Apple philosophy is an Oasis for users

Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 07/89 item 01 - scanned

Apple sent me a psychology book the other day. It's not called a psychology book but the 'Oasis Reference Guide'. It explains Apple's product philosophy and future directions.

Remember Apple's emphasis on the individual? Well, this treatise reveals how the Macintosh has been designed to encourage the formation of a deep bond between users and their Macs. The other manufacturers must think Apple has taken the right approach because, as you know, they're all frantically playing catch-up.

Oasis stands for Open Architecture System Integration Strategy. Its aim is to ensure that the Macintosh can hold its own in mixed vendor environments and take advantage of whatever new technologies happen to come along. I suppose if IBM can boast SAA, then why shouldn't Apple have its own global vision?

Like SAA, Oasis is notable for how it gathers together a lot of ideas, many of which go back as far as 1974.

And why not? Many of the ideas underpinning the Macintosh design are quite excellent. I have to confess that I've never felt quite the same enthusiasm for the ingredients of SAA.

I could be wrong, but Oasis strikes me as an invented opportunity to ram home some key Apple messages before they become lost in the battle for your affections which is building up between New Wave, Macintosh, Presentation Manager and similar graphical environments.

First of all, the design of the Macintosh has always been based on the requirements of the user. It has always advocated a consistent interface between applications and the ability to exchange textual and graphical information among them. It provides the tools and functions which encourage developers to go for a consistent look and feel. This alone is a major inducement for users to prefer the Mac. It means no more steep learning curves once they've got the hang of their first Macintosh application.

Apple stresses the two key elements of a user's interaction with the machine: the encoding of desires, and the interpretation of results.

The more natural and tight this loop, the more enjoyable the user's experience of a computer. If either side of this activity is difficult, then the machine is regarded as unfriendly.

Apple tries to simulate the world of real objects with its 'picking up', 'dragging', 'cutting', 'pasting' and all the other things it encourages the user to do. It knows that these processes are initiated in very low centres of human consciousness and therefore feel quite natural. Apple also tries to shield the user from any activities which involve abstract or structured thought.

Although Apple has paid a lot of attention to the user interface, it still recognises that this is only the superficial level of a user's experience. It is also the easiest level for its competitors to copy. There has to be more. And there is.

One of the reasons for the recent huge number of networking and communications announcements is because Apple knows it must participate in the wider world of computing.

My favourite part of the Oasis document is where it discusses the user's ability to tailor the work environment. The document states that this 'makes users feel that they run the computer, not the other way round'.

This feeling is induced by letting them choose fonts, incorporate 'desk accessories', change the pattern of the screen and rearrange the layout of their files and folders.

I believe that the Macintosh acts as a substitute cubbyhole. You know these office workers who work in small partitioned units? They quite often surround themselves with family photographs, postcards from abroad, souvenir champagne corks, Newton's Balls and so on. On deciding to change jobs, such employees' can grab these mementos and be out of the door in next to no time. But imagine trying to unravel all that personal stuff from inside a computer and reconstruct it elsewhere.

I submit that one of the great unstated benefits of giving good employees a Macintosh is to secure their loyalty. They are guaranteed to entwine themselves so intimately with the machine that they dare not resign.