Breakthrough software could transform school computing

Four primary schools are now piloting a new software program containing a few hundred thousand lines of computer code that could revolutionize the way people interact with computers, say the software’s unlikely inventor and his backers.

Denny Jaeger, a musician and composer who spent the past decade developing the software, unveiled it to the general public Jan. 15. Educators and other users can download a scaled-down version for free. The public then can decide whether Jaeger is a trailblazing whiz–or a grandiose flop.

A complete software package will be available Feb. 16 for $299.

The software, called “No Boundaries Or Rules,” or NBOR, includes an intuitive user interface for writing, drawing, compiling multimedia presentations, and other PC tasks. It allows for real-time collaboration and is able to send large files over the internet at lightning speed.

The cornerstone of NBOR is “Blackspace,” or software for word processing, desktop publishing, slideshow presentation, graphics, drawing, animations, audio, photo cropping, instant messaging, and real-time conferencing.

Opening Blackspace results in a blank canvas where users arrange text or create sophisticated visual displays with only a few clicks and drags of a mouse–without ever using the pull-down menus, icons, margins, tabs, and fonts of Microsoft Word and other current word-processing systems.

Canvases can be saved as common document titles, such as “schoolreport.doc ,” or as a symbol, such as a star, logo, photo, or dot. Instead of sending all the data over the internet, the creator can send just the symbol alone, which would take only seconds using even a dial-up connection.

If the recipient has NBOR, he need only click on the symbol and the complete file will rebuild itself in the recipient’s Blackspace, thanks to 500,000 lines of complicated code that Jaeger and eight developers abroad spent two years writing.

Jaeger, who began his career in advertising and arranged music for Dr. Pepper and hundreds of other commercials, is somewhat at a loss to explain his software in lay terms. “The code is like a pot of goo, and you simply have to say, ‘Poof,’ and whatever you want comes out of it,” he told reporters.

NBOR chairman John Doyle, a former executive vice president at Hewlett-Packard Co. and head of HP Labs, said NBOR–a virtual company loosely based in the San Francisco area–would first target education and small-business markets.

Four primary schools now use NBOR in pilot programs, including Quest Academy, a private school for gifted children in Palatine, Ill.

“It took me about a half-hour to wrap my brain around it, but after I took a leap of faith, I said, ‘Wow. I can’t imagine not using this,'” said Ann Hamel, director of academic technology for Quest, where 300 students from kindergarten through eighth grade have been using NBOR since October.

A Quest sixth grader recently created a sophisticated multimedia presentation on Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn in Blackspace, including a map of the Mississippi River with drawings and text that pop up over different ports.

NBOR works on PCs and tablets using Windows 2000 and XP. Versions for Linux and Macintosh will come later this year.

It’s unclear whether the software will succeed broadly, particularly in the more lucrative corporate niche, where millions of people use Microsoft Office for programs NBOR hopes to replace.

“If this software does what it promises, there could be a market for it because people are always looking for better mousetraps,” said Al Napier, professor of management and psychology at Rice University and an expert in computer-human interface. “But people seem to be comfortable with what’s already out there, and a lot of people don’t have any problem with Microsoft Office, which is in fact improving.”

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Quest Academy

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