The History of the Escape Key

The New York Times provides some fascinating history behind the “Escape” key, ubiquitous on computer keyboards:

The key was born in 1960, when an I.B.M. programmer named Bob Bemer was trying to solve a Tower of Babel problem: computers from different manufacturers communicated in a variety of codes. Bemer invented the ESC key as way for programmers to switch from one kind of code to another. Later on, when computer codes were standardized (an effort in which Bemer played a leading role), ESC became a kind of “interrupt” button on the PC — a way to poke the computer and say, “Cut it out.”

Why “escape”? Bemer could have used another word — say, “interrupt” — but he opted for “ESC,” a tiny monument to his own angst. Bemer was a worrier. In the 1970s, he began warning about the Y2K bug, explaining to Richard Nixon’s advisers the computer disaster that could occur in the year 2000. Today, with our relatively stable computers, few of us need the panic button. But Bob Frankston, a pioneering programmer, says he still uses the ESC key. “There’s something nice about having a get-me-the-hell-out-of-here key.”

Will the keyboard come with computers in ten to fifteen years?

Is the PC Over?

Jeff Atwood responds to MG Siegler’s post whose argument is that the PC is over:

I have an iPhone 5, and I can personally attest that it is crazy faster than the old iPhone 4 I upgraded from. Once you add in 4G, LTE, and 5 GHz WiFi support, it’s so fast that – except for the obvious size limitations of a smaller screen – I find myself not even caring that much if I get the “mobile” version of websites any more. Even before the speed, I noticed the dramatically improved display. AnandTech says that if the iPhone 5 display was a desktop monitor, it would be the best one they had ever tested. Our phones are now so damn fast and capable as personal computers that I’m starting to wonder why I don’t just use the thing I always have in my pocket as my “laptop”, plugging it into a keyboard and display as necessary.

So maybe MG Siegler is right. The PC is over … at least in the form that we knew it. We no longer need giant honking laptop and desktop form factors for computers any more than we need entire rooms and floors of a building to house mainframes and minicomputers.

They’re both right and wrong. Yes, we can do sophisticated tasks on our phones, and yes, my iPhone and iPad have become technologies which I use for browsing photos, sending email, checking out blogs. But the desktop remains the core for something that I can’t do on an iPad or iPhone: photo editing. Even as mobile versions of Photoshop and other photo software products exist, they pale in comparison to being able to edit images on the big screen (I have a 27 inch iMac). I am still waiting for the retina display iMac, one that will allow me to see the 5,616 × 3,744 resolution images coming from my Canon 5D Mark II without downsizing. I believe we’ll be there in one to two years.