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(November 2002)

Feedback on 'Interfaces - Future Interactions'

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People are commenting only on PART 2 of the Article.

David Charles Cummer (October 1998)
Eric Lindsay (October 1998)
Bill Wright (October 1998)
Marc Ortlieb (October 1998)
Lucy Schmeidler (December 1998)
Marc Ortlieb (February 1999)
Bill Wright (February 1999)
Bruce Gillespie (April 1999)

DAVID CHARLES CUMMER writes (October 1998):

*(* "Thus I laugh when I hear people describing today's personal computers as being 'state of the art'." I always thought "state of the art" meant "state of the art for right now", not for all time.

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ERIC LINDSAY writes (October 1998):

Re Future Interactions, I'm not sure I'm ready for modular and interacting software, like the components of a hi-fi. I just dumped a modular hi-fi in favour of a Bose. The modular unit had ground loop problems I never did solve to my entire satisfaction. There has been modular software before, particularly under Unix (which I think works fine actually). Microsoft have been saying that DLLs are the modern equivalent and will have wonderful results, although I've found them only a painfully, buggy menace. As it happens, I select my work files and the appropriate program starts. If I hit part of a spreadsheet, or a drawing, or agenda, in a file, the appropriate program is automatically running. I get that right now, on a palm size Psion organiser. And my data structures on my PC are all in ASCII, mostly in HTML or Postscript.

I reply (December 1998):

"There has been modular software before, particularly under Unix (which I think works fine actually). Microsoft have been saying that DLLs are the modern equivalent and will have wonderful results, although I find them a painfully buggy menace."

My experience with Unix is very limited - though I have read they have some wonderful (albeit ludicrously expensive) integrated software packages.

Microsoft allegedly 'borrowed' the concept of Dynamic Link Libraries from the Amiga! Amiga software uses Library files to carry out standardised operating procedures- e.g. opening file requestor windows. It's one of the reasons why Amiga programs are so much smaller than PC or Macintosh equivalents - applications share code.

The Amiga's Library files all live together happily in the Libs directory, they aren't scattered around in different places like DLLs on Windows PCs tend to be. If the Amiga can't find a particular library file - it pops up a little window when the program's being loaded saying "Can't Find xxx.library" - and I shut down the program and drag the xxx.library file icon from the Libs directory of the program's floppy disk to the Libs directory of my harddrive.

Library files were introduced with AmigaDOS 1.2 in 1987!

"As it happens I select my work files and the appropriate program starts."

So do I - the only exception is my Comms program.

"If I hit part of a spreadsheet, or a drawing, or agenda, in a file, the appropriate program is automatically running. I get that right now, on a palm size Psion organiser"

I've never used a Psion - though it seems like they've got the concept of Object Oriented Programming well sorted out! (I've found out bitmapped images embedded in Word documents work in much the same way - I double click on the image and it starts that very basic paintbrush program, loads the image into it - and pops the paintbrush program to the front.)

The first hot-linked Amiga program I ever used was PenPal in 1990.

I'll say something about OLE later.

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BILL WRIGHT writes (October 1998):

'Microsoft, despite its protestations, is really stifling innovation - we are getting an ancient operating system retro-fitted every few years.' Good, good, ... more, Michael, more! And there is more. 'What could enable the paradigm shift is the growth of non-proprietory data structures. ... people might realise that, provided that they can access and modify data files they have created or downloaded, it doesn't matter a rat's bottom what software packages they are using or which operating systems.' Great stuff. You must really hate MicrosoftTM.

I reply (December 1998):

Re: Your statement in the last "Interstellar Ramjet Scoop" that I 'must really hate Microsoft.'

I have decided that I am *not* going to say anything else negative about Microsoft or their products!

However I am sure you won't mind if I paste in a couple of quotations from other people.

"But oh for a lean fast modern operating system written in the nineties and not carrying all the dead weight of old code and old standards. Oh for a lean mean fast word processor or database package that does the essentials really well and doesn't insist on being everything to everyone. That's what computer users want. With Microsoft in its dominant position, that's exactly what we won't get."
    Stephen Hume. 'Microsoft: Fiend or Foe' in ITS News: The Journal of the Library Association Information Technology Group. Issue 36. December 1997. pp.31-33.

* * * * *

"Windows is an utter kludge, the ultimate tar baby, sucking you in, making things harder and harder, until you are hopelessly snagged and stuck, exhausted from fighting with it, resigned to despair. It is an inscrutable, god- awful mess, a disaster waiting to happen, a bonehead botch-job jammed with you-can't-get-there-from-here idiocy. They could train soldiers to kill by forcing them to struggle with this.

"It's bizarre that so many of us routinely put up with the crashes, the snarls, the unintuitive workarounds, the billions of hours wasted fumbling with broken systems, nursing along this crippled basket-case of an OS. Where is the outrage over so many lost hours of torment and unproductivity?"
    Paul Somerson, PC Computing.
(In the quotables file at: http://www.vcnet.com/bms . See also: http://main.billwatch.net/ .)

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MARC ORTLIEB writes (October 1998):

Looking at your piece for the Amiga magazine, ClarisWorks 2.0 on the Mac was already doing quite a lot of what you suggested, even then. (With Quicktime, I suspect I could do just about all of it now, and Windows OLE can deal with it too.)

I reply (December 1998):


I first encountered Object Linking and Embedding in my Windows 3.1 course in 1993 - and I remember thinking at the time that it was clever but pretty pointless. (This was the type where you get an icon for another application pasted in the middle of your Word document - and when you click on that embedded icon it opens up a copy of that other program with some data in it.) I'm not sure if Microsoft has done anything even cleverer with it in Windows 95 or 98 - I've never had cause to use it.

My great objection to it was that this was a word-processor document - which is meant to be printed-out! You're not going to get any clever click-onable icons or QuickTime movies running on a printed page. (Of course you can email Word documents to people and have them play around with the 'additional features' in their own PC.) I have a strong suspicion the software-gurus forgot temporarily what a word-processor is really for! They created an [imperfect] technology for a paperless office. Imperfect because OLE works by actually storing a copy of the 'other' program and its data within your Word document. It can make for bloody big files!

Hot-linking files like databases is genuinely useful - it means you only need to update data in one place for all the generated reports, etc. to be correct and up-to-date.

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LUCY SCHMEIDLER writes (December 1998):

Your piece on the future of computers brought me to a stop with "all you need is some gee-wizz gewgaws in your new release to excite the geeks." Made me wonder where geekdom has gone. Back when I was a geek, geeks didn't concern themselves with so-called operating systems that are really user-interfaces; we dealt, in assembly language or "C" with the actual OS (most commonly some variety of UNIX, though sometimes DOS) that ran the rest of the computer's software, which we were more interested in writing than using. And now the "geeks" are expert users!

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MARC ORTLIEB writes (February 1999):

I'm trying to come to grips with OLE within Visual Basic. One of these years I'm going to have to take a year off just to catch up with aspects of computers that I'm fudging my way through at present.

I reply (April 1999):

"One of these years I'm going to have to take a year off just to catch up with aspects of computers that I'm fudging my way through at present."

Don't bother - unless you *really* want too. I feel that a lot of the stuff the technophiles rave about is trivial wankerism, and in time the rave-about- focus will change as each enthusiasm-of-the-month is ultimately exceedingly trivial. Figure out what you want to do with your technology (as I'm sure you have), and make sure you can do that competently.

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BILL WRIGHT writes (February 1999):

Thank-you for the marvellous mailing comment. I hug those vituperative comments about Microsoft to my heart and envision Bill Gates condemned to the hell he has made for others.


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BRUCE GILLESPIE writes (April 1999):

Thanks for your description of Amiga DLLs. Anything has to be better than the PC system, which chucks operating information into both Windows:\System and the system directory of the program itself, but hides the most important instructions deep inside the Registry. And nobody dares fiddle with the Windows 95/98 Registry. It's almost impossible to uninstall a program totally from Windows 95, and very difficult to copy the C: drive.

You are so right about hoping somebody will come up with a 'lean mean fast word processor package.' I would have expected some such program to pop up on those CDs that are pasted to the front of the computer magazines, but all the great programming nerds seem to have given up on programs that would be useful. As you say, we don't want gimmicky stuff for Web pages; we want fast, well-printed word processing. Program silliness has reached the point where the two most complex programs of the early nineties, Ventura 4 and Quark XPress 3, are now more stable than, a tenth the size of, and much more useful as word-processing packages than either Word or WordPerfect! (Recent programs, such as Corel Ventura 8 and Word 97suffer from endless bloat, and [are] always on the point of falling over or doing weird things at unexpected times.)

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Last Updated: 26 June 2003