Origins of the Apple Human Interface - part 2

From: Shirl <shirlgato_at_email.domain.hidden>
Date: Wed, 11 May 2005 07:20:05 -0600

And then it said, "The software is integrated through a powerful and simple user interface." And it doesn't say it here, but John Couch, who was in charge of the Lisa project, did a sort of Kennedy we're-going-to-send-a-man-to-the-moon-and-bring-him-back thing; he said "All I want is, I want to be able to go into a spreadsheet, put some numbers in, go and graph them, take the graph, paste it into my word processor document, and include it in a report." He didn't say "paste" -- you know, "put it into my word processor document." He said, "[If] I can do all those things in an integrated way, then we'll be way ahead of anything available on the Apple II, where there are all these separate programs that don't interact with each other." That's all he wanted. Whenever we brought him any issue he said, "Remember what I want," and he went through the whole mantra. And that was a very healthy thing. It kept us focused. And then we also knew when we were done.

Well, who were the users? Non technical, non analytical people. Non analytical. That's a very important point. First time users. Well, in 1980 there were a lot of first time users. Almost everybody. And here were examples: administrative assistants and secretaries. Also, secondarily, managers, accountants, and executives. It wasn't for programmers, it wasn't for kids, it wasn't for people at home doing recipes, this was an office system. And so, when you start looking at it, and comparing it maybe with the Mac, you'll see some differences based on that. And you may see some similarities to Windows.

Design philosophy: so there was a whole section on the design philosophy, and what were the most important features to put in? Graphic images. Well, that was pretty vague. Menus. A pointing device that you could move around freely, as opposed to the cursor keys we were using up to then. And, we were going to let you invoke commands from the keyboard also, because there were times when you would do things over and over, and people felt that sometimes the mouse slowed you down a bit.

So let's look at this keyboard. This was the keyboard that existed on the hardware when I arrived. It had a Code key in the upper left corner, and some of the keys, on their fronts, had some characters. In other words, in order to [get] the keyboard width they wanted, they couldn't fit all the characters on the keys. So they squeezed a few extra characters on the fronts of the keys, and had a special key to invoke those. And later we decided we could use that key together with other keys to do another function, that you'll see later.

Now, I didn't like the hardware design too much, and I wanted to change it, but they said "You can't change that. You know, you came from a research place. We just have to ship the hardware that we already built, otherwise we won't be able to ship this product when it's going to go to market." I said, "Oh, when is that?" They said, "Six months." That was 1980. To jump ahead, it didn't ship 'til the middle of '83. Probably my fault. Okay. [Laughter]

So, here was the pointing device. Kind of a brick -- that's a mouse. And, the color is me; I added color last night, just to highlight things you should look at. But it had two buttons at that time. And I handwrote on here something about the shape. I wasn't too happy with the shape. And I wasn't sure what distinguished these two keys, and whether there was a little space between them, or whether they were flush, or what. So, you'll see some of my handwritten scribbles on these memos.

And here's how the mouse was used. Well, actually they didn't know a lot about how the mouse was used yet. They mostly were focused on the window manager: how the user would manage the windows on what we now call the desktop. And so at that time the idea was this: there would be a click and a drag, and those were two things you could do. You could click and let go, or you could click, hold, drag the mouse, and let go. Sometimes we called it "drag," sometimes we called it "draw," various names. And then the buttons got names: the "point" button and the "grow" button. And depending on where you pointed, and whether you clicked or dragged, and which button you used.

This page here shows what happens if you went into the title tab of the window, the little thing that had the name. And it either would display the window menu, move the window, open or close the window, or change the size of the window. All of it done by clicking in the title. So there was no "grow" box in the lower right, there were no menus, it was all done with just one of two mouse buttons and a click or drag operation. Now, there was a menu at the bottom of the window, but it had nothing to do with window operations. It had to do with operating on the content inside the window. We'll get to that.

I should stop saying "when I got there" because by then I'd already been there for two weeks, so I had some influence on this. I can't remember what. So here's a letter to Jef. Now "Jef" is misspelled. That's Jef Raskin, who does spell his name that way. And he became the person who we were always sending these letters to, on the Lisa project. And, as you see, this scroll bar was on the left side. It had the horizontal scrolling arrows at the top, the vertical scrolling arrows at the bottom. Now, those of you who know the Next machine know that that's a feature, is that you have the two arrows close to each other so you don't have to move very far to go between the two arrows. That was actually designed in 1980 by Bill. And then at the bottom, the edit menu had Cut, Paste, Dupe to copy things, and Undupe. And then on the side there were the equivalent of today's icons. This was taken from Smalltalk, where you took the tab of the window -- threw away the window, and just kept the tab -- called it collapsing the window. And these were windows that were available but closed right now. And you could open them up.

Then we had this idea of fill-in menus. Just to jump ahead, they were what we call dialog boxes today. And there were two kinds. There were kinds where you somehow open a sub-menu and you get to type into that sub-menu -- don't ask me exactly how. The other is where it actually opens up a big box, like we know today. That was this thing called forms. And so it was kind of a vague notion at that time, no one had actually drawn any pictures even of what those looked like, I think. And again, we said that menu commands can be invoked from the keyboard, and I put a little note saying "Disagree somewhat." And I wish I could remember what I disagreed with. I think I was afraid they would do too much keyboard stuff.

There were scroll bars. You would hold a button down to scroll continuously. Now, there was an interesting idea here that you would double-click to flip to the next page. Anybody that knows about user interface design with single and double clicks -- usually you make it so that when you click once, you can start doing something, and then when the second click comes, it doesn't sort of negate what you already started to do. This is kind of interesting, because you clicked once, it would start to scroll a little, and when you clicked a second time, it would realize you wanted to jump a lot. So you'd get a little motion, and then a jump. That actually might have been kind of cute. I don't think we ever implemented it.

Then there was something called the elevator shaft, with the elevator in it. And that was what is still today, that little box in the scroll bar that you see. There was the abbreviations window, that was that Code key. We had to find a use for it. So you could type Code, and then hit a letter on the keyboard, it would look up in a table and it would expand your abbreviation. This was the kind of thing you'd find in a Wang word processor. So we put that in, because this was for secretaries.

Then there was something called the system error window. And that's what you now know as alert boxes, in Mac and Windows. And these were things that would come up when there was a problem, and it would make some kind of beep, and would tell you what the problem was. So I put a little question mark here. Is the system frozen when that comes up? Can you do other things? And we eventually decided it was modal, but actually that took quite a while to decide.

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Received on 2005-05-11 06:33:59

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