This is provoked by an article at Mary Jo Foley's Microsoft Watch, often quite a useful place. She suggests that one of the wonders of Longhorn, the mighty Windows-to-be, is that users “will be able to type in commands (such as, ‘Find all the spreadsheets I generated last year that included sales data from Bob Jones’), and Longhorn will auto-magically return the results.” I'm wondering why this is supposed to be a good idea.

Ms Foley's article is mostly about pointing out that it's hard to predict how the UI wars will shake out when Longhorn ships in 2005, competing against whatever OS X has become and (although she doesn't say this) who knows, maybe even against an Open Source contender.

But I digress. As regards that search vision, I've been seeing it in the trade press since I started reading it, which would be around 1980. I believe I recall an almost word-for-word duplicate in Computerworld back then, talking about some new COBOL program generator equipped with a query analyzer that could do this kind of thing, so “executives will be able to type in their own queries.”

But why, pray tell, would I want to go to the trouble of composing lengthy grammatically-correct sentences to tell a lump of silicon what I want it to do for me? People who are doing search want to type exactly the minimum number of keystrokes they can get away with to get Google or whatever to emit some useful result.

Even if I could talk to my computer (an idea that's never particularly appealed to me, this Mac is supposed to be able to do it but I've never turned it on), would I want to speak to it in full sentences stuffed with subordinate clauses and prepositional phrases? I think I'd want to grunt things like “Yahoo, Berlin weather” or “break line 238” or “spam!”.

At Antarctica we're all about cutting down queries essentially to zero, dealing with big data spaces by pointing and clicking, which is also ambitious but more appealing to me than trying to speak English to silicon.

author · Dad
colophon · rights
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May 16, 2003
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