Researchers Seek What the Amiga Offers
Academic and other researchers often call for things that are not available on the platforms they are used to, not knowing that the Amiga - yes even Classic Amiga - already offers what they want, or something very similar. And, moreover, what is offered is already solidly implemented and well tried by the Amiga community.
On this page I am compiling a list of such 'calls', for features that the Amiga might already offer. If you can think of any more, please send ideas to me, at "amiga @ basden . u-net . com", preferably using the template below (which you can cut and paste into your email).
"Future multimedia user interfaces", Multimedia Systems, v.4, pp.250-68, 1996.
A lengthy paper, discussing many key concepts, including 'ubiquitious computing' (the fact that computers will be all around us in everyday life without our realising it).
They call for a UI architecture that has both a level of abstraction between application and user interface, and also the ability to have the user interface to the application routed to a variety of screens, to overcome the problem of crowding many windows onto a single screen. Windows need to be on "different displays of different sizes and capabilities".
- Amiga Screens concept can help here. The OS and hardware display engine already have the structures and mechanisms to have windows grouped onto separate screens, rather than all on one screen. Each screen can have a different size, resolution, palette, etc. The 'level of abstraction' is already there in the OS to allow this.
- The Amiga has already tackled the problem of how to cope with different resolutions, palette-depths, display frequencies, removing flicker, etc. to a degree that other platforms have not. Indeed, many platforms are unaware of the need for this. But the Amiga approach has much to offer.
- Displaying Screens on different hardware. At present, all screens are displayed on a single display, one behind the other yet at different heights so that several can be visible at once. A relatively small change to the display hardware would allow different screens to be displayed on different hardware. And even to be switched around. They call for the ability to move 'windows' (screens would probably do) between different displays. I envisage the basic Amiga as displaying to a single hardware display, as now, but to have slots to plug in several video cards, each driving a different display. Then different screens could be routed to different cards. Versions of cards could be developed that do not connect to a local VDU but rather to fast ethernet, transmitting the video to distant sites.
Bier, E. A., Stone, M. C., Pier, K., Buxton, W., and DeRose, T. D. (1993), "Toolglass and Magic Lenses: The see-through interface", in Proceedings of SIGGRAPH '93 (1993), ACM Press, pp. 73 - 80.
The mouse has only two (3) buttons, so when it is over a graphic element, only two operations can be applied thereto (e.g. DeluxePaint: LMB draws, RMB erases). But we want many more operations. One suggestion is to have what acts like a sheet of glass between the mouse cursor and the easel on which the graphic elements lie, and this 'glass' has on it a four by four grid. The mouse is then clicked on the graphic elements through one of the squares of the grid, and the square used determines the type of operation. This example multiplies the number of possible operations by 16, giving 32 in all. This 'glass' is operated by the free hand via a trackball or some other device, and is slid around so that the correct square is always under the mouse cursor. It proves very easy to use.
Of course, 4 by 4 grid could be replaced by anything else, even odd shapes; the central idea is ToolGlass and these so-called MagicLenses(tm). However we will call it a four-by-four grid below.
The problem they found is that the grid interferes with the background, having to be written and rewritten 50 frames a second and causing flickering etc. While fast machines reduce this problem, it was reported as still being a problem.
- Dual Playfield Display. The Amiga already has, in hardware, such a 'glass sheet' over the background display, when its Dual Playfield mode is used. This provides two independent graphic fields, which are independently scrollable, and of independent palettes. Where the front field has colour (pen) zero, it is transparent and thus the back field is seen. Therefore the front field could provide the lenses (four by four grid or whatever), with most of it being in pen zero (transparent), and its position being controlled by trackball or joystick operated by the left hand. Or even in syncronization with the mouse if preferred. The back field contains the main picture.
- Smooth Scrolling Hardware. The Amiga has hardware positioning of each field, to the precision of a single pixel, and this allows very rapid and smooth scrolling. Thus the 'glass' can move at a very rapid speed when necessary.
- Hardware Sprites. Not only does the hardware supply two graphic fields, but also the mouse cursor is a hardware sprite. Thus its image does not need to be continually drawn and redrawn over the background and the grid-image.
- Two Controller Ports. The Amiga already supplies two controller ports - normally used for mouse and joystick. But one could be used to control the 'glass'.
- Currently, the Dual Playfield allows up to only 16 colours in each field. This could be increased to 256 colours with relatively small amendment to the hardware and OS software.
- Multiple playfield. Not just two.
- The mouse cursor can slide between the two playfields, rather than on top of both. This could be useful in some circumstances.
- The position of the 'glass' could follow the mouse cursor. Switching to another grid square could be done by a single joystick click. The hardware scrolling makes the movement of the 'glass' very fast and smooth, and thus following a fast-moving mouse would be easy.
Briefly, what the paper says.
What it calls for that the Amiga might offer.
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 1998.