Robert Benschop The Humane Computer
First of all, I'm not a developer, I'm not a specialist in any specific kind, I'm just an enthusiastic Newton user, or rather a Newton evangelist. I've converted loads of people over the years to use Newtons because of my conviction that this is the best platform designed so far in the history of computing. So I would like to share with you why this is and what I've seen over the years from the sidelines, mostly from a users perspective.
From the the moment that computers entered the world they have been an inspiration for the creative fantasy of people, from most of the science fiction writers to Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek.
Especially Star Trek has managed the capture what most people still feel a computer should be like: a seemingly simple device that can execute otherwise tedious tasks in fractions of milliseconds.
Moreover it shows the most simple of interfaces; one can just ask or give orders like one would do with another human being, and as long as the computer has the possibility to actually execute these it orders it will.
In reality the computers that were in use in 1966, the time that the first Star Trek series aired for the first time, still used tapes and cards with little punch holes and were interfaced with from a command line interface, so by code.
In server and mainframe computing, the level of the people working with the computers has always been such, that there hasn't been much of a necessity to move away from this, though there have been improvements there as well.
If the general audience was to adopt and use the computer it simply should have a much easier and humane interface.
In the beginning of the 80's the field was reigned, both for mainframe as personal computing which was still quite young then, by computers controlled by a command line interface, so typed commands was the way to go.
In 1983 the first and biggest revolution in Personal Computing so far took place, when Apple launched the Apple Lisa, the first computer to use a Graphical User Interface (GUI). This GUI was actually originally developed at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and bought by Apple.
Apple users would laugh of people using MS-DOS and MS-DOS users would argue that they didn't need all that fancy stuff, proving otherwise themselves with the runaway success of Windows 95, the first Windows version that offered a relatively stable environment accessible through a GUI. The word stable here is used relative to the earlier Windows version, not compared to other platforms.
So the general audience itself has proven the point, if the price is low enough, they will choose the cheapest version of a product or at least one with a reasonable price compared to the rest of the market of which the interface is the best. Or, in other words, which is easiest to use.
So the GUI was the first step to a humane computer, one that we can interact with on a natural level.
Now the paradox is that so many people have gotten so used to use their computers the way they use them, that it's really hard to identify the problems they actually have interfacing with them.
The strangest thing in all this is that in the meantime Star Trek goes through new episodes with new actors and the computer keeps interfacing in a normal way and never seems to have a virus, while the day to day reality of most people is the opposite but is still accepted. I guess it's all the aliens and science fiction stuff clouding our vision.
From the first days of the technological revolution there has always been a huge discrepancy between what the tech geeks thought up, and what the general audience has perceived as user friendly technology.
As an recent example: early this summer the top of Philips Electronics took their own products home to try them out for a weekend. Much to their shock and dismay most of them couldn't figure out most functions and they found their own product much too complicated.
In the meantime we have seen quite a few promises of technology that was going to make it to the mainstream and was to change the way we interact with computers but never did, virtual reality the most prominent amongst them.
Taking us back to the point in history were we took off: in the middle of all of this, actually two years before Windows 95, there was the second revolution on personal computing. And it went largely unnoticed by the general audience, and it was the birth of the Newton and the Newton OS. It was of course noticed by the technological community and the Newton OS received an award at the CEBIT, but the audience in general mostly took notice of the shortcomings of the hand writing (HWR) engine thanks to Gary Trudeau and his Doonesbury cartoon, and the improvements in the HWR later on went largely unnoticed.
Of course there were other reasons: again the marketing was far from perfect, a problem Apple had for quite a while and up to a point still suffers from and the prize point was very high at the time of release.
Robert Benschop is a professional photographer. He probably epitomizes the Newton Power User. The Newton never failed to astound him for all these years and he will explain why the Newton is still the leader of the pack end.