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Musings On A Rosewood Box

CyberToys President Ray C. Freeman III developed the concept for the Rosewood Box interface and the way it organizes and accesses information in the program. He wrote this text on the occasion of the program's release.

White House Treasure Box

It is not uncommon in today’s software development environment to begin the design of a computer program by outlining the menus and figuring out how may buttons will be needed on the toolbar. After all, the essential interface is already provided by both the Macintosh and the Windows environments - all the designer has to do is figure out how to map the program’s functions onto the menus, toolbars, palettes, and dialogue boxes that make up a modern computer program. This is supposed to make life easier for both the software designer, because he doesn’t have to start from scratch, and the user, because he is already familiar with the interface and how it works. This scenario is reinforced by the current popularity of 'visual' programming tools, in which the programmer creates a program by dragging pre-built interface elements onto the screen and assigning functions to them.

I find, however, that there can be two big problems with this approach. The first is that the program’s functions don’t always mesh well with the ‘desktop’ metaphor assumed by these interfaces. This problem surfaces when your program’s functions don’t easily adapt to menus and dialogue boxes. The second is that the standard interface has a distinct personality that can overwhelm the content of your program. I am typing this text in a Windows word processor, and the strongest visual message I see when I look at my screen is that I am using a Windows program. The title bar, the menu, the toolbar, the scroll bars, and the status line at the bottom of the screen all serve to remind me that I am, first and foremost, using a computer program. The fact that I am engaged in a creative activity (writing this text) would seem to run a distant second in importance.

In The White House Is Our House: A CD-ROM Visit, I wanted to make your visit as real as possible, to place the importance on the White House, and let you forget about the fact that you are using a computer program. No menus, no toolbars, and especially no dialogue boxes. In real life, dialogue boxes don’t pop up in front of you asking you what you want to do next, or are you sure you want to do something. Can you imagine that happening while you were driving? No, that only happens on computers, certainly not on a visit to the White House.

Where to start then? On my first few visits to the White House, I noticed several commemorative boxes, holding treasured momentos, many given to the President by other world leaders. One was made of silver, another crystal. Many were made of wood. We had been developing an idea for a virtual scrapbook, where you would collect images and text and later arrange them into reports or letters. Why not your own Treasure Box?

Once the central idea surfaced, the rest began to fall into place. The box would not only hold your treasures on the inside, but the interface could be developed on the outside, made from materials either found in the White House itself, or which would be at home there. An actual rosewood prototype was constructed, and 3D computer models were made of the various interface components, designed to be made from limestone, brass, silver, ivory, and semi-precious stones - materials selected to convey the feeling of quality and elegance very much in evidence at the White House. Eventually, these same computer models were rendered in Autodesk’s 3D Studio to create the actual program interface.

As a result, your very own rosewood Treasure Box is your interface to the White House. Carry it with you as you explore the house and its grounds, gathering your own momentos as you go. You may still rightfully question the ‘realism’ of a magical Treasure Box that has the ability to tell stories and show you images from the present and the past, but to me it seems better than the alternative, lugging around a cumbersome computer desktop.

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