User interfaces at Paranor – a journey through time
When Paranor was founded in 1978, command line user interfaces were the standard form of user interface used in the industry. Graphical user interfaces did not gain significant popularity until the 1980s, when they started to emerge as the number one human-machine interface. Today, we have a wide range of options at our disposal for interacting with a computer: Voice commands, vibrations, gestures etc. In the 41 years of its existence, Paranor has built many user interfaces. We take a look back and allow ourselves to look ahead to what the future may hold.
First user interfaces at Paranor
From the 1960s on, the command line interface became more and more popular, and initial experimental graphical user interfaces (GUI) were presented at the end of the decade. In the form of the Xerox Alto, 1973 saw the launch of the first computer that linked the input devices still used today (mouse and keyboard) with a corresponding output (screen). However, it took until the mid-1980s for this type of computer to really break through commercially, with the Apple Macintosh hitting the market in 1984 and Windows 1.01 in 1985. Since then, the technology has really exploded. Today, the way we interact with a wide range of electronic devices using a mouse, our fingers, voice commands or gestures comes virtually as second nature.
Paranor built its first projects at the end of the 1970s still in the days before graphical user interfaces had attained such wide popularity. The software ran on DEC computers, while the user interface consisted of a command line interface. Paranor developed its first graphical user interface in the 1980s – for the army and on DEC computers. The era of X Windows technology and the corresponding visual themes had begun. On this basis, Paranor built GUIs for several thousand simultaneous users – including the GUIs for the payment transaction platform of PostFinance AG. At the start of the 2000s, Java became increasingly popular and the era of rich client platforms began. Paranor opted for Java very early on, as a result of which rich clients were built for countless projects using the typical tools of the day, including e.g. Eclipse RCP.
Heading for new shores
The popularity of rich clients already declined noticeably by the mid-2000s, driven by the complexity of the distribution and installation of this client-side software. At the time, web technology was already maturing and a browser was installed on every device – the time had come for web user interfaces. Paranor was open to this trend and implemented web UIs with Ruby on Rails, GWT (Google Web Toolkit), JSP/Java, Angular, React etc.
Today, responsive web UIs are still the industry standard. Paranor uses two of the currently most popular frameworks for this: Angular and React.
Developments are continuing. Thanks to the ongoing miniaturisation of computers, for a number of years devices have been produced with compact dimensions that host powerful computers – with smart glasses and smart watches just two examples. These portable devices have widened the spectrum of user interface design, with small screens and holograms replacing a large monitor. In return, these devices offer a completely different set of options in terms of input and output design, with the ability to recognise movements, voice commands and – in future – thoughts. And what was previously limited to an audio-visual output can now be expanded with vibrations, holograms and smells. A good example from the world of augmented reality is the product Microsoft HoloLens.
Paranor has been working in the field of augmented reality since 2015. For example, we developed an indoor positioning and navigation system for Google Glass, which uses the Earth's magnetic field to determine the position of the person wearing the glasses – without the need to install beacons. The inputs it uses are the sensors on the one hand and voice commands on the other. The output is visualised in a glass prism, and in addition the user can be guided with vibrations and voice outputs.
Developments are continuing all the time, and in future users will no longer need to follow the traditional requirements of computers. Instead, computers will be able to interpret our natural language, movements and thoughts as input commands and will be able to deliver the outputs in the manner we prefer. For user experience designers and developers, this means that there are even more exciting times ahead.