bridges vol. 16, December 2007 / News from the Network: Austrian Researchers Abroad
by Walter Minehuber
Interaction with an electronic partner can be complicated. Images in simple Word docs pop up in places where they shouldn't. Excel sheets suddenly calculate functions whose existence one wasn't even aware of. And Photoshop with all its functions still remains a blurry mystery to John Doe. Today's state-of-the-art software can do a lot, but too much sophistication often leads to frustration rather then excitement for the average user, who becomes a regular in the "how to" help section.
Back in 1981 in the town of Ried, Upper Austria, the father of a then 15-year-old boy faced that kind of situation with some software that was supposed to ease his work as a tax consultant - well, at least in theory. Since his son spent most of his free time in front of a Commodore 3032, he asked his offspring: Can you do SOMETHING USEFUL with this thing, such as creating a program to improve my work? His son, Wolfgang Stürzlinger, now associate professor at the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at York University in Toronto, surely could: At the age of 15, he wrote his first commercial software package for his dad, a new tax-consultant program. With easy-to-use functionalities and a user-friendly interface, the software met his father's demands - and apparently also the needs of the rest of the market: By 1989 RZL Software was the leading developer of tax consulting software in Austria, a position it still retains.
Today, Wolfgang Stürzlinger's research interest still focuses on finding solutions for real-world problems with computers, combining the research fields of human-computer interaction, computer supported collaborative work, and virtual reality. As Stürzlinger puts it, "We are still in a state where the computer controls the user, instead of the way it should be: The user controls the computer!"
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