"OK, what's the first thing you need to make a daiquiri?"
The young woman smiles expectantly from the computer screen, a full-service bar behind her. The computer screen fades to an array of bottles. A viewer touches a rum bottle's image. The computer beeps. The woman fades back in.
"That's right, you need rum," she nods. "How much do you need?" Fade to a screenfull of choices: .5 ounce, 1 ounce, 1.5 ounces.
Finger touches screen -- 1 ounce. Beep.
"I'm afraid that's the wrong amount of rum," -- still smiling -- "remember, I told you 1.5 ounces?"
More choices, more beeps.
"All the correct ingredients are now in the shaker," the woman finally says. "Now what do you do?"
Screen fades to: Stir? Shake? Pour?
Touch the screen. Beep.
"Right you are. I'll shake it up for you now. And we serve it in a stemmed cocktail glass.
"Not bad," she winks, taking a sip. "You'd make a pretty good bartender."
The application may be trivial, but this computer-based, interactive teaching program, one of a few in the public domain, represents the future for companies whose interests range from computers to video technology.
The technology is called multimedia -- next-generation computer simulation that simultaneously uses graphics, text, images, motion video and sound. It can be used to teach anything from medical mathematics to how to run a steamship boiler room, and the potential market for such "courseware" exceeds $1 billion, industry experts say.
But training and education is just one application, and companies across a staggering range of industries -- marketing and advertising, home entertainment, telecommunications, data processing, viewphone-type electronic communication -- have a chance to get in on the ground floor of this next frontier in computer technology.
"Every single federal computer workstation will be a multimedia workstation in the future," says Dr. Lawrence Welsch, manager of the Office Systems Engineering Group, Systems and Software Technology Division of the National Institute of Standards and Techology. "Multimedia will become the standard for the desktop."
One of the largest initial markets for companies in the multimedia industry will be the federal government. At the departments of Labor and Education, for example, interactive multimedia systems already are being developed as curriculum packages for schools nationwide, and to train federal employees.
Experts at the Department of Defense, which for years has usedinteractive computer-based training, are transferring several such programs to the private sector. One is the Job Skills Education Program, called JSEP, created by the Army to help recruits qualify for technical schools. This computer-managed instruction program will be used in adult education centers and elsewhere to educate illiterate adults.
And there's more good news for multimedia entrepreneurs. Only a few courseware programs are now or will soon be on the market. One, called Perseus (see story at right), contains Ancient Greek texts and translations, and color video maps with still and moving images of sites all over Greece.
Another is "Windows on Science," a videodisk curriculum adopted in August by the state of Texas, the first state to adopt such
a curriculum as an alternative to recommended textbooks.
But several technical hurdles remain before multimedia technology make inroads into the marketplace. A major barrier is known as "portability," the ability to use multimedia software on any computer, video or audio system regardless of the manufacturers.
The daiquiri program, for instance, runs on an IBM computer hooked to computing and video components made by Sony and Visage. Next to this array -- collectively known as a computer platform -- is an Apple computer hooked to AT&T and Panasonic components. But the daiquiri program software can't move from one multimedia system to another without software changes.
To make such complex software portable requires development of a "standard" computer architecture (the organizational structure of a computing system) for computer-based multimedia.
A good example of this kind of standard is in the electronics industry, which early in the development of the audio equipment market reached a consensus on standard connectors to be used for audio components such as amplifiers, speakers, tuners, turntables and tape players. These standards allow virtually any brand of speaker or other component to work in any brand of amplifier.
At the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, scientists in NIST's National Computer Systems Laboratory are working with experts from industry and the departments of Defense, Education and Labor to make such software compatible with -- or portable to -- a variety of computer platforms.