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[SLUG] Text based computing, was Job advert.




Can't help myself, re the debate over text displays versus GUI's.

This I wrote quite a few years ago.

Regards
Jamie Honan

  --------- Long Live Text ------------------

Kelly Stan Bootle said it best in the magazine Computer Language : ``The
frayed dictum that a picture is worth a thousand words has caused much
confusion in our industry.  Note first that the ideas expressed in the 18
words of the previous sentence cannot themselves be crisply expounded using
any purely pictorial, nonverbal drawing I can think of.  Send me a sketch
if you disagree.''

One measure of the progress of our civilisation is the fact that we have
council libraries filled with books.  The act of reading is a discipline, a
demand we make of ourselves.  The rewards from reading are the fantastic
insights, the charged emotions, the transfer of incredible ideas.

Sadly, the height of the computer revolution has produced popular software
that reduces our ability to interact with computers to below that of 14
year olds.  I'm not referring to games, the best of which are truly
demanding and absorbing, but to the plethora of `Windows based'
software, most of which an advanced user actually has to battle against to
get much done.

As an example, consider the word-processor.  In its modern incantation, this
ubiquitous tool allows you to select fonts, layouts, special effects and
any one of a million special features.  Of course, the beast does nothing
to help you accomplish the primary task : actually write sensible,
meaningful, sentences.  This task could be accomplished via a simple text
editor, or, dare I say it, a pencil and the back of a nearby envelope.  I
have often wondered how many spread-sheet calculations could be reduced to
the same technique.

Could it be that our obsession with the tool, the computer, has blinded us
to the question as to whether our productivity has actually been enhanced?

Although it may seem old fashioned to be proud of a character based
terminal heritage, many Unix applications can run on a variety of character
oriented displays.  Anyone who has used a computer in any serious way
will always appreciate a command line interface, or the fact that much of
what we deal with in day to day work can only be done with words.

I have seen many attempts to fit data entry and database applications into
Windows or Windows-like environments.  This has always struck me as absurd,
there is not a jot of productivity to be gained in changing from a
character mode system to a GUI system for such applications.  Instead the
applications run slower, or require more expensive hardware.  The GUI
interface demands more memory and disk space, costlier displays and faster 
CPUs.

The real shining light of Unix is its ability to manipulate text, text
processing as it's called.  There are a host of tools for searching,
replacing, counting and otherwise munging text.  The humble `grep' searches
for that elusive word, phrase or acronym, across hundreds of files in
minutes.  I have many hundreds of text files on my system, all crammed with
tidbits of information that I am continually going back to reference.  When
confronted with a Microsoft developers' CD-ROM, with it's Windows' based
search and retrieval engine, I pine for my humble tools.  I have no way of
knowing whether the information I require is present, the tools aren't
there to help me find it.

No diatribe against the modern trend away from words and text would be
complete without mentioning the `information superhighway'.  In the mass
media, this concept is presented not as a way to access the fantastic
textual resources of the world's information repositories, but as a chance
for various spiv entrepreneurs to distribute interactive TV, with home
shopping the most creative service they can think of.

Yet it will be some time before the information superhighway can deliver
the information bandwidth and convenience of your local library, and some
time before the spivs have gone broke and cleared off and the gates of the 
new global age have been opened to Joe and Joanna Ordinary.

The only existing, working (as opposed to gleam in the eye of a marketing
type) global information superhighway is the Internet.

Absolutely ignored by the mass media, but critical to the success of the
Internet are the fundamental protocols used - TCP/IP.  TCP/IP has so many
advantages over other protocols touted for this purpose, its chief one
being that it actually works for the scale required by such a massive
network.

As an indication of our indulgent use of computers and information
technology, the truly productive services provided by TCP/IP are ignored. 
Glossy Web pages have won out over the truly `user-enabling' text based
tools such as email and news.  To many now, the Internet is the Web page,
often a thinly disguised advertisement, on their Windows' PC.

Contrast this with email.  Email represents the renaissance of the humble
written letter.  The composer of a well written letter is educated and
civilised.  The writer has every opportunity to show erudition, wit, charm
and flirtatiousness.  The writer acts, is not passive, transmits something
of him or her self.

What can listening to rock music on the Internet, or the viewing of Web
pages containing pictures of `Randy's lunch', or interactive shopping on TV
offer us but more mindless indulgence, a deadeningly passive third hand set
of experiences?


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