Thursday, January 6, 2011

No Place Like Home

From the entire lexicon of nerd words, I think the most misused, overused and abused must be home.  Sure it conjures up images of comfort and security and good cooking, but as Thomas Wolfe observed, "you can't go home again."

In the early years, home meant a user's personal folder ... the place where his or her documents, settings files, etc. were stored.  It was denoted $HOME, or simply ~/.  Of course, saying there's no place like ~/ lacks romance.

I think it was in the early 1980's that keyboards began to sport a home key.  That was when computers got personal, and having such a key made them seem more folksy and down-to-earth.  Of course, the home key didn't actually take you home.  Mostly, it just scrolled to the top of whatever document you were working on.

In the early 1990's, the Web came along, and people started talking about home pages.  The home page was the starting point of a Web site, the page you'd see first, and which could take you to the other pages on the site.  So browsing someone's Web site was like visiting their home.  Bring gifts.

Meanwhile, Microsoft began to distinguish "Home" and "Professional" editions of its software.  They figured "Home" users might naïvely shoot themselves in the foot, whereas "Pro" users would do so knowingly.

More recently, Microsoft decided that the familiar Office user interface, the one that garnered the hearts and minds of millions, helping make Microsoft the juggernaut it became, the interface that made Office nearly ubiquitous on administrators' desktops, and forced the competition to imitate respectfully ... yes, that interface should be scrapped.  They replaced it with a set of ribbons, activated by tabs at the top of the window.  The advantage to ribbons is that all the clear, unambiguous text that used to be in menus was replaced by pretty little pictures with one or two word titles.  And, of course, one of the tabs is labelled "HOME."  In Word, this brings up a ribbon of the more common typography options.  Somehow, seeing "Calibri (Body)" does not conjure thoughts of home for me.

Of course, I'm waiting for the control that whisks me back to the farm in Kansas, with Auntie Em by my bedside.  Then it will all seem a horrible dream.

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