Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Larry Tesler Dies Aged 74

Andrew Liszewski, Gizmodo:

In addition to his contributions to some of Apple’s most famous hardware, [Larry Tesler] was also known for his efforts to make software and user interfaces more accessible. In addition to the now ubiquitous “cut,” “copy,” and “paste” terminologies, Tesler was also an advocate for an approach to UI design known as modeless computing, which is reflected in his personal website. In essence, it ensures that user actions remain consistent throughout an operating system’s various functions and apps. When they’ve opened a word processor, for instance, users now just automatically assume that hitting any of the alphanumeric keys on their keyboard will result in that character showing up on-screen at the cursor’s insertion point. But there was a time when word processors could be switched between multiple modes where typing on the keyboard would either add characters to a document or alternately allow functional commands to be entered.

Last year, Riccardo Mori published a transcription of a 1997 talk given by Tesler and Chris Espinosa. It’s a talk worth reading for its depth of thought. For example:

The reason we [preferred CUT/COPY/PASTE over MOVE/COPY/DELETE] is that [while] it is two steps to do CUT and PASTE, there are a lot of advantages. […] Another reason is that you don’t have to be able to see the destination when you are copying or cutting the source. That’s the most important thing. And on a screen of limited size, when you have windows overlapping, it’s sometimes very hard to get things all lined up so you can specify two targets; or you have windows popping up and down, and you get very confused.

The other thing is that I had a secret agenda: I thought that the machine should be used not for what they talked about (office systems) — well, that was good, but I didn’t want it to be used just for that. I thought it would be a great machine for publishing and that it would be able to do cut & paste into page layouts, which was my own personal interest; and so I was advocating that because that was definitely the way you’d want to do page makeup. But we did user testing, and the users slightly preferred the CUT and PASTE model.

This, too:

Brief interpolation on keyboard shortcuts — Now, as you know, you can do command keys [command key combinations] on the Mac; you can invoke commands from the keyboard, and we knew it was important to reserve some for the most common commands. […] We wanted to make sure that CUT, COPY, PASTE, UNDO were the same for everybody. [Same for] BOLD, ITALIC, UNDERLINE, and NORMAL.

Why the Z X C V keys? — They were close on the keyboard. We did X because it was a cross out (CUT). We did V because it pointed down like this [he makes a ‘V’ shape with his hands], and you were inserting; it was like an upside-down caret (PASTE). And Z was the closest one, because we figured you’d UNDO a lot. And C for COPY — that was easy.

It’s obvious to see why Tesler’s contributions to computing are so profound: they’ve barely changed in the last forty years. He put a big dent in the universe.