Thursday, November 26, 2009

Bravo and Gypsy

Interested in the history of DTP (desktop publishing) and text editors? Bravo was the first WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) text editor, created in 1974 for the Alto computer. Quoting here from the excellent Dealers of Lightning:

Bravo's interface was heavily moded, meaning that the result of typing a key would differ depending on whether the program was in "command" or "text" mode. [...] Modes were such notorious pitfalls in interface design that they had spawned a standard cautionary joke. This involved a user who inattentively typed the word "edit" while in command rather than text mode: Typing "e" selected the entire document, "d" deleted the selection, and "i" instructed the machine to insert in its stead the next character to be which point the user discovered that his entire document had been inalterably replaced by the letter "t." [...]

Moreover, like all CSL programs, Bravo was exceedingly ugly in appearance. For all CSL's delight at its WYSIWYG capabilities, the program made scant use of the bitmapped screen's graphical power. [...] This reflected a deliberate choice by the CSL designers, who avoided elaborate graphics because they slowed down the system. But because the Systems Science Lab engineers were mostly interested in making the computer intelligible to the average use, they loaded up their programs with graphical gewgaws of all kinds, figuring that within a generation or two the machine's speed would eventually catch up.

Tesler and Mott therefore set out to create a modeless graphical interface to make Bravo simple to use. Inspired by the costume Mott's stepdaughter was wearing for Halloween that year, 1974, they called their new program "Gypsy."

[Hiltzik, Michael A.: Dealers Of Lightning - Xerox PARC and the Dawn of the Computer Age. HarperCollins, 1999, p208-9]

While there's also the full manual available, the course outline of the functions and commands of Bravo is quite a lot more interesting, incorporating caveats such as this:

The length of a Bravo session should not exceed one hour or so, and it is wise to put [save] the file several times over the space of an hour. Bravo keeps a transcript of all commands, and the transcript uses some of the space on the disk which Bravo needs to function. Periodically, quit from Bravo, reenter and begin the editing or text input again. Be sure to put the file before leaving, though.

Overstaying your welcome in Bravo, may result in the message "Suggest you P and Q" (Put and Quit). When you get this message immediately put the file, quit from Bravo and reenter again. This action starts a new transcript and frees space on the disk used by the previous transcript.

Sound familiar? Apparently the creators of the software were used to crashes and system freezes so they even built in an Auto-Quit feature.. neat thinking!

Bravo Course Outline

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