Computerworld (1996): The rise of web-based user interfaces

The jury is still out over whether having the web as a universal graphical interface for applications is a step forward or backwards. I started keeping track of the more notable examples on this page of my website (and haven’t touched it in years, sorry.) Clearly it isn’t just another pretty interface for all your applications, as I originally wrote this story for Computerworld back in June of 1996.

Some analysts aren’t thrilled about Web UIs: Alan Cooper, a user interface consultant in Menlo Park, Calif., thinks that “HTML has set computer programming back 30 years and is about the worst technology I’ve laid eyes on.”

Others are more positive: Fred George, who used to work on IBM’s user development for OS/2 and is now an independent consultant based in Boulder, Colo., says he is “glad to see that we have moved beyond the 1960s-era teletype-style user interface,” and has hopes that web technology will eventually catch up with the operating system graphical interfaces. And software developer Bruce Fram who runs his own Silicon Valley company called Relations Software, says “Web technology is the information mechanism of the 90’s. Application developers who are not using it as their primary end-user interface will be in the same position as scribes after the invention of the printing press.”

Just about every software category now has at least one instance of where a vendor has taken to the web: you can access calendars, groupware, email, and even 3270 terminal emulators via an ordinary web browser. And plenty of hardware products, including printers and routers, now come with their own built-in web server for management purposes.

There is an important cross-platform advantage for having web interfaces: software vendors can cancel their Mac and Unix development efforts and concentrate on figuring out new ways to shoehorn functions into HTML tags. And there is always the hope that webification will simplify training users on how to do things, since they just point at a link and click away rather than have to learn a new command syntax.

“Writing HTML interfaces means that software developers tend to develop to the lowest common denominator,” says Elizabeth Rosenzweig, a usability manager with Kodak’s Boston Development Center in Lowell Mass. That could be trouble, although certainly any graphical interface is better than the cryptic telnet command-line interfaces used to manage routers and other hardware devices.

The software side of things is harder to judge. Some products make a great deal of sense to webify: take network-based calendars, for example. B.W. (Before the web), you had to go through a messy synchronization step just moments before catching your flight out of town. Now one can leave the data on their servers and view it with their browsers, and more importantly, actually have a chance at keeping their calendars updated.

So the web has shifted the debate from whether Win16 or Win32s is the best programming interface — now we can argue whether HTML extensions from Netscape or Microsoft are better. Much more understandable by the common user, and much more fun to watch. But having all software go to the web user interface might hasten having an all-Windows world: since multi-platform apps can be supported by back-door HTML, developers have moved away from Everything Else and concentrated on Everything Windows.




Read More
Breaking the Internet Speed Barrier

Want to go into the wayback machine and see what early 1996 Internet access tech looked like? Here you go. This is one of my favorite feature stories, written for the Ziff print pub Windows Sources under the able direction of Jackie Gavron. Jackie is one of the best editors in the business, and sadly, we haven’t had the opportunity to work together for many years.

Read More
Web Informant Numero Uno

Here is how it all started. You have my permission to laugh. From 1995.

Read More
Hanging Up Your Shingle — what questions to ask your Web hosting provider

Please note: this article is 11 years old.

"Hanging Up Your Shingle — what questions to ask your Web hosting provider."

One of the great things about the Web is that your stuff can live forever, if someone has taken the time to archive it properly. Back at the dawn of Web time, I did some work for an O'Reilly publication called Web Review. The guys and gals behind this effort did a fantastic job of creating one of the more thoughtful and interesting pubs back in the middle 1990s when we all didn't really know what we were doing. 

Lucky for me, Jennifer Robbins, the graphic designer of the publication, keeps one of my stories on her site. What I find interesting is that apart from the names of some of the companies (remember when Prodigy offered Web hosting? Digex?) and protocols (gopher anyone?), the piece still holds up well and has a lot of great advice.  

Read More
Bikes on the DC Metro

Back in the early 1980s, I was a citizen activist that lobbied the DC transit system to allow bicycles on their subway trains. At the time, it was the third system to do so — now bikes are commonly seen in a number of cities, and on buses too. Here are some clips from that era.

bikes on metro clips

Read More
1 193 194 195