Byte of the Apple: THE project could point to future

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In the latest Byte of the Apple column at Business Week Online , Alex Salkever (filling in for regular columnist, Charles Haddad) says that Jef Raskin, who helped design Apple's user interface, is working on a new system that could shake up the world of computers.

Raskin started the Mac project at Apple in 1979. Currently, he's an interface and systems designer, a writer and a consultant, concentrating mainly on making computers more usable. Despite his work on the Mac, Raskin isn't fond of modern graphic user interfaces (GUIs), including those of the Mac operating system and Windows. Salkever notes that Raskin's GUI beefs include the following: Pull-down menus are slow and hide information that users might want to see; text editors require too many keyboard movements; and shuttling between a keyboard and a mouse wastes too much time.

Since he doesn't like what's out there now, Raskin and some volunteers are working on "The Humane Environment," or THE. According to the mission statement of the project: "This project was created because we need better, faster to learn, easier to use, more efficient, and lower cost ways to access the power of computer technology."

A sample of the work is a freeware text editor available for download that runs under Mac OS 9 and Mac OS X in the Classic environment. Salkever downloaded a copy, test drove it, and found it "cool but weird."

"At its heart, THE is a command-line system, but it adds a key element: visibility," he explains. "The user should see information only when needed. Raskin accomplishes this simply. The cursor is represented by a flashing blue block. Within the blue block sits a single letter or text command such as space (indicated by a black dot) or a tab (indicated by an arrow)."

Salkever admitted difficulty in adjusting to LEAP, THE's way of moving about a page. He said that it felt "far less intuitive to me than simply moving a mouse or a scroll arrow" and that "holding down the shift key aggravated my wrists a bit over time." But Raskin himself notes that it will take relearning to change from the way we've interacted with computers for so long.

"More important, some of Raskin's suggestions would work very well even without LEAP, such as the idea of highlighting hidden commands as you scroll over them," Salkever writes. "Right now, I can't say THE is the answer, but I'll be eagerly watching it develop and trying it out as Raskin adds more depth to the collaborative project. The guys at Apple's One Infinite Loop HQ should be watching, too."

This story, "Byte of the Apple: THE project could point to future" was originally published by PCWorld.

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