Origins of the Apple Human Interface - part 4

From: Shirl <shirlgato_at_email.domain.hidden>
Date: Wed, 11 May 2005 07:21:06 -0600

Those of you who know the Xerox Star know that the Xerox Star had that feature. Those of us who were from Xerox were under a confidentiality agreement, that we weren't allowed to tell the other Apple people about the Star. And so, as you go through this, you'll sometimes find that things seem like, "Isn't it obvious solution? You could have got it from the Star." But none of us were able to say how the Star was. We were only allowed to comment on other people's proposals and make new ones. And it was an interesting kind of dynamic. But, gradually over time, a few Star-like things crept in, but not many until the Star actually shipped, or it was announced, in June of '81. But here we are in 1980.

Then I suggested we try an I-shaped cursor for text selection, instead of an arrow. It actually is something I had done in my early years at Xerox, in a particular word processor I had done. I also said I wished the cursor would be bigger than 16 by 16, to go to 32 by 32, which we eventually did.

Menus -- this was what, August 18th? "I think we should experiment with menus at the top or right of the window, or even totally detached at the top of the screen, full width." So up to this time, we were doing sort of the way Windows does, and every window had its own menu. And I was thinking, "You know, maybe we ought to put it at the top." You'll see why in a minute when you see the pictures. And then I said, "Hierarchical menus -- well, maybe we have to have them, we can't get rid of them, but could we make them mouse accessed instead of having to type all these keystrokes?" So, these were my two causes of the moment.

Barry Smith, who was in Product Marketing, responded about the same time. And he said -- at this point, Bill had moved the menu bar, that Edit Cut Copy Paste thing, from the bottom of the window to the top of the window. That was the change. And Barry liked that. He liked it a lot better near the top. Called it "near the top." And then he wanted to know, though, what would happen if there were a lot of menu items, and could the menus scroll. And those of you who know the history of the Mac user interface, know that at some point, around 1990 or so, we started adding scrolling to Mac menus. But we didn't have them in the early Mac or the Lisa, and I was against it because that would have encouraged people to have a lot of menu items, and I didn't think they should. So I kept that from happening. You can't constrain people, though.

He also did not like the fact that you had to type multiple keystrokes to a hierarchical menu, and so he was thinking maybe we could get to something where it was a single keystroke to invoke a command no matter where it was in the hierarchy. And I think Bill was experimenting with that at that time. And he also didn't like the two-button mouse. He thought it was confusing.

So, August 18th -- I guess that was August 13th, before. A few days later, after intense political, polite discussions, heated sometimes, Bill and I decided "Hey, let's get rid of the second button. Let's shake things up. One-button mouse." So we wrote this memo together, so that people knew we were real serious. Sent it to the usual suspects. And we say, "We recommend a change to a one-button mouse." And whoever wrote this comment, and I'm glad I don't know who it was, said, "Well, maybe, not sure that's a good idea." But it turned out that Trip Hawkins, who later went on to found Electronic Arts and 3DO, was the Product Marketing manager. He loved it. He said, "That's what we've got to do. We've got to think more kind of consumer oriented, really simple, get rid of all this computer science concepts, and give people something real simple." He liked the one button.

So after that, we had a period, sort of, of good will, where we were able to do user interface design without a lot of complaining. Which ended after a while, as you'll see.

Well, if you only have one button, some things are hard to do. You can drag a short selection, but what if you want to select something three pages long? It's a long time to drag from one end to the other. So, we thought, okay, well, we'll use the Shift key on the keyboard, because this doesn't happen very often. You click the beginning of the selection, you'll scroll to where you want to go, hold down the Shift key, and click the end of the selection. So that's where we got the Shift-button thing. Adjusting selection.

And then we said, "The one-button mouse is superior. Look at the reasons: superior human factors, you don't have to think of a name for each button." [Laughter] That's important, when you're trying to ship product in six months. The mouse will be cheaper to make, because one less button -- I mean, just think of what the cost of that little switch is. And, something a little more profound, someday when we start having other things than mice on our computers, like joysticks for games, tablets, touch screens, we'll be glad we only had one button because that one finger or whatever or pen that the user is using is the button. That turned out to be sort of prophetic, although very few such pointing devices take advantage of that, in fact. They usually have buttons anyway.

Okay, so August 22nd, this is a revised version of the user interface, and it says, "This is it, now. We're done." So now, instead of a week, you only have three days to return comments, because we must be done. There couldn't be more than one or two comments; they're probably just typos or something, by this point. We'd been working on this interface for a month, already.

Okay, so what did it have in this version? It had a concept called "dimmed highlighting." This was introduced for the first time, that I know of, here. That if some of the menu items, instead of eliminating menu items that weren't relevant, which -- we would dim them, we would gray them out. Instead of being black type they would be kind of in gray type. And then we said, "They can be invoked any way the user wishes, although they wouldn't do anything." And we were also going to use dim highlighting for another purpose, which was to show toggles. And as you know, that was later changed to have checkmarks, instead of just using this for two purposes, because that was very confusing. But at that point we thought we'd get away with one mechanism for both things. And it was Occam's Razor: if one mechanism will do, then don't have two. Well, it turned out that one didn't do, so, we had to apologize to Occam. [Laughter]

Now, as you know, you can do command keys on the Mac or Lisa keyboard, and you can invoke commands from the keyboard. And we knew it was important to reserve some for the most common commands, because it might be okay for an application to use Command Shift J for something, but we wanted to be sure Cut, Copy, Paste, Undo were the same for everybody. Bold, Italic, Underline, and Normal -- we thought these would be used the most. And so, the whole sequence -- I'm not going to go through them all today, but we had various theories, and as you see here, it's rather different from what we ended up with. Z X C D was sort of the order on the keyboard; Cut Copy Paste Undo was the order on the menu, so that was it. Over time we refined this. This led to many very heated arguments. People would rather argue about trivial things like this than important things, but we did have fun arguing.

Does anybody remember what they really are? Today? [Comment: Control-I, Control-V] That's right, Control-I, Control-V, and then for Cut? [Comment: Control-X, the same as Wordstar!] Wordstar? Oh, I didn't know that. [Comment: That's part of the problem of most computing, is people don't realize what...] Well, we did X because it was a cross-out, and we did V because it pointed down like this, and you were inserting, like an upside down caret. [Laughter] That was Paste. And Z was the closest one, because we figured you'd Undo a lot. And C for Copy, that was easy. So that's how we did that.

So this was the anatomy of a window. We had title tab, and notice, next to the title tab, we now move the menu to the top. As was commented upon, someone obviously had got a sneak preview draft, and that earlier memo. And look, there are menus that are popping down from the menu bar, first time. When it was at the bottom, it didn't make a whole lot of sense, but now that it was at the top, Bill could, instead of having the menu come here and replace the previous menu, like it did in UCSD Pascal, he could use the second dimension and have a menu pop out to the bottom. Don't ask us how we're going to do third-level menus, but at this point, this was good enough. We had two levels of menus, and we were happy.

Over here, there was the elevator shaft. Now we called it the thumb instead of the elevator, because we wanted to have horizontal scrolling too, and elevators in those days didn't go horizontally, although Scientific American says they're about to. And then we had continuous scrolling arrows, and notice the arrows point this way, but when you click on these arrows, the text was going to move that way, as opposed to the other way, which is what it does now. And that was an interesting argument, that I think I have covered here too.

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Received on 2005-05-11 06:34:00

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