August 5, 2009
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Ancient History

A tech support question came in today on RapidFile, an early in-memory database system on which Eastgate consulted in the early 1980's and which as ultimately published by Ashton-Tate. Blast from the past.

There’s a good page about RapidFile on Ward’s Wiki, which credits the program for introducing the now-familiar standard menu bar sequence. If that’s true (and I’m very skeptical), I wrote the first standard menu bar.

The Ward’s Wiki author also singles out the help system for praise. I was very proud of that system, and it’s still miles ahead of what we use today. The help system knew (a) that you'd pressed the HELP key, (b) what the program was doing, and (c) what your last dozen commands were. All this went into a rule-based system that could be fairly clever about helping people who had the wrong user model of the program. If they keep pressing SAVE but there’s nothing to save, you can offer special help. (Unlike Clippy and “it looks like you’re making a list,” we never interrupted the forlorn user and we just offered a shortcut to our clever guess, so if we guessed wrong we didn’t make things worse.)