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Douglas Engelbart can be credited with inventing much of the computing paradigm we all use today, but have we missed his most important ideas? Adam looks at where Douglas Engelbart has been and where he thinks we need to go in the future. Also this week, we examine how you can integrate the Internet into your backup strategy. In the news, Macromedia ships Dreamweaver 2.0 and we announce our end-of-year holiday vacation.
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Last Regular TidBITS Issue of 1998 -- We're taking the final two weeks of the year off to spend with family and friends over the holiday season, so this is the last regular TidBITS issue for 1998, although we plan to publish a special holiday gift issue in a day or two. TidBITS Talk will take a two-week vacation as well, starting 18-Dec-98 and returning in the first few days of 1999 to discuss Macworld Expo in San Francisco.
Additionally, we'd like to thank our sponsors for their financial support and our many volunteer translators for their selfless work in making TidBITS available in Chinese, Dutch, French, German, and Japanese. We also extend a hearty thanks to everyone who has sent in kind words of support over the past year. This year was a time of rebuilding for the Macintosh community, and we look forward to 1999 with continued optimism. [ACE]
Brief Horn Tooting -- As the year draws to a close, we can't resist passing on a few bits of self-promotion from 1998. Internet Valley just placed TidBITS 29th on a list of the top 100 most influential computer publications, according to the number of external links pointing at that publication. Other awards we've won this year include the MacTimes Mac Merit Badge in May, the Suite101.com Top 5 Best of Web award in June, the ABC's of Parenting 3 Stars rating in September (we're not sure what the connection is), the Mac Hottest 5 award in September, a My Mac "Best Author for a Rainy Evening" Book Bytes award for Adam in October, and an OpenRoad Reviews 5 rating in November (along with a well-researched review of our work). Check our awards page below to see the snazzy little award graphics. [ACE]
New Dreamweaver Adds Features and Templates -- Macromedia is now shipping Dreamweaver 2.0, a Web authoring package known for its early support of cascading style sheets and dynamic HTML. The new version adds several features that Web designers will appreciate, such contextual menus for manipulating table and cell attributes, a graphical map for visual site management, support for XML (Extensible Markup Language), and an eyedropper tool that can select colors from anywhere on the desktop and then shift to the nearest Web-safe color. Dreamweaver 2.0 also includes Dream Templates, which make it easy for designers to change content within a locked page design. For text-level HTML editing, Dreamweaver ships with Bare Bones Software's BBEdit 5.0 (see "HTML Enhancements Highlight BBEdit 5.0" in TidBITS-454). Dreamweaver 2.0 requires a Power Macintosh running System 7.5.5 or higher and 24 MB of RAM, and retails for $300. Owners of Dreamweaver 1.2 can upgrade for $130, or pay $99 for an electronic-only upgrade. [JLC]
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
With the recent release of Dantz Development's Internet-savvy Retrospect Express 4.1, which joins Retrospect 4.1 and the BackJack Internet backup service from Synectics Business Solutions, I think it's safe to say that Internet backup has become a field - a step up from a trend, more stable than a fad, and nowhere near as big as an industry. I've been using these programs for a while now and have come up with some suggestions for how you can integrate Internet backup into your backup strategy. What will work best for you relates to how much storage space you have (or are willing to pay for) and how fast your Internet connection is.
Advantages of Internet Backup -- First off, let's briefly look at the advantages of backing up to a server on the Internet.
No need for additional hardware (although, unless Internet backup constitutes your entire backup strategy, you still need appropriate hardware for local backups).
Guaranteed off-site backup, which protects your files in case of fire, burglary, or natural disaster.
Integrated backup strategy for businesses with off-site employees.
Access to your encrypted backups wherever you can access the Internet (this might be useful to heavy travelers).
The main reasons suggested on TidBITS Talk for why people have decided against Internet backup are concerns about the reliability and longevity of an Internet backup service, the safety of sensitive information, and the length of time necessary to back up a large hard disk even over a DSL or ISDN connection.
Several Megabytes Available -- Most Internet service providers offer a few megabytes of disk space with your Internet account. Often people use this space for publishing Web pages. As long as this storage space is accessible via FTP, you can use Retrospect 4.1 or Retrospect Express 4.1 to back up a small number of important files to your Internet account. In this case, backing up only a few files via the Internet cannot form your entire backup strategy; you must perform backups to removable media as well or risk losing everything other than a few of your most important files. In addition, some ISPs don't back up their FTP servers, so they prefer that you don't rely on them for secure data storage.
Retrospect and Retrospect Express try to be too helpful in this situation. By default, both add new versions of files to your backup set, which is great with removable media, but which can quickly fill up a small FTP disk space allocation. My solution is to have Retrospect Express perform a Full Backup every other night. In Retrospect parlance, a Full Backup resets the storage set, replacing the previous contents. So, by doing a Full Backup every other night, I ensure that my backup set cannot grow significantly larger as I modify files. The drawback is that I may have only the most recent version of each file backed up. You can check the amount of space used by viewing the StorageSet summary in either program.
50 to 100 MB Available -- Let's assume that you have more disk space available. It's possible your business provides it, your ISP doesn't care how much you use within reason, or you're paying a backup service like BackJack or one of the Dantz Certified Internet Backup Sites (currently including Committed to Memory, Recover-iT, and Portland Communications, which is located in Europe). The fee-based Internet backup sites all currently charge by the amount of disk space you use; although the details vary, the rates are generally comparable. You can estimate between $15 and $25 per month to store 100 MB.
For most people, that much space will be roomy enough to store backups of all of your documents, preferences, macros, email, and other files that you can't easily reinstall. There's less need to back up large system files or applications, since you should have master disks. You could rely on Internet backup entirely in this situation, which makes sense for iMac users or people who don't create large files. In short, this level of Internet backup is perfect for most home users, who should look at either BackJack or Retrospect Express 4.1 (the full-fledged Retrospect is overkill).
The choice between Retrospect Express and BackJack is one of trade-offs. Retrospect Express is inexpensive and much more flexible and powerful than BackJack, but BackJack is free and easier to use because of its lack of selection flexibility. In Retrospect Express, you'll want to perform a Normal Backup most nights, but once every week or two, you should perform a Full Backup to reset the storage set to use less space. BackJack handles this situation more elegantly, since you can set how many versions of a file to keep and how many days to keep a file after you've deleted it. These BackJack features, in combination with built-in StuffIt compression (which is probably tighter than Retrospect Express's compression), help reduce the amount of data you're storing.
If you ever want to back up to removable media as well, Retrospect Express is a better choice, since BackJack can only back up via the Internet. But if you're hyper-concerned about the security of your data, BackJack's 128-bit encryption is significantly stronger than Retrospect Express's SimpleCrypt encryption.
You need at least a fast modem connection to the Internet since transferring this much data takes time, and you definitely want to run backups at night.
Unlimited Space Available -- Corporate users or people at large universities may have access to FTP servers with essentially unlimited amounts of space. In this case, you probably also have at least a 10 Mbps Ethernet connection to the FTP server, if not a 100 Mbps connection. The combination of massive space and fast network connection (anything less than a 1.54 Mbps T1 connection probably wouldn't work) means you could back up everything to the FTP server via Retrospect or Retrospect Express. In essence, the Internet backup set would act just like a tape backup set, and it would make a great off-site backup for a student (dissertations and similarly important projects should be backed up in numerous different places). You probably wouldn't want to pay to use BackJack or one of the Internet backup services because of the high cost.
In an organization large enough to have this kind of FTP space available, there might already be a centralized backup procedure in place that could include Internet backup. For instance, it might make sense to back up an entire department to a large FTP server using Retrospect, because Retrospect is smart about storing only a single copy of identical files on multiple machines. Thus, adding more computers to the backup (Retrospect can also back up Windows machines) might not significantly increase the size of the storage set if everyone uses similar applications.
Even if your files are being backed up already, it might not happen every night due to the sheer volume of data that needs to be backed up. In that case - especially if you don't trust the person or group doing the backups - you might consider your own Internet backup as a secondary backup, perhaps handling only files you can't easily reinstall on your own. An added advantage of your own backup is that it may be easier to recover a file from it than from a centralized backup.
Give It a Try -- I think Internet backup is here to stay. It might be a way for some home and iMac users to avoid buying an additional backup device and dealing with physical media, or it might prove to be excellent secondary backup of important files; either way, Macintosh users can now add it to their backup strategies. For a more detailed discussion of backing up in general, check out my article series on backups.
by Adam C. Engst <firstname.lastname@example.org>
While at the 1998 Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work a few weeks ago here in Seattle, I had the opportunity to attend Douglas Engelbart's Turing Award Lecture. I was struck by how closely our computing today mirrors Engelbart's demonstrations in the late 1960s and at how seriously we have missed the major thrust of his goals.
Who Is Douglas Engelbart? Douglas Engelbart is best known for inventing the mouse, but he's done much more than that. We tend to credit Apple for the graphical interface popularized by the Macintosh, although many also spread the credit to Xerox PARC for inspiring Steve Jobs and others from Apple. Fewer people realize that much of what Xerox showed Apple - a mouse-driven, graphical windowing system - was part of Engelbart's pioneering work from more than ten years before. In the late 1960s, while working at SRI (now a non-profit research organization, then the Stanford Research Institute), Engelbart and his lab came up with NLS (oNLine System), which was first demonstrated at the 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference. After Engelbart left SRI, many of the people on his team went to Xerox PARC to carry on the work they'd started with Engelbart.
The presenter who introduced Engelbart's lecture played 6 minutes of the original 90-minute NLS presentation, showing such firsts as the mouse, multiple windows, 2-dimensional display editing, hypertext, shared-screen collaboration, videoconferencing, and integrated hypermedia email. Other firsts for Engelbart include in-file object addressing and linking, outline processing, cross-file editing, hypermedia publishing, and context-sensitive help.
Engelbart saw his many ideas and inventions as technical ends to a goal that also required progress in media, language, customs, knowledge, skills, and procedures. Back in the 1950s, Engelbart realized that the rate of change in the world was increasing radically, and the complexity and urgency of the world's problems were increasing along the same lines. On a purely elemental level, he felt that the survival of the human race hinged on our ability to improve - to evolve if you will - at a rate sufficient to keep up. Since biological evolution works on a long time frame, the evolution in question would have to come with the tools we invent and use, the customs and communities we form, and the ways in which we work together.
The man doesn't think small, and neither should we.
What Are We Missing? There's no question that the technical ideas Douglas Englebart showed back in 1968 are finally becoming commonplace. Watching that 1968 demonstration was a bit depressing, since I couldn't help but wonder why it took the industry 30 years to achieve on a large scale what Englebart had shown on a small scale. There's no question that technology had some catching up to do - for instance, his lab had to build its own CRT display to support NLS, at a cost of $80,000 in 1968 dollars.
It's easy to think that Engelbart's work led directly to the development of easy-to-use, single-user systems like the Macintosh. But, at least as the Macintosh existed in the early days, it was almost antithetical to some of Engelbart's core ideas. First, single-user, isolated systems did not lend themselves to collaboration. Engelbart's lab was the second site on the ARPANET, and he was thrilled with the idea of using networked computers to foster cooperation and collaboration. Second, the mantra of the Macintosh was ease-of-use, and although no one, including Engelbart, would argue that systems should be unnecessarily hard, I don't believe he's a fan of simplicity for simplicity's sake.
The thrust of Englebart's work is directed toward augmenting the human intellect, not popularizing computer technology. He feared that as technology improved at a rate far surpassing improvements in non-technical fields, we would use it to automate intellect, rather than augment it. In short, merely automating simple tasks, though useful, doesn't lend itself to collaboration and solving the big problems.
Engelbart suggested that we think for a moment about bicycles - they're truly odd devices, requiring incredible balancing and coordination skills to ride. No one is born knowing how to ride a bicycle. We start with tricycles that let us practice some of the necessary skills without worrying about balance. Then we graduate to normal bikes with training wheels, and finally to real bicycles. Millions of people rely on bicycles for transportation, and bicycle racers perform astonishing feats on them.
But learning to ride a bike is hard, and even after we've learned, it's a dicey business fraught with potholes, dogs, cars, and even mere inattention, any of which can cause a loss of balance. Wouldn't it seem to be easier to stick with tricycles? Sure, a few tricycles are made for adults, but for most of us a two-wheeled bicycle is enough better, faster, and smaller that it's worth the learning curve.
We put an incredible amount of effort and mental energy into making software and hardware easier to use, and that's a worthwhile goal. But, just as a vast amount of development goes into making bicycles faster and more capable (think clipless pedals, shocks on mountain bikes, and aerodynamic handlebars that make bikes more efficient, if harder to ride), shouldn't we also concentrate on augmenting the capabilities of sophisticated computer users? And, shouldn't we attempt to create a learning situation where users can graduate from a simple system to a more complex one, rather than trying to serve everyone's needs in a single system? Microsoft tried that with Word 4.0's short menus (which hid more advanced features until you switched to full menus). Short menus flopped because users hated being told they were too dumb to handle full menus, it was too hard to figure out how to switch into full menus, and commands for some basic tasks were available only on the full menus. Microsoft abandoned short menus quickly, and in so doing, perhaps threw the baby out with the virtual bath water.
One interesting gap in the realization of Engelbart's research is the chord keyboard. He never meant the mouse to be used with a normal keyboard, for the obvious reason that you can't type and mouse at the same time, thus limiting your ability to enter and manipulate different types of information. His intention was that you'd use a chord keyboard with one hand and a mouse with the other. I suspect that heavy text entry environments would be more likely to have a pair of chord keyboards so you could double your speed when typing, then push one out of the way for access to the mouse for editing. Chord keyboards never caught on, despite their utility because they require learning. It's not hard, but it's a lot harder than the less-efficient keyboard most of us use. You can still buy chord keyboards from Infogrip - I know a few people who use them, mostly because of hand problems.
Human/Organizational Aspects -- We've not only missed a few of the technical aspects of Douglas Engelbart's vision, we've also missed many of the non-technical aspects. Engelbart believes our tools and non-technical features such as language, customs, skills, and so on evolve together slowly over time. For instance, consider the skills required to drive on a crowded freeway, a situation that didn't exist 100 years ago. As our technology has improved, so have our coordination and awareness skills. But, technologies can improve much faster than our skills (many can drive cars, but few can fly helicopters), and we often experience social conflict when cultural customs run counter to technological advances, such as birth control pills and nuclear weapons.
Engelbart's solution for this conundrum is concentration on so-called "improvement activities." In his view, organizations and groups of all kinds have (or should have) three basic activities, as follows:
In essence, A serves the customer, B tries to help A do an increasingly better job, and C in turn attempts to improve the work done by B.
Unfortunately, the marketplace is a lousy environment to foster exploration into improvement. Most companies focus almost all their attention on A, with a little on B, and almost none on C. The most interesting example of this that I've seen is that companies that produce productivity tools seldom use them any more efficiently or productively than the general public. At Microsoft, for instance, the description - indeed, the philosophy - of being forced to use specific Microsoft products is "eating our own dog food." It's not a pretty image.
Wouldn't you think a large software company would try to knock off two birds with one stone by creating products that radically improve the productivity of its own employees, with the understanding that doing so would result in products that would better meet the needs of other customers? Yet it seems uncommon for large companies to consider the needs or desires of their employees as in any way typical of the needs and desires of their customers. As a result, these companies tend to ignore the feedback that is both closest and easiest to collect.
The other obvious obstacle for Engelbart's organizational solution in a capitalistic society is that companies see no reason to work together, even when collaboration would benefit both. People engaged in C-level activities must instead form their own communities to share ideas for improving the improvement process, without direct responsibility to a company's competitive situation (because competition inherently stands in the way of cooperation). Frankly, getting past financial navel-gazing is difficult for many companies, though a number of large and well-known organizations have joined Engelbart's Bootstrap Alliance, which is dedicated to exploring the development of organizations that can maneuver successfully into the increasingly complex future. Members include the likes of Sun Microsystems, ETS (Educational Testing Service), NTT, U.S. General Services Administration, the CIA, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and the National Science Foundation.
Will Douglas Englebart Succeed? Listening to Engelbart in person is persuasive, undoubtedly much more so than my retelling. He's one of those speakers whom you listen to, thinking, "He's right. He's completely right." But history is full of people who have been right. In fact, my final question to Engelbart after his talk was, "Do you feel like Cassandra?" to which he replied with a small laugh and a soft "Sometimes." (In Greek legend, Apollo cursed Cassandra with the ability to foretell the future, but nobody would believe her.)
Look at it this way: Engelbart's statement of the problem we face, that the rate of change in the world is constantly increasing, is hard to dispute. It's something I've worried about for some years now as well, mostly because I fear that our individual abilities to deal with this constant change are breaking down. Despite my side interests in communities and a long history of observing and working with Internet groups, I never made the conceptual leap Engelbart did, that the only solution is to develop systems for continually improving our collective ability to handle change.
Put another way, the cascade reaction of change travels with the electronic winds. A change anywhere in the world can encourage some other change elsewhere in the world. Although we're agents of change, we're already losing the capacity to deal with changes we've fostered. Just look at the calls to return to "traditional values" and the popularity of nostalgia movements. Whatever your opinion of these movements, their mere existence shows our discomfort with the ways we have changed society. But you can neither force nor coax the genie back into the bottle.
So, let's agree with Engelbart's statement of the problem. There's also no denying that his technical vision was on target. Perhaps we never ended up using those chord keyboards, but Engelbart's track record is unsurpassed. It may have taken 30 years, but he's been proven right in the technical field.
We're left then with his ideas about fostering improvement activities. They may be difficult to accept, especially for competitive companies that can't see beyond the next quarterly report. Without trying these ideas though, will we be able to keep up with the changes we've set in motion? It's as though we keep walking further out into the ocean only to be knocked down by ever-larger waves of change, knowing full well the waters will soon close over our heads. Perhaps we should instead focus on building a boat, even if that means going back to shore for a little while. We must learn to ride on top of the waves.
Almost exactly five years ago, I attended another conference in Seattle - Hypertext '93 - where I heard an address by Ted Nelson, the father of hypertext. I noted with some sadness in "Xanadu Light" in TidBITS-204 that Nelson was treated with "a complicated mix of awe and devotion combined with an almost cruel pity and ridicule" because of failing to ship a product.
Well, Douglas Engelbart has not only shipped a product, he shipped an entire computing paradigm, so I say we give his non-technical ideas a chance. I just hope we have another 30 years for them to catch on. In the meantime, you can read more about Douglas Engelbart and his ideas at the Bootstrap Institute Web site.
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