Friday, January 8, 2010

Why Do They Call It a "Dashboard"?

Earlier today, a co-worker was explaining a new online process for our personnel to use in accessing and tracking budget information. The new finance program, FE, uses an online dashboard. This co-worker did an excellent job of explaining how to use the process but then posed the question, Why do they call it a dashboard? I wish I knew. He quoted the definition from Wikipedia which only referenced the Dashboard module of the Macintosh operating system (OS X). Since I had struggled with the concept, I thought I might be of some help.

He said it helped him. So, perhaps, though not running related, this will help someone else. Here's my response to him:
More, I'm sure, than you want to know -- way more -- but when I saw the trailer on your note [his question and the Wikipedia definition], my geek side kicked in. This is a layman's understanding and may not be a technical explanation:

"Dashboard" was a confusing term when I first encountered it in computer usage. It helped me to think about the dashboard in a vehicle. It contains gauges or lights that give the driver information about the state of the vehicle -- speed, miles, RPM's, heat, fuel remaining. Newer or more expensive vehicles give even more information -- my daughter's Civic tells her when to change her oil; my mother-in-law's Buick shows her the air pressure in her tires and real time MPG. The dashboard also contains some "items" that are interactive, allowing the driver to control various aspects of the vehicle -- cruise control buttons, audio system controls, HVAC controls, One Star controls, etc.

In computer terms, dashboard is used in the same sense and it's used in a lot more instances than just the Mac OS X. For instance, web hosting sites use the term dashboard or control panel to talk about a web page where a user goes to get information about or to manage his/her account. The page will most often display icons that link to pages relating to various aspects of ones accounts. For instance, for the [regional] web site, my dashboard/control panel shows how much of my allotted disk space I've used, how many e-mail accounts I've set up, and icons for setting up e-mail accounts, setting up automatic forwarding, managing FTP sites, controlling filtering, managing files on the server, etc.

Every person who has a gmail account has a Google dashboard, that gives the user information about the overall account and allows him or her to manage settings for various accounts (Gmail, Calendar, Analytics, Blogger, Picasa Web Albums, Web History, etc.) under their Google account umbrella. Those who have a Blogger account (another Google "service") have a dashboard that shows all the blogs that one is managing and allows one to customize the appearance of the blog, manage settings, post/edit blog entries, etc.

In the Mac OS X, the dashboard is the virtual desktop that, when activated, shows mini-programs (widgets) that do various things. Though I can't recall the term that Microsoft uses, Vista has a similar functionality with some differences in implementation. On my Mac laptop, I have a bunch of those widgets installed: a program that shows the status of my battery, one that shows the status of my network connections and the heat output of various components of my laptop, one that gives baseball scores and division standings, one that shows the weather, one that shows keyboard shortcuts, one that will compute my running pace, etc. So, the concept is the same as Google or web hosting dashboards -- the dashboard contains programs that either give information or allow the user to manage various aspects of the computer.

Sounds like FE has adopted that usage of the term, dashboard. The dashboard is where the user gets information and manages, in this case, reports related to his/her finance account with the company.

Ahh. Forgive me. Now back to real work. :-D
There you have it. I hope that's helpful to someone. Now I really do need to get back to real work. I'd rather be running.

Run well, y'all,
Bob
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