I had been interested in three dimensional user interfaces ever since I first heard of Ivan Sutherland's pioneering work in the late 1960's. NASA Ames had demonstrated a modern system with head and hand tracking, and it was clearly only a matter of time until the computing power of inexpensive personal computer made virtual reality a market reality. It also seemed obvious that a company experienced in three-dimensional geometric modeling and high-performance graphics on cheap hardware was uniquely qualified to become the leader in this emerging market. In this paper I urged Autodesk to enter the nascent field of virtual reality and set the standards. The paper was well received, and a project was launched shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, the disconnection between R&D and marketing, and the general paralysis that gripped Autodesk during the late 1980's (see Information Letter 14 on page ) caused Autodesk to squander a once-in-a-decade opportunity. Autodesk did finally manage to field a virtual reality developer kit in early 1993, but the chance to ``own the market'' had been lost long beforehand. An abridged version of this paper appeared in the book The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design , Brenda Laurel, ed., Addison-Wesley, 1990 (ISBN 0-201-51797-3).
Today's fascination with ``user interfaces'' is an artifact of how we currently operate computers--with screens, keyboards, and pointing devices, just as job control languages grew from punched card batch systems. Near term technological developments promise to replace user interfaces with something very different.
by John Walker
September 1, 1988
A generation in computing is often identified by the technology used to fabricate computers of that era. By this reckoning, a list like the following is usually presented:
|Third||SSI and MSI Integrated circuits|
|Fourth||LSI--CPU on a chip|
While fabrication technology has been the dominant influence on the cost and performance of computers, and hence has been the economic determinant of how widely they are available and to what purposes they can be applied, from the user's perspective it is virtually irrelevant. A user of a Unix system, for example, may hardly be aware of whether that system is running on a PDP-1 (second generation), VAX (third generation), or 68020 (fourth generation), and other than issues of performance and cost, could care less.
Editor: John Walker