Archy is a software system whose user interface poses a radically different approach for interacting with computers with respect to traditional graphical user interfaces. Designed by human-computer interface expert Jef Raskin, it embodies his ideas and established results about human-centered design described in his book The Humane Interface. These ideas include content persistence, modelessness, a nucleus with commands instead of applications, navigation using incremental text search, and a zooming user interface (ZUI). The system was being implemented at the Raskin Center for Humane Interfaces under Raskin's leadership. Since his death in February 2005 the project is being continued by his team.
Archy in large part builds on Raskin's earlier work with the Apple Macintosh, Canon Cat, and SwyftWare, and can be described as a combination of Canon Cat's text processing functions with a modern ZUI. Archy is more radically different from established systems than are Sun Microsystems' Project Looking Glass and Microsoft Research's "Task Gallery" prototype. While these systems build upon the WIMP desktop paradigm, Archy design begins from a clean slate.
Archy used to be called The Humane Environment ("THE"). On January 1, 2005, Raskin announced the new name, and that Archy would be further developed by the non-profit Raskin Center for Humane Interfaces. The name "Archy" is a play on the Center's acronym, R-CHI. It is also an allusion to Don Marquis' archy and mehitabel poetry. Jef Raskin jokingly stated: "Yes, we named our software after a bug. (a cockroach), further playing with the meaning of bugs in software.
The plan includes making the interface as "modeless" as possible, to avoid mode errors and encourage habituation. In order to achieve this, modal features of current graphical user interfaces, like windows and separate software applications, are removed.
A main feature of the interface is the Leaping, a means of moving on-screen via incremental text-search. The system provides two commands, Leap-forward and Leap-backward, invoked through dedicated keys, that move the cursor to the next and prior position that contains the search string. Leaping is performed as a quasimode operation: press the Leap key and, while holding it, type the text that you want to search; finally release the Leap key. This process is intended to habituate the user and turn cursor positioning into a reflex.
Leaping to document landmarks such as next or previous word, line, page, section, and document amounts to leaping to Space, New line, Page, and Document characters, which are inserted using the Spacebar, Enter, Page and Document keys respectively. On a standard computer keyboard, Archy uses the Alt keys as Leap keys, Backquote (`) as a Document character and Tilde (~) as a Page character.
The cursor can still be moved forward and back by one character using the Left and Right arrow keys, and the text can be scrolled up and down by one line using the Up and Down arrow keys. This is known as Creeping.
To use a command the user types the command name while holding down the command key (the caps-lock key). Most command names are filled in automatically, so the user needs to type only until the full name appears.
Since a command can be used anywhere, applications are obsolete as the core of the interface's design. Installing a new package of commands provides a functionality related to their common task. In this way, the user is not restricted to the closed environment of a single application in order to use these functions. Rather, the API is exposed to the user so that these functions can be used system-wide and combined in ways unforeseen by the designer. Ideally, commands could be installed in the system one by one, so that users can acquire and install only what they need.
Many commands operate on selected areas of text. Selections are displayed by using a background color. Several selections can be active at once, and the color of a given old selection changes as newer selections are made. For example, to send an e-mail message, you might type and select the text of the message, type and select the address of the recipient, and invoke the SEND MAIL command.
Archy's Zooming User Interface (ZUI) element is called Zoomworld. It is a spatial, non-windowing interface: an infinite plane expanding in all directions and zoomable to infinite detail. Extra information on an item is provided by "flying" closer to inspect it, and the destinations of hyperlinks are inserted in-place instead of being represented by textual reference. Browsing in this Zoomworld can be done with a mouse; leap functions are used as a search facility.
Project members claim that a similar, but limited, zooming interface was tested in real world applications with remarkable success. With a single minute of training, novices were competent and comfortable with the system. Of course computer experts took a little longer since they had more to unlearn. The zooming hospital information system is described in "The Humane Interface" including some screen shots.