Get into the black with green profits

Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 04/89 item 01 - scanned

You may have noticed a recent Channeltalk (back page PC Dealer 22 March) in which I banged on about the paperless office and how all we'd done so far was invent the paper-gobbling desktop publishing system. You may have also noticed an earlier Channeltalk in which I mentioned Ted Nelson and his hypertext concept. Well, I'm probably a bit slow-witted, but it's just occurred to me that hypertext and the paperless office are very closely connected.

The thing about hypertext 'documents' is that they are best stored in digital form. If you're unfamiliar with hypertext programs like Hypercard or Hyperdoc, these are all forms of non-sequential writing. From any point in a hypertext document, you can branch to other related points simply by activating an onscreen 'button'.

Some buttons reveal deeper information, rather like footnotes in a conventional document. Some take you off to another part of the document or, indeed, to another document altogether. Others launch applications. Hypertext in its fullest sense (hypermedia) includes text, digitised images, animation sequences, sound and video. These forms of information and their interrelationships would be impossible to reproduce with paper.

Information in this form is probably best provided on disk at present, unless you happen to enjoy some sort of high bandwidth delivery system such as optical fibre or direct satellite reception. I understand that ISDN will give us two channels, each of 64K/sec but that's a way off yet.

Hypertext isn't the only way to save paper. For some years, companies have been exchanging documents electronically. This is becoming quite a serious activity in the UK with approximately 1,500 large companies sending invoices electronically, a number which is expected to increase rapidly. For example, the health service is planning for 80 per cent of its 10,000 suppliers to send their bills in this way.

I am slightly ashamed of the amount of paper I get through in a week but I can cut it down by installing an optical Worm drive for archiving purposes.

The point of mentioning all this is that you too can help conservation, help your customers and help yourselves all at the same time. For example, if we're to start reading regularly from computer screens, we'll need pretty high resolution displays. We'll also want small machines which don't tie us to the desktop. People will need Worm drives, optical discs and some means of connecting to high speed data networks.

They'll be after fax boards to stick inside their computers because, this way, faxes rarely have to be printed. If you consider the needs of 'green' clients, you'll be able to find all sorts of profitable ways of helping them out.

A multitasking operating system and an increase in average memory capacity could usher in an age of proper on-line documentation. The fact is that Lotus, Computer Associates, and plenty of others have got the idea that users will pay for fat, heavy documentation sets. These packages also have subsidiary benefits through their domination of dealer shelf space and their deterrent effect on casual copiers.

There's something mad about all this. Most users are probably horrified by the thought of having to read these huge documents. In an ideal world, they prefer not to have any documentation at all and this is where the multitasking and more memory comes in.

Reference manuals could be published on disk for accessing through a hypertext mechanism. At the moment, we have to worry about hard disk, optical disc and memory costs but, as time goes by, these will become less significant issues.

And how do you fancy browsing through living brochures written using the hypertext-based system Guide, for example? A floppy disk these days costs next to nothing and you might find that this is a more economical way of disseminating information about your computer products and services. It would certainly be a more interesting and effective way of learning for the user. Apart from saving paper, it also skips the page make up and printing costs. And the run size has hardly any effect on your costs.

I wonder if we should start a conservational computing movement. Anyone interested?