New Trends in ICTs Development Making Life Easier for End-usersFrom the time of machine code programming and mechanical adding machines through vacuum-based systems to very large integrated circuits and very high level programming languages, the main trend and focus has been the same over time – empowerment of the end-user. Recent developments have seen this initiative even improve further with several advancements being made on how we perceive the computer in the workplace.
The shift from command-driven to Graphics User Interfaces (GUIs)
In the past, the end-user was required to literally understand the command set of many software packages in the market like Dbase III+, Lotus 123, and WordPerfect 5.1. Operating systems such as MS-DOS made extensive use of the command prompt. MS-DOS had a host of both internal and external commands that the end-user was required to master in order to use the computer competently. Their syntaxes, switches, parameters and the like had to be understood. This sidelined many with the urge to use the computer but the inability to master the intricacies of software use. With the advent of Windows and Windows-based software, the user was given more flexibility and power to make maximum use of the computer. This saw many end-users begin to appreciate computers in the workplace because easy to use GUIs demystified them. All that end-users needed to know were the icons and menus to initiate processes and suddenly they would be involved in initiating complex processes such as linear and multiple regressions, document merging, spell-checking and so on at the mere click of a mouse button, giving them control over otherwise mysterious processes.
The GUI has removed the need to know the underlying command sets needed to achieve a task by providing an interface that is user friendly and easy to learn. The interface uses normal English to request users for information that would be required to complete a complex task. Now end-users need to only master a few basic processes to invoke very complex instruction sets that perform highly complex operations. The banker, for instance, no longer needs to master let alone know COBOL to input customer transactions! This is easily achieved now through a user-friendly window form thereby reducing time consumed in punching out data sequences!
The emergence of Object-Oriented Programming (OOP)
From the days of machine to high level languages, programming has seen significant developments all geared towards enabling the end-users achieve targets in the shortest time possible – especially in these times of highly capitalistic and competitive economies where time is money. By moving from binary notations to mnemonics and finally to object oriented programming where users only need to drag and drop pre-written self-contained, reusable components, software design is no longer entirely the preserve of specialists – it has come closer to end-users. A computer operator can now use such objects to enhance the performance of application software in the workplace through customisable tasks made possible by macros. Talk of Rapid Application Development (RAD) come home to roost!
By quickly glancing at the source code of a program, one can easily make head and tail of the concept being developed – thanks to very high level programming languages. The end user no longer needs to spend hours coding sub-routines and functions that are part of a very lengthy and tedious procedural activity, they only need to conceptualise the problem at hand and communicate this appropriately to the computer and leave the tedious work to the Control unit.
The birth of mobile computing
Gone are the days when end-users could not conceptualise finalising an important project proposal without going to the office - because that was where the computer was! With the advent of laptops, mobile phones, wireless networks, and so on, company targets can still be achieved even when people are separated by geographical boundaries from their workplace. This has given the term ‘office’ a new meaning. The concept of the home office has been made a reality and now the corporate manager can still compile his reports in time and watch his favourite TV show at the same time. This concept of enhancing mobility has greatly empowered the end-user. With wireless communication, executives can get on-the-minute updates on stock trends and country profiles of prospective investing grounds long before their planes touch ground on their way to an investors’ meeting. This is made possible via internet connectivity.
The emergence of new information technology infrastructures
Computing is no longer looked at in isolation. The present day end-user perceives a computer in a different perspective. The mention of a computer brings to mind inter-connectivity and remote accessibility of pooled resources. This concept of networking has been there for sometime and the terms LAN, WAN, CAN and MAN are common. Now a new concept in this area promises even greater collaboration and networking – the new IT technologies take the concept of networking a level further by combining several systems together to come up with a collection of interlinked heterogeneous systems. Points Of Sale (POS), PDAs, cellular phones, LANS and mobile computing devices all operating on varying transmission protocols are inter-linked together with the sole objective of placing information at the end-users’ palm. The end-user can now request for ambulance services by filling out and sending an online form that is relayed to a hospital database or emergency mobile unit that dispatches the nearest assistance within a fraction of time. In the comfort of a home PC the end-user can shop on-line without a problem – a process that involves collaborative linkages with his bank, the supermarket, ISPs and security agencies that ensure a clean transaction is facilitated.
The arrival of the Internet.
With the development of the Internet, the so-called information superhighway, the end-user can not only communicate cost-effectively, but he can engage in hi-Tec teleconferencing where persons are pooled together in board meetings in virtual space. Technologies like Usenet, Internet Relay Charts (IRC) and e-mails have made communication so cheap and effective thereby transforming the world into a global village. With the use of very user-friendly GUIs, users can navigate through hypertext with ease obtaining very valuable information about the world in their living rooms. The internet has allowed organisations and corporations to start thinking beyond their offices and local markets – it has broken geographical boundaries allowing greater collaboration, communication, bi-lateral and multi-lateral trade. At the end of the day the end-user gains the power of communication in a way never imagined before. Gone are the days of unreliable snail-mails that took ages and were more costly and often times plagued by theft.