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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.”

VisiOn graphs and manages separate tasks on the computer monitor, eliminating the need to scatter paperwork on your desk.
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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 the product.

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.

Page added on 11th June 2006.

Copyright © 2002-2006 Marcin Wichary, unless stated otherwise.