OHS in use : Thought Processing vs. Word Processing



Imagine being handed a thick document and told you have to understand it all in an impossibly short time. Well actually, you probably don't have to imagine, you probably have this happen pretty often.

You study the document as well as you can, trying to get an overview from the chapter headings, thumbing through the index to come to grips with concepts by locating the same word all over the document. Maybe you've read an acronym and forgotten what it means and had to go back to that index to find the first page it occurred on. There will be a lot of to-ing and fro-ing as you wrestle with the content of the document. It won't be a simple straight read-through like a cheap paperback thriller.

Maybe you were lucky enough to have access to someone who had read the document or understands the subject it covers. You could ask questions and expect to be presented with the information in any way you request.

Or maybe you are lucky enough to be accessing the document through Open Hyperdocument System (OHS).

OHS is the successor to the oNLine System (NLS)- later Augment which Doug Engelbart and his team at SRI developed.

NLS was where the mouse, 2-dimensional display editing (using a screen/monitor with a computer), in-file object addressing, linking & hypermedia (Hypertext, but not by that name), outline processing, flexible view control, windows, integrated hypermedia email, hypermedia publishing, document version control, teleconferencing, computer-aided meetings, context-sensitive help, distributed client-server architecture, uniform command syntax, universal "user interface" front-end module, multi-tool integration (use any tool on any document, not simplistic document-application system which is prevalent today) and grammar-driven command language interpreter first saw the light of day. In the sixties.

This document aims to show you how easy OHS is to use, how flexible and dynamically it will grow and how powerful it will make individuals and groups.







With OHS documents are no longer static, they are much more dynamic than what we are used to from dealing with word processors and even the World Wide Web: You can expand and collapse the document as you see fit and see it in as many windows as you like: Outlines will be generated dynamically as you specify how deep a level each window is to show- so one window could show chapter headings. Another the first line of ever paragraph to allow you to skim through the chapter, expanding and contracting, formatting and annotating as you go along.

You can quickly and easily choose to only see paragraphs which include a certain word.

Sentences can be color coded as you see fit. Maybe you'd like all verbs in blue. Maybe not. Or all names in green. Or links in purple.

You might want to see a list of effects of a certain word. Because OHS uses Smart Words(TM) and understands grammar.

You can effortlessly request a list of effects of "global warming" and expect the document to be scoured for adjectives and verbs which relate grammatically to 'global warming". For instance, if there is a sentence in the document which says: "Global warming will raise sea levels" then the result of a search for "Global Warming" will list "...will raise sea levels'.

Maybe the document is very technical and includes a glossary with definitions of words, terms and acronyms. These become accessible through a pop-up menu on the words and terms themselves on the page. You can't rely on everyone diligently including a glossary however. Therefore you can refer to an external, relevant glossary. If no relevant glossary exists, you can quickly jump to the first occurrence of a word, which will often have a definition attached as it is introduced. For example, if you were reading this document in OHS and wanted to see what 'OHS' means, you could just look at the first occurrence of OHS in this document.

Maybe the document has a cast of characters you need to understand the relationship between. You can easily generate a list of all names and have the list attach descriptors and relationships as well as links and excerpts to where they appear in the text. Useful whether the characters are people or widgets or technical terms.

You may have to find external links which relate to a specific term, but you cannot rely on the term being included in the link. No problem. Just specify that you'd like all sentences which include the term (or all paragraphs if you think that's better) and any Hypertext link.

You see the power and flexibility here?







You may have to write a report on what you have learnt. You will have all the control of how your document is displayed to you as the one you just worked on. You will also have access to advanced authoring features.

You will be able to issue commands like 'transpose these two elements', not just copy and paste.

You can insert sections from the other document and the sections will be pasted with a link to where it came from. Not just what page, exactly where, down to the paragraph to sentence.

You can lay your work out in any way you want. You can place snippets of information on the side if you want, ready for insertion. This is not a linear document anymore.

The power of OHS extends to every corner of your digital information environment. Notes written on your PDA are no longer thrown into the information black hole, they become as easily and browse-ably available as any of your other text.

Presenting your information becomes more than text on a page. Clip art will be in three dimensions with systems and time-lines embodied, with scriptable access:

For example: Want to show the effects of a drug on the brain? Just highlight the areas, flows and relationships on your intelligent brain model. No problem.

You are not restricted to what kinds of 3D models you can use: Want to show migration of people around the world? Drag arrows around the globe and assign width by number of people. Should take you about a minute. You want to add a time-line to allow the reader to see changing migration patterns? Another couple of minutes. Specialist 3D programmer not required.

Adding references from email discussions and newsgroup or mailing list discussions will provide access to the full thread.

Daily nonsense like dealing with large numbers of repetitive emails evaporate. So does maintenance hassles. You have more time for your work.







Chances are you don't work alone. You will need to engage in dialogue but unlike the non-augmented world the dialog will be recorded and accessible.

Coffee shop and meeting room discussions will be recorded and transcribed with the different voices recognized and tagged. All references, such as documents on the table which are already in the system as well as hand drawn illustrations generated during the meeting etc. will become linked. All you need to do is read the documents title. Hand drawn notes can easily be scanned and referenced later.

The recorded dialog will be stored in searchable in text and audio formats, or even video, should you have recorded it with a camera -whatever you prefer. You could be sitting with a laptop, have everyone new quickly introduce themselves and know what they say will be under their name later. Any brilliant ideas will be properly attributed.

The agenda drawn up during the meeting will be available to all and it will be trivial to see how the agenda was agreed upon. Contact lists will automatically be generated- you can easily send an email to "Lunch meeting last Friday".

Remote collaboration will be supported by audio and video conferencing, again, all recorded and available later.

Remote text based collaboration. In other words, email, newsgroups and mailing lists, are no longer be rivers of text flowing aimlessly away from the group. They have become accessible in a efficient and usable manner. Consider this detail: When you read a document (or discussion group article) and want to comment, you will be presented with a button right there on the document. Not just a 'reply' button or 'email the author' button, but with a 'comment', 'critique' or 'correction' button. The very act of clicking to reply adds useful, searchable data.

It's the whole 'later' episode which makes the recording interesting. You want to know who were present at every meeting (including mailing list discussions and newsgroups) where a certain issue was discussed? Want to know who was positive and who negative? Smart Words are available here as well. So who has been contributing to building a community and actively engaging in peer-review? Who is clearly the expert on a topic?

You've recorded the dialogue. It is all accessible dynamically.







All of this control comes through the simplicity and power of three things working together: objects, commands and modifiers. Instead of what we have today: entering single, discrete commands to our computer, such as 'Save', 'Open' and so forth we have the flexibility and power of communicating our commends in whole sentences.

You feel the power anytime you turn away from your computer in your office to talk to a person. OHS is as flexible as talking to a person. You are commanding your information and your tools as richly as you command language and the results is true end user programing. Today we live in a world of programmers and end users. OHS will change that by giving more flexibility to end users for building their own tools and environments.

Instead of the prevailing simplistic icon based interface, which is easy to learn but inherently limited (imagine speaking by clicking on words), OHS builds on a noun (object) and verb (command) language (imagine speaking by typing on a keyboard alphabet. Never mind, you don't need to imagine that...).

The system of nouns (objects) and verbs (commands) (with high definition dynamic linking) can be combined, given simple logic and even timed.

The Objects can be located/specified through both explicit navigation such as URLs as well as contextual navigation saying for example; 'go up one level in the folder hierarchy'. The nouns can be of any granularity (fine or coarse) as required.

The commands are any computer programmable function the computer can perform on a noun (object).

The logic is simply the ability to add decision making abilities to commands, based on the If/Then structure. Examples can include If the data gotten back from a Web page includes such and such text, then do this, otherwise do something else.

It's full sentence interaction.







Having enjoyed the simple elegance of graphical user interfaces and being confronted with the power of full sentence interaction you may be concerned that you are asked to go a step backwards into the world of pure text based UNIX.

Have no fear, that ain't the case. For several reasons:

  • The first is that the system understands what you write and can always provide you a list of possible words (commands, objects or modifiers) when you get stuck. Just hit the ? key and up they come.
  • The system also provides helper words (also called 'noise words.' Ugh!) which are entered in between your words which makes them look more like regular sentences.
  • And no, you won't be entering arcane symbols which you are expected to have memorized. As soon as you type the first character the system expands the character into the full word.
  • Additionally, you won't have to change your way of working. You know how you often use the command/alt keys with keys to carry out special functions? Well the new thing you'll be able to enjoy is to instead of entering single commands with your command/alt key, you can now enter a whole, coherent sentence. Enjoy:


A standard word processor (Nisus Writer on Macintosh OS 9).

The user enters the 'command' key (or 'alt' in Windows) which is usually used to enter a single command, such as 'command' and 'S' to save a document. With OHS however, it produces a command bar and stays up on the screen until the 'command' key is used again, as shown here:

Entering a series of commands is simple. In this case the user has entered 'V', which expands to show the words 'Set Viewspec", then the user entered 'f' and "x" to set the parameter for the Viewspec- show only one line and put a line in between them. The commands expands to show a complete sentence, but also shows the commands used ('f' &'X'), an option which the use can, like with most interface elements, choose to disable. When the 'command' key is clicked again, the command is carried out:







When you are done- at least as far as this episode is concerned, you can email your masterpiece to a Journal where it will forever remain accessible to the right people through the Web. You won't have to worry about it being edited and changed. It can't be. Any future edits will add a version number.

OHS users can point to any arbitrary object within the document, not just to the whole document.







And all of this is is evolutionary. Evolution is built in on more than one level:

  • Smooth adoption for user organizations and companies through HyperScope. Initial functionality will be provided by server based intermediaries with no special requirements on the Web browser which will be the user interface. Additional functionality not directly supported by the browser, will become available through browser launched Java applets and later full Java applications as well as other technologies will be employed. This way there will be no "outside the OHS" nor a special "inside the OHS". Every time anyone accesses a link to something stored in a high-performance OHS database the result will be processed through the OHS system to deliver functionality through any current simple browser. Ultimately a full OHS environment will evolve with further functionality, but always accessible through standard web interfaces.
  • OHS is OpenSource.
  • Flexible future upgrades path built in. Unlike conventional software projects, OHS is at its core an evolving design which will not require dramatic re-writes to add substantial functionality. Features can be added as small additional plug in projects rather than having to be built from scratch, allowing organizations and even individuals to power to shape their information environment. This is due to the explicit segmentation of the environment. Features can be slotted in along the input path, view generation, manipulation, background timed processes, output path or in any combination. Depending on the magnitude of the feature and its impact on other parts of the environment, it will be seamlessly slotted in to the major free versions or it will have to be added to the customers own server, where the feature only becomes a part of a catalog of optional installations for others in the future. Anybody can now add features. With traditional OpenSource projects only by being a programmer or by having the budget and technical know-how could you add to the OpenSource project. With the OHS project however, there is an independent, non-exclusive option of using a centrally coordinated programing mediator, at very low cost.Upgrade to OHS is smooth and painless.







Imagine being told about word processing in 1960.

Remember that almost now interface innovations have happened since the late sixties.

Then realize he's not been asleep since.

This document is a short, superficial tour of some of the capabilities OHS will offer. Are you ready for tomorrow?!







The Bootstrap Institute







NOTE: This article is not a comprehensive look at Augment/NLS capabilities, nor a specification for OHS (Open Hyperdocument System). It features select capabilities and includes previews of what Augment/NLS (as well as some features Augment/NLS is capable of) is not currently capable of, but will be achievable with OHS.

© 2001 The Bootstrap Instituite

Authors: Dr. Douglas Engelbart & Frode Hegland. Editorial assistance by Kevin Perera.

Some contributions by The Liquid Information Company