is a graphical system.