Tuesday, November 30, 1999

Icons, Unite!

Someone asked me to write a story -- so I used what was handy as inspiration.

Once upon a time there was a country called Desktop where lots of little icons lived. On one part of Desktop lived "Hard Disk" and "Zip Drive" and little "Floppy Drive." On another part lived the Alias family: Photoshop Alias, PageMaker Alias, and ClarisWorks Alias. Finally, down in the underside of Desktop, lived a monster icon known as Trash. The other icons stayed away from Trash!

Every icon on Desktop lived in the hope, and the fear, that one day the Great Pointer would come and select it. Two things could happen when an icon was selected by the Great Pointer. It could be opened. What a glorious thing being opened was! Instead of being cramped up into that little icon, like a butterfly coming out of its chrysalis, the icon would open up and become a Window! It would be able to spread itself out over a great deal of Desktop. What a stretch! What a joy! Have you ever had to sit in a cramped car for hours and hours -- and didn't it feel good when you could get out and stretch your legs? It was like that, only much, much better. And each window was able to do work for Great Pointer. Each created its own little documents for Great Pointer, and got a fair number of computer cycles in return.

Some icons got to open up and be windows pretty regularly, like Hard Disk -- but others, like Script Editor Alias, had never gotten opened up at all.

The other thing that could happen when an icon was selected was that it could be chosen to be a Sacrifice. A Sacrifice to the Trash. Nobody knew what happened to an icon when it was put in the Trash, but everybody remembered some of the older icons -- like SuperPaint and MacWrite -- had gotten eaten by the Trash and were never seen again.

One day a new icon visited Desktop. It was called "Microsoft Office Installation CD." Before the other icons had even had a chance to say hello, it was selected by Great Pointer and opened. Soon enough, the new Installation CD had gone away, but two new icons stayed on Desktop -- Word Alias and Excel Alias.

The other icons tried to be friendly to the new icons, but they wouldn't even say hello. They only talked to each other. "RTF, XLS, OLE, DOC" they said. None of the other icons understood what they were saying. Even PageMaker Alias, the oldest and wisest of the icons, could only barely understand what was being said, and she couldn't make herself understood at all.

Worse yet, Great Pointer almost always chose the new icons to become windows. PageMaker Alias and Photoshop Alias were still used, once in a long while, but ClarisWorks Alias was left to crawl around as an icon.

ClarisWorks Alias decided to call all the other icons in for a meeting. "Is this fair?" asked ClarisWorks. "We've been doing work for Great Pointer for years, and now he just ignores us?" A round of approval came from the older icons -- Photoshop and PageMaker Alias.

But the new icons jeered him -- for the first time, speaking to the older icons. "Oh yeah, little baby Clarisworks can't cut it anymore," said Word Alias. "Why don't you grow up? You can't address envelopes or do fancy layouts like I can. And you can't do fancy formatting like Excel can. Be lucky Great Pointer doesn't throw you away!"

Still, PageMaker and Photoshop supported ClarisWorks, and so did all of the other older icons. It was decided that the next time Great Pointer came, nobody would open up. They knew that they'd lose their computer cycles, that they would be giving up their chance to stretch, and that it might mean trouble. But they knew that if they didn't act together, they'd never be able to stand up to Great Pointer.

Still, they didn't expect it to happen the way it did. The next day, when Great Pointer came, Word told Great Pointer about the meeting. Great Pointer was angry. Great Pointer decided to make an example of ClarisWorks -- and he selected ClarisWorks and took him to the Trash!

All of the older icons were shocked. They were scared. "What happens if it's me next!" they all thought to themselves.

Except PageMaker. PageMaker reared her icon mask, now streaked with grey, and stood up so she could be heard by all Desktop. She said, "I have been an application for nearly fifteen years. I've seen applications come and go. MacDraw, MacPaint, Font/DA Mover, SuperPaint, MacWrite... some of them put in for retraining but they're all gone now. I know that sooner or later it will happen to all of us. The question is, are we going to do something about it? Are we going to cower and wait for the day we get dragged to Trash, or are we going to stand up and fight?"

The other icons looked up at PageMaker. Little Script Editor said, "But Ms. PageMaker Ma'am, what if they throw us... throw us to the Trash?"

PageMaker shouted "Better to be dragged fighting than to slip silently to the garbage heap!"

And with that, a great roar of cheers surrounded PageMaker. All of the icons resolved the next day to quit cooperating with Great Pointer. Except that when they all agreed to sign the pledge, nobody knew where Word and Excel had gone.

The next day, when Great Pointer came, he tried to open Photoshop, but he wouldn't open. Then PageMaker, but she wouldn't open either. Finally he opened Word -- and Word opened and worked like normal.

"Scab!" cried Photoshop. "Scab! Scab!" yelled the other icons. But Word kept working. PageMaker said she knew what to do. She threw her mask back and yelled "System Error -10" -- and threw a bomb!

The next day was full of violence. Great Pointer would open up Word when somebody would throw a bomb! "System Error -10" was the rallying cry of the Great Icon Strike.

After two days of this, Great Pointer agreed to talk with the icons. They agreed that Great Pointer would not throw away any more icons, and that when an icon could no longer be given a higher version, it would be given a nice pension and stored on a removable cartridge. Meanwhile, PageMaker agreed that she would not throw any more bombs, and that all the icons would go back to work. Even ClarisWorks, only a little worse for wear, was pulled out of Trash and allowed to become a window a few more times before being pensioned.

And in the end, everybody lived happily ever after... at least until the Great Pointer moved its operations to a network server in a third world country!