After making their debut appearance at UniForum last month, the first alphanumeric (character-based) display terminals that conform to the emerging AlphaWindows standard are due to begin shipping in May, with entry-level prices pegged at around $600. None should be more than 10% more expensive than the price of a corresponding character-based offering, insiders say, because […]
After making their debut appearance at UniForum last month, the first alphanumeric (character-based) display terminals that conform to the emerging AlphaWindows standard are due to begin shipping in May, with entry-level prices pegged at around $600. None should be more than 10% more expensive than the price of a corresponding character-based offering, insiders say, because terminal manufacturers should be able to re-deploy many of the unused resources that currently gather dust inside their standard offerings. AT&T Co, Cumulus Technology Inc, Edisa Informatica SA, Link Technologies Inc, Microvitec Plc, Televideo Systems Inc, Wyse Technology Inc and Digital Equipment Corp are among those with terminals under development. The AlphaWindows effort is backed by the Display Industry Association, formerly the International Association of Character Windowing Standards which creates hardware and software standards for display terminals. AlphaWindows-compliant terminals will support existing terminal emulations like VT220 and Wyse 60, and are claimed to be able to run existing character-based applications without any modification, while providing all of the popular windowing features that are typically found on graphical-based systems, such as running multiple applications, transferring information between applications, resizing, scroll bars, icons and buttons. A near painless upgrade from single-session terminals is how proponents describe the technology. AlphaWindows has a mouse interface, supporting window placement and sizing operations (under control of the window manager), which also takes account of the latency associated with Unix’s TTY asynchronous channels. Operations requiring immediate feedback are performed locally by the terminal. AlphaWindows does not come with a standard interface, it separates the window manager functions from the display server, enabling competing software vendors to provide window managers with various user interfaces, though level 1 compliance with OSF/Motif is required. Terminal vendors will be able to define the look of the windows, while the window manager will define the feel. Manufacturers are free to decide which emulations – and the number of sessions (windows, applications) – their products will support, along with types of keyboard layout, mouse, screen size, resolution and colour. However, all products must conform to the AlphaWindow technical specification, and all compliant display terminals should be able to work with all AlphaWindows-compliant window managers. The idea is to bring the ease-of-use and functionality associated with graphical windowing systems to the vast number of users whose requirements are easily met by character-based applications, without the associated cost of graphically reprogramming software (in X Window, for example) or investing in more powerful (and more expensive) graphical-based systems, such as X-terminals. AlphaWindows terminals handle windowing operations in hardware, and will come in three guises: a low-level implementation of the specification; terminals with primitive windowing – some fixed boxes; and those with advanced features, like drag and drop, pull-down menus and scroll bars – everything you’d get on a graphical system except the graphics. AlphaWindows terminals are not expected to make much of a dent in the X Window terminal market, but are more likely gradually to replace standard character-based screens by bringing windowing functionality to the existing commercial application base.