While digging through some backups, one of CD's I found contained the first software I, together with my cousin, ever built. It was some 18 years ago, in the Mesozoic era of information technology evolution. Dinosaurs vanished after an asteroid impact, but the software we created somehow survived. I was so excited by this discovery that I would like to share it with you.
A brief history
Somewhere between 1991 and 1992 my cousin Dragan and I started with the development of a small address book software called Adresar. Over the years it evolved to a full blown personal organizer that we sold at numerous places. It was developed in Clipper 87 programming language and dBase database, and run only under DOS (you know, the resolution of 80×25 bricks). The latest installation we did was in late 1995. Soon after this, Windows 95 (a big asteroid) hit the market and soon, many DOS-based applications vanished.
I am really proud of this software. Not only because that was our first serious software poduct we built, but also because we did it in conditions that are unimaginable today. Serbia was at war, we didn't have enough money for living, we often developed sitting on the floor, spending sleeples nights. All we had are two early PC's, extensive knowledge of technologies mentioned and a desire to succeed.
So what was it?
It was a personal organizer including an address book, a simple word processor, organizer with tasks, calendar and many more. Placed in 80×25 character box it had almost anything one could ever need back in that time. All features were available from a drop down menu revealed by pressing F10 key (Oh, I forgot to mention you were able to use only the keyboard).
Address book was simple and straightforward. Users could store all the necessary data through simple forms. They had the ability to search for contacts by keywords and to filter data by predefined filters. Actions on multiple contacts were also possible, such as edit and delete. The application had the ability to export contacts in several predefined formats.
Organizer was also simple. Users were able to add tasks and reminders for any given date and the application would alert that there are tasks due on a particular date. Word processor was really simple, having similar functionality as Windows Notepad. There was a small file manager that made document management quite easy. Everything could be printed – documents, contacts and tasks, by choosing one of the predefined printers (at that time there were "drivers" only for a few well known matrix printers such as Star LC-10).
As you can see in some of the screenshots, Adresar supported modal windows. You know this isn't completely true, right? It only emulated windows by using different colors and shadows. But the most interesting fact is that we built this on monochrome 14" monitors not knowing what it looks like in color!
Move to recycle bin
One of the features that still fascinate me is restauration, weak methaphor that we used for well-known Recycle bin. Users could restore anything they deleted, unless they purged the bin. I still believe this was really an advanced feature for that time. We're talking about Mesozoic, remember?
Context-sensitive help and manual
By pressing F1 key, users could get a context-sensitive help for the active operation, with short explanation on how the feature should be used. For more thorough explanations, users had the printed manual. On 25 pages manual explained everythng one would need including a list of accelerators, available printers and tips.
That's not all
We conducted primitive usability testing without knowing what usability is. We were watching users using the software and made corrections based on what we saw. We carefully planned each interaction trying to achieve, what we believed is, user-friendly user interface (I know, the term suck, but it was WOW in that time).
But, despite the fact that we are proud of what we did, the software had some usability and interaction flaws. Still, with the amount of information one could have in that time, we're satisfied. We could write a book about this software and our experiences while we were creating it. It was a lot of fun, but there were some hard moments as well. The hardest moment was when we realized that users don't want to use it anymore because a new, more sophisticated player was in the game – Windows 95. Damn you, Microsoft :
So, in the era of wireless networks and touch screens, how does this seem to you? Do you have a funny story to share about your first project?