How many menus?

A few weeks ago I was trying to help a friend, over the phone, edit on a Mac. Choose this command from a menu, I said. Click on this window, bring the Finder to the front, choose an application, etc. It didn’t work. I’m sure you’ve been through this many times, maybe on both ends.

I had a similar experience this week trying to set up a Node app on a hosting service. The page of instructions was filled with concepts that are strange to me. When I finally figured it out, I only needed to know a small fraction of what was on the instruction page to get it done. Same thing was happening. A bunch of worlds weren’t fitting together. The complexity comes from the imperfections of the fit.

Here’s a screen shot of the first scenario.

A picture named wordpress.gif

Count the different apps that are running, and in what platform. There’s a web platform. There are WordPress docs that behave a lot like apps. It’s a platform too. There’s the Apple menu. If you click on the desktop that will bring the Finder to the front. And the file system. How many different worlds! And they’re all so different. Yet they’re all on the computer screen at the same time.

I was thinking about this while working on a piece that will run tomorrow on CNET, talking about the history of the Mac, and how a fateful decision by the platform vendor, to keep their networking protocols closed, caused at least one of these fractures. There were other events, where a platform didn’t evolve in the way the world wanted to go, and voila, there’s yet another paradigm a new user has to master.

So the question was, was the Mac a success or a failure? I guess it depends on what the goal was. I thought, at the time, the goal was utter simplicity, ease of use, and access. Jobs fought against the cursor keys to keep his vision pure. They were unneeded complexity, so they weren’t there. The computer For the Rest of Us. Well if that was the goal, then a lot of the things Apple did, in later years, thwarted it.

I say this with love and admiration for the platform. Writing the piece reminded me of how magnificent the first Mac was, how many doors it blew open. All the minds that were reached, and imaginations. Computers were wonderful and lovely before the Mac. But the Mac made them accessible to people who didn’t want to invest their lives in using them. That’s what For the Rest of Us meant.

But thirty years out, we can now draw some conclusions. A lot of it is history. Its influence is in the past.

More tomorrow. 😉

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About Dave Winer

Dave Winer, 54, pioneered the development of weblogs, syndication (RSS), podcasting, outlining, and web content management software; former contributing editor at Wired Magazine, research fellow at Harvard Law School, entrepreneur, and investor in web media companies. A native New Yorker, he received a Master's in Computer Science from the University of Wisconsin, a Bachelor's in Mathematics from Tulane University and currently lives in Berkeley, California.
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