Once again Microsoft Corp. has succeeded in whipping up media frenzy and hype over a product that has yet to be released to the general public. First at Fall COMDEX, Windows '95, the successor to Windows 3.1, commanded by far the most interest and awe at that event. Now at the Consumer Electronics Show, held this month in Las Vegas, Microsoft has introduced "Bob" as its new, user-friendly, "social" interface. But like Windows '95, you cannot go out and buy Bob for your own use at this time.
I never cease to be amazed at the marketing genius of Microsoft. Here are two products that are not even available, yet they are quickly and seamlessly integrating their way into the mainstream vocabulary of personal computing.
What about Bob? Who is he? His mug shot could be seen everywhere in Las Vegas...a happy face guy with glasses representing Microsoft's latest effort in making personal computing easier than ever. I first heard Bill Gates speak many years ago and his goal then was the same as it is today: "A computer in every home". Microsoft is betting that Bob will be another step towards achieving this goal.
Bob is a GUI (pronounced gooey). A GUI is a Graphic Use Interface or most simply a bunch of pictures that, when clicked upon with a mouse, execute programs and commands. Windows 3.1 is a GUI that sits on top of DOS (Disk Operating System) to make it easier for you to perform computing tasks. Rather than typing cryptic DOS commands, with Windows you simply point and click on pictures, called icons. These actions are then translated into commands that your computer can understand.
Bob is a GUI that will sit on top of Windows, making Windows easy for the novice or first-time user. Rather than program groups, icons and pull-down menus, Bob is like a house with different rooms, each representing 8 different integrated "applets". (New buzzword: short for mini-applications or programs).
Animated characters such as Rover the dog and Chaos the cat will guide the user from room to room as each application is explored. Bob comes with a Letter Writer, Calendar, Household Manager, Checkbook, Address Book, E-Mail, Financial Guide and a quiz game, Geo-Safari.
Here is a concept: Bob does not include any manuals. All help and information is delivered on-screen through one of 12 cartoon-like characters that you choose as your mentor. Microsoft says these characters will be intuitive and will adjust the learning pace to the level of the user.
This approach to computing is not entirely novel. Game developers have used this interface for long time. Managing Your Money, by MECA Software, last year introduced an object-oriented home office called SmartDesk. Clicking on various drawers, desktops, calendars and bookshelves actually executes commands to assist you in managing your finances.
Will it truly be easier, remains to be seen. Bob still has to run within the Windows environment. Because it is a GUI on top of a GUI it will be very hardware intensive. Bob must have a minimum 486 chip, 8 MB RAM, SVGA monitor, and 30 MB of available hard disk space. 8 MB RAM minimum really means it needs 16 MB to run well. This leaves out alot of current users, without an equipment upgrade.
Microsoft is negotiating with personal computer makers including Gateway 2000, NEC and Micron Computers to pre-load Bob as part of their software packaging. Bob, which will sell for $100, is projected for release in March of this year, but I wouldn't bank on that date given the history of Windows '95 delays. An Apple Mac version of Bob is reportedly in the works too.
In a related story: there is a spoof-memo circulating among insiders pertaining to Bob. Since Bob(tm) is now a licensed trademark of Microsoft, all those with the first name Bob will be given the opportunity to change their first name or, for a small monthly licensing fee, retain the use of the name Bob. People can call themselves, Rob, Robby or Robert but not Bobby, since it is a derivative of the Microsoft trademark. All Bob name licensees will be authorized to display the Windows 95 logo on their body. JUST KIDDING MICROSOFT!Feedback? E-Mail firstname.lastname@example.org