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GO's Green Light

I'm a week late (I've been gathering info) on writing about GO Corp.'s announcement that developers will soon have access to GO's new PenPoint operating system. PenPoint emphasizes handwriting recognition, and GO has designed PenPoint from the ground up to support 32-bit memory and preemptive multitasking. It sports a new user interface based on a notebook metaphor. The first page of the notebook holds a table of contents and every other page can hold multiple documents. One of the most interesting aspects of PenPoint is its Embedded Document Architecture, which subordinates applications to the role of tools that are available when appropriate in any document. As such, no distinction exists between text documents and spreadsheet documents. Every document has access to all of the installed applications.

Creating such a radically different operating system forced GO to lose application-level compatibility, but it did retain MS-DOS file compatibility. Additional connectivity will come from network links implemented in a deferred manner. A network link to a portable computer may not always be available, so you send email and faxes whenever you like, and PenPoint queues everything until you make the appropriate network connections. PenPoint connects and disconnects from networks without hassle, which may be in part due to GO's licensing of AppleTalk from Apple. One of AppleTalk's great features is that it automatically self-configures, unlike many other networking schemes. In addition, PenPoint will include TOPS client software from Sitka, which will help it integrate with Mac and DOS machines.

GO has a good deal of support from large companies like IBM, NCR, GRiD, Lotus, Borland, and WordPerfect. Such support will be helpful, since completely new applications must be written for PenPoint, and especially since GO decided not to build any machines on its own. Leaving the hardware end of things to the hardware companies is a smart move, because GO can't spread itself too thin. Of course, with allies must come competitors, and Microsoft and Apple have already joined that camp. Microsoft's Pen Windows (or Windows H, for Handwriting) is coming along, and rumor says that Apple might show handwriting recognition capabilities for System 7.0 next January. At least Bill Campbell is betting on GO, since he recently resigned as head of Claris to become the CEO of GO. Hmm. The computer executives are beginning to seem inbred - little new blood comes in and those currently in charge just move from corporate marriage to corporate marriage.

I'm still unsure about handwriting recognition. As I've said before, it is a poor method of text input, though it may be ideal for text editing. My handwriting has degenerated inversely with my typing speed, but it's still easier to edit on paper than in Nisus. Pen-based operating systems will require new ergonomic considerations and design constraints. If nothing else, you have to look down at the screen to write on it, whereas most screens are currently positioned at arm's length in front of us (or at least I hope so) to prevent undue exposure to electromagnetic radiation, which causes brain fever in industry executives. Or maybe they're just getting too inbred.

Nonetheless, I think GO has done much right with PenPoint. From the descriptions I've seen and heard from many sources, PenPoint is a state of the art operating system, representing a true step forward from the bug-a-boo of compatibility. Bob Woodhead's Reversi from 1984 still runs on my SE/30 under 6.0.5, but I'd prefer significant power and usability increases over the ability to run software from 1984. The DOS world is even worse, though Windows is beginning to banish the spectre of compatibility. Too bad it couldn't have done so more forcefully and ditched DOS completely. Talk about beating a dead horse. I hope that some of the advances in PenPoint can come to the desktop world as well. In the meantime, palmtop computers based on PenPoint will sell like hotcakes in specific niche markets until advances in portable technology shrink desktop machines to the point that we can wear computers as we wear wristwatches.

Information from:
Apple propaganda
GO propaganda

Related articles:
MacWEEK -- 22-Jan-91, Vol. 5, #3, pg. 1
InfoWorld -- 28-Jan-91, Vol. 13, #4, pg. 1
InfoWorld -- 07-Jan-91, Vol. 13, #1, pg. 1
PC WEEK -- 28-Jan-91, Vol. 8, #4, pg. 1
MacUser -- Mar-91, pg. 202