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User Friendly

Donald G. Perrin

In 1983, the Lotus Development Corporation introduced Lotus 123 for the newly introduced PC; 123 was a “user friendly” spreadsheet program that integrated spreadsheet, database and graphics. The advanced features of this menu driven program foreshadowed Widows-based software with a wide array of powerful features such as popup menus, sort functions, and context sensitive help.  In that era, programs of this complexity required many hours of training. Using Lotus 123 menus and context sensitive help, a person with minimal computer skills could master the program in a few hours. This software was fast, reliable, easy to use, and according to the advertising, “thinks the way you do!”

Much of the early DOS software was slow with “bugs” and programming errors. Lotus 123 was written in machine language with Forth graphics Compared to other software for the PC, it was fast and bug free and established a high standard for business and educational computing. In 1984, Apple introduced the Macintosh computer with advanced graphic capabilities and a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) display for word processing, graphic design, desktop publishing, and audiovisual presentations. Microsoft responded with the Windows operating system, but it was a decade before DOS was finally replaced by Windows 95. Design limitations of the early PCs complicated the transition. Rapid advances in hardware and software promoted early obsolescence. The PC became the work horse for business and industry, but Macintosh retained its lead for desktop publishing and professional production of graphics, audio and video.

Macintosh won the hearts of educators with its friendly interface and ease in creating print, graphics, audiovisuals, and music. AppleWriter and HyperCard made it simple for teachers to create professional quality handouts and interactive audiovisual presentations. Creative features introduced by Apple Computer were quickly adopted by Microsoft, Adobe, and other industry leaders. In 1990, Steve Jobs introduced the “Next”, a “high end” workstation with Next Step, a powerful new operating system designed for education. It did not find a wide market because of its $10,000 price tag, but its innovative features were copied and integrated into the products of rival hardware and software companies.

The PC enabled users to be independent of mainframes and slow telephone connections. It gave the user processing power, storage, and the ability to configure hardware and software for their specific needs. It became a creative tool for text layout, images, sounds, and video. It was a production tool for computer programmers, and a simulator that quickly replaced expensive equipment such as video editors and aircraft simulators. Computers continued to increase in speed and power and data storage and at the same time decrease in price. This attracted a growing market for personal computers in homes, businesses, schools and libraries.

In the 1980s, academic and research institutions had access the ARPANET, the forerunner of the Internet. In the 1990s, Mosaic (1993) and Netscape (1994) provided user-friendly interfaces for email, databases, and web sites. A Graphic-User-Interface (GUI) made it easy for anyone to navigate the World Wide Web. The Universal Resource Locator (URL), Hyperlinks and HyperText Markup Language (HTML) allowed people to interact with any website and enabled people to create their own webpages and websites. The Internet as we now know it was born.

Today, hundreds of millions of computers are connected to the Internet – the network of networks. Web-browsers with user-friendly interfaces connect us to millions of computers in over 200 countries. Broadband communications make networks fast and reliable. The Internet is a source of interactive learning materials with rich content, research tools and databases, and a plethora of opportunities for synchronous and asynchronous communications.

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