Reprinted from Personal Computing, issue 2/83, pp. 217-225. Part of the “Software of the month”
column entitled “Solutions for communicating and paperless paper shuffling.”
VisiCorp, the company that pioneered the Visi series of software products, has produced
a new “operating environment” called VisiOn. The company calls this product an entry
into the next generation of software. VisiCorp describes the new offering as a continuation of
its attempt to provide additional capabilities to users of small computers – capabilities those
users didn’t have before.
VisiOn provides what VisiCorp chairman Dan Fylstra calls “a consistent user interface to all
kinds of applications programs.” With VisiOn users are presented with a visual counterpart
of the top of their desks. The software allows users to visually manipulate images of graphs and
charts in the same way they would work with papers on their desks.
Suppose, for example, that you want to work on a budget presentation. On your desk you would
probably have a spreadsheet pad, plus notepaper on which you could write the preliminary text of
remarks you want to make in the presentation. It’s possible that you’d have a quadrille ruled
pad, too, so that you could sketch additional charts or graphs.
As you work on the presentation, the spreadsheet pad would be in the center of the desk, and the
other accoutrements would be pushed to the side or under the pad. Then, when you reach the result
you’re looking for, you might jot down a figure on the notepaper, or plot a point on the graph paper.
You can do the same thing with VisiOn. The different applications you can do with VisiOn are
represented on the screen in “windows,” or portions of the screen that show different
information. At least four windows can be running at one time – more if the computer is running
a multitasking operating system like concurrent CP/M.
Windows are opened and closed by pointing the cursor at the window you want to view. The cursor is
moved with a mouse (included with the software), which is a box-like control device that you roll
across your desk. The mouse allows you to keep track of the cursor’s present location on the screen.
Buttons on the top of the mouse allow you to stop the movement of the cursor when you are at the
window that you select.
The window in which you are operating can be expanded to any size, up to
the maximum screen size, by using a command called FRAME. With the FRAME
command, you point the cursor at the four corners of the window and the
operating environment stretches the size of the window to correspond to
the corners you have selected. If the window you want is smaller than
the maximum screen size, that window is laid over the top of the other
windows, just as if you laid a pad of paper over other things on the top
of your desk.
You can also move things from window to window. Suppose that in your budget presentation you wanted to
write a narrative description of the budget, then throw in a few columns of figures, and then add
a graphic representation of those figures. With the mouse you can easily transfer the figures from
a spreadsheet window to your text window; you can also move the graph from the graphics window to
the text window. When your document is assembled, you can print out a hard copy of what you’ve
created on the screen.
There are three things that are especially nice about VisiOn. The first is its structure. The program
is written in what can be thought of as two layers. The innermost
layer is called VisiHost, and resides deep inside the program. VisiHost interacts with the operating
system – CP/M, MS DOS, or others. The outer layer is the one that provides the consistent user
interface. Since the outer layer needs to communicate with VisiHost only on the machine side, the
commands are the same for all computers. The only part of the package that needs to change for the
software to interact with different kinds of computers is VisiHost.
From the user’s point of view, VisiOn is independent of the specific machine – you do not
have to learn a new procedure if you work on different machines. In fact, at the time VisiCorp
first publicly displayed the product at the recent Comdex show in Las Vegas, it was shown on
an IBM Personal Computer at the VisiCorp booth, and Digital Equipment Corporation announced plans
to provide VisiOn on its line of personal computers.
The second nice thing about VisiOn is the price. While VisiCorp is cagey about the price of the
final product – it won’t be available until this summer and pricing is, therefore,
still up in the air – Terry Opdendyk, VisiCorp president, says the pricing will be “very
aggressive. We want to price this product so that the price won’t be an obstacle to purchase.”
Pinned down, Opdendyk and Fylstra talked about prices in the neighborhood of $4000 for the hardware, with
enough memory to run VisiOn (at least 128k and two disk drives) and the software,
and the mouse.
The third nice thing is the product’s universality. VisiCorp proposes to make the interfaces to
the product public knowledge. That means independent software vendors will be able to integrate their
applications into VisiOn’s operating environment. This action should broaden applicability of
Fylstra also says that users with other Visi series products will be provided a way to upgrade
their software and have it run in the VisiOn format. Fylstra declined to mention specific details of
how this upgrade would be provided.
For more information: VISICORP, 2895 Zanker Rd., San Jose, CA 95134.