[NTLK] Newton Ux

Matej Horvat matej.horvat at guest.arnes.si
Thu Mar 16 11:10:52 EDT 2017

On Thu, 16 Mar 2017 15:11:44 +0100, Dennis Swaney <romad at mac.com> wrote:

> Face it, if Jobs had NOT killed the Newton, today's version would in all
> likely hood look like an iPad, color and all. Remember you can change the
> display color in iOS to black on white or white on black so the same  
> thing
> could be added to the replacement "Newton" OS. I'm sure a black on green
> setting could be available for those that prefer it.

But only if Apple thought it was aesthetically pleasing enough. And  
certainly not under Jobs.

Apple never liked users changing the GUI; on Mac OS and [Mac] OS X/macOS  
you could never even change the UI font or its size. System 7 let you  
change the window and highlight colors, and Mac OS 8 and 9 finally had a  
theme system, which, while not as customizable as on e.g. Windows, at  
least let you change the GUI completely (but only by changing the whole  
theme, not individual colors). But from a developer's point of view this  
was such a big change that (most?) pre-OS 8 applications still only had  
old-fashioned black and white windows.

All of that happened while Jobs was not at Apple; Mac OS X removed all  
that and the situation is now similar to System 7. As far as I know, there  
is to this day no official way to change the font size on macOS without  
magnifying the whole screen, and there is no way to have a dark color  
scheme other than to invert the whole screen, which is inconvenient if you  
do anything involving graphics - but I'd love to be proven wrong (I don't  
use versions newer than Tiger much).

As for Newton, Apple unfortunately made the same mistake there. The Newton  
view system uses pixel coordinates and fonts, "colors", and patterns are,  
in most cases, specified directly by the developer. This means that it is  
not even theoretically possible to change the UI in existing applications  
in any way because they assume a grayscale screen and a fixed pixel  
density. (But not a fixed screen size, which is why Einstein lets you  
resize the screen and well-written applications still work.)

(Note: from a developer's point of view, it is actually possible to  
crudely change the Newton UI font from Espy to something else by modifying  
the global fonts variable. It looks fine as long as you don't choose a  
larger font than the original.)

They should have seen this problem coming even at that time because some  
early developer documentation warns developers that there will be  
wristwatch-sized and whiteboard-sized Newtons in the future. If that  
happened, they would have already had to rearchitecture the GUI, possibly  
breaking existing applications. We are seeing this situation now on e.g.  
macOS and Windows, where high-resolution ("retina") screens sometimes make  
existing applications' UIs tiny - this is because pixel coordinates are  
still used in today's operating systems all over the place.

So if a full-color Newton came out, I think the situation would be the  
same as with Mac OS: existing applications would look the same as on older  
Newtons, but the view system would have to be redone to fully support  
color and theming, and hopefully they would have stopped using pixel  
coordinates, which would allow users to resize UI elements and also  
support high-resolution screens.

Like you said, the UI itself would probably follow a similar progression  
to Mac OS/iOS as well: they would start by adding small amounts of color  
to existing UI elements like System 7 (small changes like that would  
probably apply to existing applications as well), then go 3D like Mac OS  
8, then Aqua, skeuomorphism, and finally flat design.

That is if Jobs wouldn't have killed it later for some other reason.  
Newton is different from today's Apple products in that it is customizable  
and expandable. If it had survived to today, we wouldn't be able to use  
NTK without paying $99 (or whatever) to Apple each year, we couldn't use  
memory cards, AA batteries, etc. Forget about writing patches to the ROM  
or even changing the whole ROM. I don't think Newton and iOS could  
coexist; Newton would just turn into iOS. Maybe it would have survived  
with a stand-alone Newton Inc. Who knows.

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