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The ModulaTor

Oberon-2 and Modula-2 Technical Publication

Ubaye's First Independent Modula-2 & Oberon-2 Journal! Nr. 82, Apr-2001,


Who is using the Oberon System?

by Aubrey McIntosh

A study about who is actually using the Oberon System would be worthwhile. In the absence of data, I do have anecdotes that respond to some of these suggestions.

I supervised a group of perhaps 5 people who responded to email. (I mean, 50,000 emails.) We worked on the SunSPARC under Solaris, and a lot of our answers, by policy, included "approved" text. Student help has a high attrition rate, and so I had perhaps 15 employees over time. When someone gave notice, I immediately placed them on "emeritus" status and their duties were to write up their exit thoughts, and to be "unavailable" so that the other staff would notice any special skills and expertise that they really wanted to transfer prior to final departure.

I put together a simple Oberon V4 system that scanned the email directory, and presented subject, requestor, and document age. I put together the Alfred mail and document indexer, so that documents could be retrieved by obscure searches (much like the later emerging AltaVista search engine.) Work was ready to test when I left which would remove an email item from all the desktops when one of the people opened it, and add it to the desktops when a new or returned item occured (movement toward real-time groupware).

When one of my staff opened a document, a "Received" line with his id, and the begin and end times was inserted. I found that the staff spent a lot of time browsing the documents and hoping someone else would answer them.

I noticed some fairly standard patterns.

  1. Absolutely everybody hated Oberon if I mentioned that it was a programming environment. They immediately began a religeous sermon on C. (Java was in the wings, I don't remember distinctions between C and C++)

  2. The people who wanted so much to cause me to work in C didn't program in C. (With one single exception. He also is the only one who delivered working code for the shop in Oberon.)

    He is also the same guy who was having a self defined contest with a friend to produce the fastest code to compute the prime numbers. When he asked me for help, I produced the Sieve of Erastosthenese from memory and had output of all primes less than 1,000,000 in a V4 viewer in 20 minutes. Not 20 minutes of execution, but 20 minutes from when I opened an empty viewer and started typing "MODULE Sieve ..." Some of his trials took 20 minutes. He did not switch to Oberon.

  3. When I presented Oberon as an Advanced Text and Email handling system, everybody was intrigued by it and wanted to explore some.

  4. When I showed V3 (Gadgets / ETH Oberon), people would get out of their chairs and walk across the room to see it. They never did this for V4.

  5. Work got done under V4. Viewer configuration got done under V3.

  6. The Oberon Viewer layout that I presented by fiat, and changed according to discussion at weekly meetings, was not ever changed by my staff during their daily login after the first week or so. The standard opening had a page of management instructions so that my supervisors could be oriented if they dropped in to see how things worked. To remove this, my staff needed to mark the menu bar of the instructions before opening their first document. I think this is a 5 second / workday action. This was the item that had the most resistance from my staff, and is not an Oberon issue per-se.

  7. My staff could activate commands without looking for them with the fixed layout.

  8. Yes, the staff could activate a command without searching for it with the shop's standard layout. This is a tremendously important thing. By anecdote and observation but without data, I claim this results in lower errors and higher productivity.

  9. Each of my staff told anecdotes of trying to use Oberon mouse / interclick commands in their "preferred" computing environment at home.
    1. This means that none of them were assimilated into the Oberon community ... Oberon was not their environment at home.

    2. They denied trying to use their OS paradigms in the Oberon environment.

    3. When I asked point blank if this meant that their subconscious found Oberon to be more powerful or direct than their favorite system, 100% of them looked perplexed, then uncomfortable, and in conversation days later would tell someone else that, indeed, this action meant that Oberon was more powerful.

  10. Separately, we have about 6,000 students a year in the General Chemistry class, and there is a mechanism to custom generate quiz documents for each student. For about 3 semesters we presented the Oberon desktop in a department computer lab and gave chemistry students their weekly quiz from the Oberon environment. We had a tutorial page in the opening screen, and the first lab was instructions on how to use Oberon (V4). I worked closely with the TAs in the lab. I noticed that after the second week, the students were focusing entirely on the Chemistry content, and there were no issues that are Oberon related. None, zip, nada. It was nice. When the trendy switch to the web occured, there were lots of issues with the technology such as the server being down, the underlying cgi-code failing, and the like.

  11. In all of these cases, on quantifiable, observable quantities, people reported that Oberon was best. Then they went on to use broken and half working systems. As near as I can tell this was motivated by a desire to be a part of a herd or gang and is completely unresponsive to the technical merit of the decision. I speculated that a little radio or billboard advertising on campus at that time would have completely changed the acceptance, but I think that watershed is now in the past. I also think that the availability of erotic pictures under Mosaic was a very strong, but not publicly acknowledged, factor in the acceptance of Mosaic and thence Netscape. I base this opinion on the usage logs of all the newsgroups carried there, and then.

I would like to formalize my opinions in a study, but do not know of a funding source. Comments?


IMPRESSUM: The ModulaTor is an unrefereed journal. Technical papers are to be taken as working papers and personal rather than organizational statements. Items are printed at the discretion of the Editor based upon his judgement on the interest and relevancy to the readership. Letters, announcements, and other items of professional interest are selected on the same basis. Office of publication. The Editor of The ModulaTor is Günter Dotzel; he can be reached at [email deleted due to spam]

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Created 12-Apr-2001, last revised 11-May-2001