© Gary Swift

Inventing the Future with Structured Planning
Systems Design Methodology for Software Products

Version 2.1, June 6, 1995


3.1 Emerging Hardware Technologies

A world of ubiquitous media and nomadic computing.
Visionaries like the researchers at Xerox PARC and MIT's Media Lab predict a world of ubiquitous media and nomadic computing, where the distinctions among enterprise computing systems, client-server systems, desktops, PCs, personal digital assistants, pads and boards, and even home electronics will blur. While the types of information sought by users of these devices may differ in content, there is no fundamental difference in the requirements of accessing and manipulating that information at home or at work.

3.2 The Software Response

How will software adapt to the evolution in hardware? Clearly there will be an increasing demand for modular and configurable functionality. For example, consider a state-of-the-art personal digital assistant (PDA) or palmtop. It fits in a shirt pocket, has a full color 80-character-wide color display, an ASCII keyboard with escapes to international characters, built-in tools like memo pads and telephone books, and rudimentary text editing and search functions. Some even connect to PCs for downloading data. These are rapidly becoming mini-PCs and the palmtop workstation is not hard to imagine. What they typically do not have is good software: a rich command set for text formatting, graphical display tools, internet connections, searching with regular expressions, and so forth
"I'm a peripheral visionary. I see the future but way off to the side."
Steven Wright
The original UNIX model where the OS was split up into a small kernel (just another little C program), a choice of configurable user interface "shells", and a host of extendible and connectable user programs suggests an operating paradigm for the new computing media. The technical community and industry insiders know that object-oriented programming, linking and embedding (done right) is part of the answer. Entire application suites could come on credit-card-sized media ready to plug and play. The big questions are: What are the appropriate objects and relationships? What is the appropriate system? As computing devices "deconstruct" and become ubiquitous, the user community will be in a constant state of novice naivet; hence the use of those devices must be instinctive and natural as possible.

3.3 Pursuing the Future

Spurred on by rapid and ongoing advances in the basic technology and fierce competition, there is no shortage of forward thinking in the software industry. Major software companies have in-house strategic planning efforts and liaisons with the research and educational communities as a window into the future. Engineers produce a constant stream of better technology like visual programming, multi-threading, more device and platform support, and advanced engineering processes. The best companies are paying closer attention to the user interface (where the rubber hits the road) and discovering the power of up-front design for corporate strategy.

In order for these efforts to be successful they have to be based on the collective design insights of all the experts - foremost the users themselves. Furthermore, those insights must be stated in a way that they can be correlated with one another and translated into real directives for real products that can be acted upon by engineering.