Wednesday, July 23, 1997 by Dave Winer.
One of the things I like about this job -- I get to dive in with people, to find out how they think, challenge them, and hear first-hand how they do what they do.
I spent about five hours with Dan Bricklin, firstname.lastname@example.org, last night. We go a long way back, many mutual friends, but in all those years we had never spent this much time in one place just doing what we do -- talking, demoing, laughing, and interrupting each other.
Dan brought a small PC and a projector and a portable screen and showed me Trellix, several times. There are lots of bits of his experience in the software, from VisiCalc to TK!Solver, his Demo Program, and the pen-based personal information software he did in the early 90s.
So what is Trellix? I missed the point yesterday, in Challenging HTML, when I said it was a net-based outliner. Trellix is something else. Is it challenging HTML? Yes it is. But the challenge is part of a trance! Read on...
Each Trellix document is a collection of pages linked in a colorful editable diagram called the map. In the map, each page appears as a little box. You can click on the box to display the page contents.
Every page is displayed thru a template. There are standard elements that define a page, the template designer can format these in a variety of ways. A nice separation between design and content. The templating system feels like a presentation program, like PowerPoint or Lotus Freelance.
The Map editor is a hybrid of spreadsheet, slide sorter and draw program. Little boxes connected with lines that direct the flow. Remember Project X that Apple was promoting last year? Trellix's navigation authoring map editor is a quiet, usable implementation of that idea. It also reminds me of Boxes and Arrows, a mid-80s project at Living Videotext that never shipped as a commercial product.
In Trellix, the map and all its linked pages and templates are stored in a single file. It's totally self-contained. This is very different from websites, which are collections of linked files, and associated style sheets, graphic bits and channel definitions. The Trellix approach is higher level. Other web tools, such as Fusion and my own Frontier, store the content in a database and render collections of HTML files.
Trellix is weak at generating HTML (more on that later) but very easy for its own structures. So in yesterday's piece when I said they broke with HTML, I got that right. And I believe, even more strongly, that this software is not about HTML, even though it can produce HTML output.
After seeing the second demo, I said "But Dan, this not about the Internet!" He agreed. I was surprised. "But the word 'Internet' is all over your press materials," I said in a challenging tone. I went to the kitchen to get the press kit. Oooops. The word isn't in there. Not once. Uh oh. What's going on here?
A trance! The Internet is so pervasive in 1997 that every product, every new startup, is assumed to be completely embedded in it. It's not true of Trellix. It gains its Internet-embedding from the operating system, Windows; its inspiration comes from web browsers; but it serves a different purpose.
Trellix is a productivity app. It may be the first productivity app designed after the web happened. You can totally see the influence.
It's a structured writing tool, it's a presentation tool, it can present a web of ideas, richer and more complex than PowerPoint and Persuasion without overloading the reader. In that is its positioning.
Trellix is part word processor, part presenter, part spreadsheet, and its documents are webbed, which makes it different from previous productivity apps.
When to use it?
If you've got a complex idea to present then Trellix is where you should work.
Trellix can generate an HTML website from one of its structured documents. But you can't fully recreate the Trellix experience this way. If reviewers evaluate it in comparison to other HTML-generating productivity apps, Globetrotter comes to mind, Trellix is going to get boxed into the position of a wizzy tool that attempts to generate HTML content. Not a good place to be, IMHO.
When you look at Trellix, I urge you to think bigger than HTML and websites. Trellix does something bigger, and it can go somewhere even more interesting.
Bricklin and his team have the experience and depth to evolve the idea. I'll watch with interest.
Did you see Fargo? It was my favorite movie from last year... A captivating story graphically told. And it's the first movie to feature actors speaking in midwestern US English.
They're such sweet people! I'd marry Marge Gunderson in a minute. That would be soooooper! Ohhh geez.
I went to grad school in Madison, Wisconsin, which is in the midwest. Three large things happening in Madison. The University of Wisconsin. The state capital. And the world headquarters of Oscar Meyer, makers of famous wieners.
Don't ask, just call. You'll laugh!
I love the midwest.
PS: I told my friend "Barton" that I'd get the word "buttcrack" to appear in a DaveNet piece. This seems like a good place!