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The Intran Story
(as told by those who were there)

Curator's Summary

An Interview with Bill Lubanovic

Larry Lukis on Intran, Lasermaster, TyRego and more

See our Video on the Intran Metaform system in action


Curator's summary

Intran was one of the first companies to marry the technologies of the personal workstation having a high resolution display, mouse and graphical user interface (the Three Rivers PERQ), with the brand new technology of laser printing (in this case the Xerox 9700 and smaller proof printers). Several companies came out of Intran including Elixir, TyRego, LaserMaster and others.

Bruce Damer

An Interview with Bill Lubanovic
(Originally from April 2000 and ongoing)

At 12:22 AM 4/8/00 -0500, you wrote:
Hello, Bruce,

I just ran across your site (http://www.digibarn.com/stories/elixir-story/index.html) while browsing for information on my old company, Intran. I was one of the original developers at Intran, from 1982 until mass layoffs in 1988. I wrote the original Font Builder, MetaComp (a WYSIWYG document editor), graphics and font libraries, drivers, and that sort of thing. This was originally on the PERQ, then on Sun when PERQ started to go beyond the event horizon. The debut of MetaForm was in Chicago in 1982, by coincidence at the time of the original Tylenol poisonings. Other than that scare, it was a great time. Developing graphics applications is a heckuva lot more fun than, say, databases. The Mac and PC have really not come very far in all the time since, although Aqua and Eazel (for Linux) look interesting.

Outside Intran HQ at 7429 Bush Lake Road, Minneapolis, 1984

courtesy of the Intran Online Reunion

I share your love for user interface design, and appreciation of the PARC work (I still have a lot of old PARC preprints). I had not seen the applications you developed at Elixir before. Really nice work! Your current gig at DigitalSpace also sounds cool.

You probably know that Intran had many self-inflicted problems - personalities, politics, money. It was good to read about Basit Hamid and Eric Searle, whom I never saw after their departure. Later, other Intran alumni founded companies like Lasermaster. We all recovered, I think. Now, we only need to deal with the sudden recovery of suppressed memories by stumbling upon sites like yours.

Good luck,
Bill Lubanovic
Mad Scheme Limited

Bruce Damer:

Hello Bill!
What a super surprise to be contacted by a bona fide Intran person! A kindred soul too.. I wrote ElixiFont with careful study of your Font Builder on our running PERQ system.. great work by the way! And all done on hardware that often failed too (like the Alto). Did you work with Hiro Yamaguchi.. Basit brought him on board later on. I also developed ElixiGraphics and the Elixir Desktop (a rendition of the Star metaphors running on a DOS/AT) and plenty of drivers and converters. David Simon wrote our version of Metaform called ElixiForm. I think that Basit always felt that the Intran versions of the products held more pizazz (and their interfaces were I think more innovative, imagine systems using no pulldown menus!). In Elixir we built something much more conservative and in line with Star, Ventura Publisher or Macintosh.

Bill Lubanovic:

Thanks for the kind words on Font Builder. I enjoyed designing and building that.

Hiro wrote the original prototype code. The story I heard was that Hiro had bid on a Xerox proposal some time before, and was given a number of documents on Xerox protocols and file formats. This helped us to write drivers. Hiro was a quiet, gentle fellow.

Some other early Intranners were:

Earnie Stonebraker in the Intran offices. 12/85

courtesy of the Intran Online Reunion

Rich Fanning- My friend and a great developer, who went to Island Graphics after Intran. He developed some cool stuff, including a UI builder driven by a text file. Unfortunately, he died a few years ago.

FormBuilder screen shot

Bob Reents - Wrote Form Builder. I think he and Preksto started at least one other company (Bloc?) to do another form builder.

Deb Schilling - Worked on various parts (Bruce Damer: including FormBuilder). She's now married and living in Indiana; she has some pages at www.bundlings.com.

Graphics Builder screen shot

Nick Nallick - Some Graphics Builder.

Dale Mensch - Wrote the vector Font Builder; now doing Java development in the area. I recently worked with him at WAM!NET. He and Debbie keep in contact with some ex-Intranners.

Tom Brusehaver, Jim Martin, Russ Rhode - Wrote various things.

Peter Preksto - Started the company and concept; I think he got the
original Perqs from Lucasfilm.

Jerry Koch - Left National Computer Systems to found the original Intran, which did form scanning. Funded Preksto's new ideas which became MetaForm and the other products. Eventually he sold off the old part of the business to fund the new part. After losing much money, was later forced out, and wrote a tract called "Chronicle of Carnage".

The Metaform product family and icons designed by Aaron Marcus

Aaron Marcus - An early UI guy, contracted to produce some designs for MetaForm. I think only his icons survived through product development.

Note from Bruce Damer: see his site here and an interview with him here from which we quote the following:

In 1982, I took a deep breath and launched AM+A. Our first project was to design a graphical user interface for Intran's Metaform forms-design software on an advanced Perq high-resolution (100 dpi) workstation. The product rolled out one month before the Apple Lisa was introduced.

Fontbuilder screen shot

Me - Font Builder, libraries (raster editing, font editing, form display list editing, device drivers), MetaComp (Bravo-like WYSIWYG system), various other stuff.

The PERQ T2 running Intran

In later years, Intran went through many management and product changes. Koch and Preksto left. We ported MetaForm to Suns, thanks to a PERQ Pascal-to-C converted that someone had left on a PERQ that I received. Larry Lukis and Mel Newsome left to start LaserMaster when Intran declined to develop Larry's laser printer driver boards and software. I was laid off in 1988, and the company survived in a state of limbo for a long while. Eventually Xerox bought it, and much later discovered that they didn't know what to do with it. Some ex-Intranners were going to have a bonfire last December, but I didn't attend.

Bruce Damer:

I agree with you that there has been next to no progress in UI when considering the variety of approaches of 20 years ago. We worked with Ed Regan, who connected us with the PARC and Star UI approaches in 1988. I wish that the Elixir systems would get some more play in the history (or at least a mention). I was happy when the student John Redant produced the new "bushy family tree" with my help at:

At least the Elixir system was ported to Windows and goes on to this day.. carrying small pieces of the legacies of Intran and Star forward on living systems into the 21st Century. I know that Xerox discontinued Intran/Sun support this past December. I was present at the final demo of the Star system and shared some of our Elixir stuff with Bill English, David
Canfield Smith and David Liddle, all of whom had heard of the project. I keep running into PARC and Star folks, including Ralph Kimball who is a
neighbor here in Boulder Creek.

Bill Lubanovic:

Bruce Damer, DigiBarn Curator's History of Elixir Technologies and its Products

Your Elixir information was very interesting. At the time Basit left, all I heard was the company name. They didn't let the developers out much, so we didn't get to see Elixir at any trade shows. I was always fascinated by the Xerox work and subsequent history. It's too bad that Xerox became the textbook case of missed opportunities. I'll have to send some additions to the tree (like SunWindows and NeWS, and the SPICE-ACCENT-Mach stuff). Time to dig out my old notes.

I still follow UI work as much as I can. My company does web development, which requires working within the restrictions of HTML and DHTML. Developing web site information architecture and navigation is as close as I get to UI design nowadays. I'd like to see more immersive environments, like the 3D things you've been doing.

Bruce Damer:

Say, do you have any Intran screen shots at all.. or manual pages that can be scanned? There deserves to be at least one page on the web featuring the Intran products and I would love to feature it in my list of links. Would you be interested in making such a page? The web is the place of record it seems and to not have material on Intran would be a shame.

Bill Lubanovic:

I'm pretty sure I have a box of stuff. I think some ex-Intranners may even have old Perqs in their basements. I'll look around and scan some things.

Bruce Damer:

My interest in 3D virtual worlds stems from a frustration with the slow pace of innovation in the old windows/icon world. You should try them out sometime, they are truly a frontier for interaction design. These worlds have more than rekindled my interest in computing and UI. Their big difference: they are the first software inhabited by real people. See the Contact Consortium for more info on avatar worlds (www.ccon.org). I am also interested in the digital biota field (www.biota.org).

Bill Lubanovic:

I'm poking around these sites now. Very cool stuff. I got my BS in Biology at Pitt, and worked on my Ph.D. in Physiology at the University of Minnesota. My advisor here was Franz Halberg, who had invented the word "circadian" and ran the Chronobiology Labs. When we lost a lot of funding one year, I left to work in the computer world, quickly ending up at Intran in 1982.

Bruce Damer:

If you are ever out this way (in the mountains near San Jose) please give us a visit!

Bill Lubanovic:

That would be great. And the same to you if you're in the lovely twin cities in Minnesota.

Wonderful fountain pen cursors on Metaform

Larry Lukis on Intran, Lasermaster, Tyrego and more
(Contributed 17 Jun 2003)

I bought the second Intran system ever sold (at least that's what Peter Preksto told me), while at Moore Business Forms Research Center. I think that would have been December... either '82 or '83 - can't be sure. We had too much money left over in our budget at year-end and decided to spend $50k on this really cool font editing system. We needed bitmap fonts at the time for our ink-jet and other electronic printing system developments. To this day I have never seen a better s/w system demonstration than Peter could give. The system would crash 5 time during the demo and Peter just kept on going a mile-a-minute. "If it doesn't crash, it's not state-of-the-art" he would say. Intran replaced the system I don't know how many times because it kept dying.

Based on my input wrt/the Perq problems, I was invited to join Intran as "hardware engineering manager" I think. I took the job and we developed a PC card which went in a PC/AT which had faster memory-to-screen RasterOp than the Perq. Intran never commercialized it. Financial troubles came to a head, new managment, bigger problems. I left and started LaserMaster with Mel Newsome (later Mel Masters).

At LaserMaster we first developed laser printer controller cards, but later designed a new version of IBM/PC/AT display card (called the RasterMaster), which we supplied to TyRego. Eventually I think we sold the design and the rights to them, and the money came in very handy at the time.

LaserMaster is a whole 'nother saga, but I left 5 years ago or so and started The Protomold Company, where we have developed proprietary software for the design and manufacture of injection molds which we use to kick the butts of the rest of the industry which doesn't have it.

Thanks Larry - Bruce.

Feel free to contact Larry at this email address: larryl@protomold.com. Where is Larry now? At Protomold, check out what they do at http://www.protomold.com.

Other Intran Resources at the DigiBarn:

See our Video on the Intran Metaform system in action

See our Intran Metaform and other product userguides.

See our Intran "butterfly" Ad.

See our Intran Metaform Brochure.

See our Xerox Intran Edition brochures.

See our Three Rivers PERQ T2 which runs Intran!

See our telling of the Elixir story, one company which came directly out of Intran and also see our story of its products.

The Xerox 9700 Electronic Printing System

Intran resources from around the web:

Bundlings (Debbie Schilling) Intran Online Reunion site


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