The Graphical User Interface (GUI) has been around since 1981 when Xerox at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) developed it. The Apple Macintosh in 1983 used this interface. The interface then migrated to IBM’s Common User Access specifications and became the basis for IBM’s OS/2 Presentation manager and ultimately for Microsoft’s Windows.
GUI’s greatly improved user productivity with cut and paste and point and click capabilities among others. GUI’s, however, were neither coupled to the application’s underlying data nor the user’s security privileges. If, for example, there was a command button to display customer orders and no customer orders were present then the display button should be deactivated If, on the other hand, there were customer orders but the query was not allowed for reasons of security then the button should be deactivated. If and only if there is both data and the authority to view the data then the button should be activated. This methodology is superior for a number of reasons. First, the user does not click something they cannot see therefore saving time. Second, if the user can view the data and the button is deactivated then the user knows at a glance there is no data present. Third, if a user has clicked a button then the button caption should change so that the user knows they have already viewed this data. This approach helps eliminate confusion about what was viewed and what need to be viewed. Fourth, this approach avoids the time wasted with irritating “No Data Found” or “Access Denied” messages.
The Intelligent GUI also eliminates the problems associated with the case sensitivity of record keys. Record keys are unique identifiers such as Part Numbers, Vendor Numbers, and Order Numbers among others. AMAPS+PLUS forces the alphabetic characters to upper case regardless of the state of the keyboard. This seemingly innocuous feature prevents some very serious problems. Part Number AA 23XX, for example, is not the same as Aa23Xx, which is not the same as AA23xx and so on. Without this feature there is the distinct possibility of data entry errors creating two unique identifiers for the same physical entity i.e. two part numbers for the same physical part. Retrieving an Order This confusion will spread throughout the entire database causing interminable errors and frustrations.
Data accuracy is always a significant issue. Data entry errors are most likely to occur when data is entered via the keyboard. AMAPS+PLUS has four major means of addressing this problem. First, the system maintains MRU (Most Recently Used) lists. The MRU list contains a list of the last 20 records accessed for that particular record key. The list, for example, would remember the last 20 Part numbers used by that person.
Second, AMAPS+PLUS remembers “keys” as one navigates from window to window. A key is a unique identifier of a row of data in a table. If, for example, one were viewing Customer Data then the key would be Customer Number. If one moved to the Window displaying all open customer orders then AMAPS+PLUS would remember the Customer Number. The user would click the display button to see the orders without the need to reenter the Customer Number.
Third, an elegant “find” capability enables you to locate data swiftly based on a number of criteria. If, for example, one wants to find a Customer Number then a number of options are available. You may enter part of the Customer number, the customer’s name or portions of the customer’s name, the SIC Code, the salesman, market code, or Customer Status among others. This find feature enables you to paste the data from the find window into the appropriate location.
Fourth, “find” is also initiated during data maintenance. If, for example, a customer number is not found then AMAPS+PLUS asks if you want to add the customer, find the customer, or cancel and start over. This friendly approach helps ensure that you really want to add the record, or use find or cancel to proceed on.
Throughout AMAPS+PLUS data is entered and displayed in spreadsheets. The use of the spreadsheet metaphor is greatly enhanced via the Intelligent GUI. The data displayed on a spreadsheet may be exported to a tab delimited text file (for Excel), coma separated text file (for Excel or Crystal Reports), Microsoft Word, an HTML (WEB) document for display on the WEB, or an Access Database.
Spreadsheet data may be instantly sorted in either ascending or descending order simply by clicking on the top row of a column. This sorting capability is greatly enhanced since user defined custom sorts can be remembered by user. The data will then be display in the sequence the user has selected.
The user may modify either the column width of the displayed data or whether the data is displayed. This feature coupled with the custom sort capability gives the user exceptional control on how data is displayed.
Whenever possible drop down combo boxes are used for data entry. The user may scroll through the list of enter the first character of the desired value. All the values shown not only in combo boxes but also throughout the AMAPS+PLUS are translated. If, for example, a customer could be assigned to any of four regions the system would display NE = North East, SE = South East, MW = Midwest and W = West. These expanded data descriptions clearly state the value-associated with the abbreviation. If the display is inquiry only then just the translated value is displayed. This capability reduces confusion throughout the organization.
Another handy features is the ability to sum numeric data. A right click on the top row sums the entire column. If a series of rows is highlighted then these rows are summed with a right click. If, for example, one wanted to know the value of the good to be shipped by the end of the month then one could highlight all the appropriate rows and right click for the sum.
Users also have the ability to drill down to see additional detail. Drill downs are ubiquitous throughout AMAPS+PLUS. This technique, for example, is the method used to display documents via Doc-Link.