Apple Computer Inc is intent on changing the way Mac users think about applications, as it made clear at the UK briefing that presented the goodies in store in the 7.5 release of Macintosh System (CI No 2,432). To be brief, it doesn’t want users to think about applications at all: instead it is banking […]
Apple Computer Inc is intent on changing the way Mac users think about applications, as it made clear at the UK briefing that presented the goodies in store in the 7.5 release of Macintosh System (CI No 2,432). To be brief, it doesn’t want users to think about applications at all: instead it is banking on the OpenDoc application environment (co-produced with IBM Corp and Wordperfect Corp) to turn the Macintosh into a ‘document-centric’ system, where users can work on compound documents, oblivious to the applications they are using. OpenDoc is already out to developers and the finished version for the Macintosh will ship later this year. Apple, Wordperfect and IBM are implementing OpenDoc on the Macintosh, Windows, and AIX and OS/2 systems respectively. OpenDoc is designed to do away with the application as we know it. Users work on compound documents that contain different ‘parts’. A part can be anything from a graphics image, a piece of text or movie, to a scriptable object. At the London briefing, software architect Kurt Piersol demonstrated what he called a pre-alpha version of OpenDoc, which nonetheless failed to crash. In the demo, Piersol simply dragged various parts into a document. As he clicked on a graphics element, the menu instantly changed to display the necessary graphic-edi-ing commands, as he clicked on a part containing text, the menu switched to show text-handling items. So far, so good, but Piersol also managed to paste in a QuickTime movie, and a clock – a clock that continued running as the movie played and the text was edited. Not a particularly useful feature perhaps, but indicative of OpenDoc’s power. Another cunning aspect of OpenDoc documents is their ability to remain active throughout a series of manipulations. In the OpenDoc world, for example, it should be possible to take our document with the ticking clock and map it onto a three-dimensional surface generated by another graphics package. The result of this would be a spinning three-dimensional cube, with the document wrapped around it, and the clock still tic-king. Apart from the technological gee-wizzery involved, OpenDoc will challenge the whole way that the software industry does business.
Piersol believes we will see an industry where developers license objects from each other for incorporation into their offerings. Most end users, however, will not involve themselves in application construction, but will buy applications as before. Exactly how this fits into the document-centric view of things is not totally clear – how will developers be able to market the delights of Application X when Application X will essentially be invisible to the user? Piersol demonstrated this problem when he clicked on the ‘running processes’ icon on the far left of the Mac’s menu bar. Every Mac user will know that currently this presents a list of running applications. However under OpenDoc there are no applications, so it just provides a list of open documents. Similarly the File menu disappears, to be replaced by a Document menu that is missing a Quit option on the reasonable grounds that there is no application to quit from.