Original Source
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Monday, April 16, 2001

Scientist aims to order data like stream of consciousness With virtual index cards, Scopeware creates desktop information reservoir
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By FRANK BAJAK
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK -- The way we compute today is wrong-headed. Commercial software is on the whole poorly designed, ugly and counterintuitive. It doesn't leverage even a fraction of the tremendous computing power now available. All the while, we fight a rising data tide with the crude tools of precomputer era office clerks -- sorting e-mails, text and image files into virtual folders. We waste hours organizing and searching for data. The personal computer was supposed to free us from such drudgery. This is David Gelernter talking; a Yale University computer scientist with serious credentials -- painter, author, artificial intelligence theorist, Unabomber victim.
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The brilliant computer design innovations of the 1970s -- born at Apple and Xerox and mass-marketed by Microsoft -- were stale by the time the Web arrived, Gelernter argues. The current prevailing "Windows-Menu-Mouse" model is maddeningly obsolete.

Computing desperately needs a revolution -- a paradigm shift -- because we all really want to organize data more organically, like the mind does, Gelernter says. And we want that information easily available to us wherever we go.
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That's the idea, at least, behind a new program called Scopeware co-invented by Gelernter. It proposes to fundamentally alter how we compute.

"It always seemed to me that the most natural way to organize your electronic life would be the way you organize your real life, moment by moment," says the 46-year-old Gelernter, whose 1980s programming work was among the first to enable multiple computers to work together on a single problem.
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Gelernter's renown as a guru of computing aesthetics drew him the nearly fatal attention of Theodore Kaczynski. In June 1993, a bomb nearly killed Gelernter as he opened mail in his office.

Ten months later, Gelernter sketched out in a Washington Post article what would initially be called "Lifestreams" -- software intended to wean users from file-and-folder dependency and let them organize data as if in "an electronic diary or journal or scrapbook."
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"I don't want to save bits of paper any more, nor computer disks nor videotapes, nor do I wish to care about whether my home computer is compatible with my office computer, or about any other such boring and preposterous compatibility questions ..." wrote Gelernter. "I want my life to be perfectly organized, and I want to spend no time whatsoever organizing it."

In a telephone interview, Gelernter explained the software, which evolved from a Yale doctoral thesis he suggested to co-patent holder Eric Freeman, now director of engineering at Walt Disney Internet Group. "Each new everything that entered my life would just be stuck on the end of a time-ordered stream," Gelernter said. "The question, 'Where did I put that thing?' would always be answered because the answer would be on that stream."
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A person's lifestream would originate with their birth certificate, include wedding pictures, bills, bank statements, vacation video -- and extend into future appointments. And everything would be immediately accessible -- viewable chronologically in defined time frames and searchable by key word, project, sender.

Too good to be true? Gelertner doesn't think so, though it's too early to say how the market will receive it. Scopeware was only just launched last month by Mirror Worlds Technologies Inc.
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Gelernter is absolutely evangelical about the product: "I'm tuned to the thing all day, every day. It's what's on my screen right now. It's on all my screens, at home and at the office."

And the beauty of it is that the stream of cascading index cards on his screen is updated constantly as new items arrive addressed to him or generated by colleagues who authorize Scopeware to share the items with him.



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David Gerlernter on March 21 2001 stands by some of his design work in his Yale University Computer Science office. Gerlernter has developed a way to organize information in a computer more organically. AP Photo


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