Bits of history: MORE in 1987

MORE is one of my favorite software products ever. Although Symantec discontinued it years ago, thankfully MORE still works fine -- I use it often. Even better, it's now available as a free download!!! (The 1.1 version is historically interesting, but Mac folks should definitely grab the 3.1 version for actual use. There are also various PC versions.) Way back in 1987, I wrote an article on MORE (submitted but, as I recall, never published). Those who've joined the computer revolution recently won't fully appreciate the comparison to Lotus 1-2-3, but perhaps they'll learn something about that wonderful (in its day) product too.

Of course I also wrote the article in MORE. To post it here, I dug it out of my archives, saved to a text-based format, and wrote a script to convert to HTML.

Thanks to Dave Winer, Doug Baron et al for MORE, to Dave for championing its recent release on the Web, and to Symantec for allowing that release.

One request for Symantec: how about releasing the source code? I prefer a BSD or Mozilla style license, but any license that made reasonable provisions for continued development would suffice.

MORE: As Revolutionary as Lotus 1-2-3

by Scott S. Lawton, 1987

Living Videotext, creators of MORE™, bill it as "The First Integrated Idea Processor/Idea Presenter." MacUser Magazine editors rated it the Best New Product of 1986. Personally, I think that MORE is nothing short of revolutionary. But because "idea processing" is such a fuzzy concept, I suspect that this important development in microcomputer software might pass relatively unnoticed.

In this article, I will first explain the basics of "idea processing" and attempt to dispel the myth that it is just an exotic (and unnecessary) way to write outlines. Then I will consider three specific reasons that Lotus 1-2-3 was revolutionary and show how MORE has these same three ingredients. By the way, I have absolutely no connection with Living Videotext - other than being a very satisfied user. Truly outstanding software products and software companies are few and far between. I hope this article does generate interest in MORE; I am always in favor of promoting excellence.

I. What is idea processing anyway?

The easiest way to explain how an idea processor works is to use an outline as an example. In fact, the industry has often sold their products this way. But this approach does a great disservice to an extremely useful category of software. True idea processing is not merely outlining.

Remember English class? I had to turn in a "structured" outline with every single essay. There were all sorts of obscure rules to follow about parallel phrases, the right number of subtopics below each main headline, etc. I don't know about you, but after finishing each paper I spent hours trying to write a properly structured outline so that I could get the A or B that my papers had rated before we learned about outlining. You can imagine how thrilled I was when the first "outliner" appeared on the software market - I wanted no part of it!

Well, with that caveat, Figure 1 shows an outline of this article. An idea processor makes an excellent outliner. All English teachers should rush out and buy one, as should the students who want to impress their teachers. But "the rest of us" should take heart and read on.

II. The organizational tool

The purpose of an idea processor is to assist with making notes on a group of ideas, identifying relationships between these ideas, and organizing them in an appropriate manner. This software tool can help someone more quickly and effectively plan meetings, manage projects, or reorganize companies. To facilitate this process, two features are essential.

First, an idea processor must allow the user to choose the level of detail displayed on the screen. When thinking about the project as a whole, only the major topics should be visible (Figure 2). At this stage, it is vital that the "big picture" not be obscurred by small details. Yet, to be successful, all of the details must also be carefully planned (Figure 3). An idea processor lets the author or project manager "expand" and "shrink" topics at will, revealing or hiding the underlying information.

Second, an idea processor must allow the ideas to be rearranged easily. Initial ideas often come from brainstorming or "stream of consciousness." Finding the best way of organization generally requires trying alternate approaches, playing "what if" games with ideas as if juggling numbers in a spreadsheet.

III. Lotus 1-2-3: Keys to success

Without my having to cite any statistics as evidence, I think that most people will agree that Lotus 1-2-3 is the most successful software product to date. Much of its phenomenonal success resulted from being in the right place at the right time. I think the rest is due to three key factors.

A. Better product

When released, Lotus's spreadsheet was much more powerful than anything else on the market - including VisiCalc, the market leader. It was bigger, faster, and had more features and functions.

B. Integrated graphics

Probably the most revolutionary feature of 1-2-3 was its tightly integrated graphics. A picture simply makes more sense than a table of numbers, dramatically increasing the usefulness of electronic spreadsheets. The success of this link encouraged software developers to try to integrate anything and everything.

C. Superior user-interface

Lotus built upon VisiCalc's menu interface, ensuring that current spreadsheet users were on familiar ground. Their improvements (e.g. the whole word appears in the menu, instead of just the first letter) made 1-2-3 much easier for beginners to learn. (Not everyone finds the Lotus-style interface easy to use. My own opinion is that though it is now somewhat dated, it was truly revolutionary when the product was first released. In any case, it offered a dramatic improvement over the VisiCalc interface.)

D. What was not important

The evidence suggests that 1-2-3's integrated data base played a negligable role in the product's initial success, and is rarely used even today. The reason seems obvious enough to me: integrating tables of numbers with their graphic equivalent is a "natural" merger; the whole is much greater than the sum of the parts. In contrast, the data base neither fits neatly in with the other two components, nor adds significant value. Haphazard integration is both useless and confusing whereas intelligent integration is a dream come true.

Incidentally, the close link between graphics and spreadsheet did not come out of nowhere. If I have the historical details straight, Mitch Kapor developed VisiTrend/Plot and started Lotus Development Corporation with the profits gained from licensing that software to VisiCorp.

IV. MORE: the same ingredients

My conviction that MORE represented a real breakthrough began very slowly, and grew each time I found a new use for it. While working (in MORE, of course) on an article about Lotus 1-2-3 (yet to be finished), it suddenly occurred to me that the reasons I thought that MORE was destined for success were the same three basic factors contributing to Lotus's place in computer history.

A. Better product

Living Videotext led the Macintosh idea processing market with ThinkTank and ThinkTank 512. The original ThinkTank was very basic. ThinkTank 512 allowed text or graphics windows to be attached to topic headlines, and added much-needed (but slow) sort and search functions. MORE added a wealth of new features, including clones (changine one headline changes all clones), mark & gather (for more versatile reorganization), faster sort and search (plus pattern matching), math (!!!), and much, much more.

In addition to adding new functions, Living Videotext has added a dizzying array of options, formats, and preferences. The user can specify all sorts of parameters to customize both the operation of the program and the appearance of the outline. I applaud LVT's putting control where it belongs: in the user's hands. The revolution begins.

B. Integrated graphics

Lotus 1-2-3 started the mad rush towards integrated software. Now, years later, a cynic could view that obsession as a passing fad from a bygone era. MORE marks the beginning of a new era, the maturity of integrated software. No longer is software integration pursued for its own sake, only where the merger brings tangible new possibilities to computer users.

Choosing to integrate graphics with idea processing is a bold move, and in my mind much less obvious than integrating graphics with a spreadsheet. Living Videotext should be applauded for their insight.

MORE has three modes: text (or outline, if you insist), bullet chart (an improvement over the "slide show" feature in ThinkTank 512), and tree chart. The tree chart must be seen to be believed - try Figure 4 for starters. LVT promotes their graphics for presenting ideas to others. Given the current interest in Desktop Publishing, this approach is sure to be a hit.

The graphic view can also give the original idea organizer added insight into how the ideas fit together into a cohesive whole. Perhaps, in the long run, this aspect of integrated graphics will prove the more important one. The revolution continues.

C. Superior user-interface

ThinkTank suffered from a user-interface that did not match either the quality or approach of the standard Macintosh interface. In contrast, MORE not only follows the Mac conventions, it sets new standards for future software to imitate.

Unlike ThinkTank, MORE supports the full Mac text editing features, and uses standard windows and tool palettes. To an outsider, these features might sound like trivial issues, but to a true Macintosh believer, they can make or break a software package.

Living Videotext then added features which exemplify the Mac philosophy, though they are not explictly mentioned in Inside Macintosh (the gospel according to Apple). For example, when loading, saving, or printing a file, in addition to the "Now Printing" dialog box to let the user know what the Mac is doing, MORE dynamically "fills up" an icon of the document to give a visual indication of how much has been printed and how much is left. This example is but one of the many small improvements which combine to make MORE a real step forward.

Finally, MORE offers an unprecedented amount of keyboard control for the mouse-based Macintosh. It is time to stop debating over which is "better", the mouse or the keyboard, MORE provides both. In addition to keyboard equivalents for common commands and cursor movement (some of which other companies provide in their software), MORE allows direct keyboard access to every single menu, and most dialog box options. To the best of my knowledge, NO other Macintosh software package provides these capabilities! In the future, I hope all of them will. Long live the revolution.

V. Conclusion

Idea processing is an important category of software that has been handicapped by its fuzzy nature. If I haven't clearly explained what it is all about, I hope to have at least sparked people's interest. Integrated graphics, for enhanced clarity and presentation, marks a new level of maturity within this software genre.

Living Videotext virtually created this software category, then brought it to its new level. MORE will never sell as many copies as Lotus 1-2-3, but I see it as equally revolutionary - and for the same three reasons. Without knowing it, I have waited a long time for idea processing and idea presentation. Now I can hardly wait for the next generation.

Copyright 1987 by Scott S. Lawton, All Rights Reserved.

Questions? Email

Original article from 1987; posted August 4, 1999; updated June 4, 2004; title tag fixed March 10, 2008.