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STARFIRE   A Vision of Future Computing

In 1992, I launched a project at Sun Microsystems in an effort to both predict and guide the future of computing. It drew together the talents of more than 100 engineers, designers, futurists, and filmakers.

The output of this effort was threefold:

  1. Starfire, the Movie, showing a day in the life of a knowledge worker in the far-off distant year, 2004.

  2. Starfire, the Book, entitled Tog on Software Design, which not only covers the film in intimate detail, but lays out several more equally thought-provoking scenarios developed during the initial phase of the project.

  3. Starfire, the Paper, originally published in CHI Proceedings, outlining the rules we followed in attempting to build a scientifically accurate video prototype.

In March 2009, Popular Science Magazine reported on a new video Microsoft had just released showing life in the year 2019: "The 2019 Microsoft details with this video is almost identical to the 2004 predicted in this video produced by Sun Microsystems in 1992."

Starfire, the Movie

See the entire film in full digital quality. (Run time: 12 minutes. Size: 247MB) This video does not stream; it's a download so you may keep it in your personal library, should you choose.

"Julie was looking forward to a good day until Michael O'Connor tried to deep-six her sports car project. Now, only her team, scattered around the world, can save her..."

The film, developed in 1992, predicted the explosive growth of the world wide web at a time before graphical web browsers even existed. Starfire: The Directors' Cut explores in candid detail a technological future based on industry cooperation, human-centered design, and the continued presence of bad guys.

Requires Quicktime. For a free download:

  • Scenes from Starfire

Quick takes for those on slow connections.

    Texture mapping of information from a 2-D video onto a 3-D mannequin
    Boardroom scene
    with telepresence and wireless cyberspace searching

  • "The Making of Starfire" in Mpeg 4

"The Making of Starfire." (run time: 7 minutes. Size: 112MB) gave me the opportunity to talk more about our vision. Yes, in this seven-minute film, there are some glances into how we pulled things off, but this short film let me speak about aspects of the technologies we were predicting that were difficult to communicate through the original film. Some of it you may find of historical interest and some you will just find comfortably familiar, like the SunPad, now about 25% smaller and called the Apple iPad, while other ideas still await inevitable adoption.

  • The Annotated Starfire Script

To see "inside" the Starfire film, click for "The Starfire Script."

Starfire, The Book

Tog on Software Design

Book cover2 "Tog takes us on an extraordinary journey as software design crawls out of the operating system of computers and on to the landscape of networks and new media content. He is a gifted hands-on designer who weaves a very compelling story." --John Sculley, former CEO, Apple Computer, Inc.

I wanted to call the book, Starfire, but my publisher insisted on incorporating my name. When people want to title books with my name, I grow weak in my argument.

The book covers a great deal of research that preceded creating the movie. You can look over the shoulders of Sun's engineers, designers, and futurists as they develop a common understanding of societal trends, then begin to envision future technology in areas as diverse as city planning, business, and education.

Check out this excerpt from the book: The Coming Decade to see how well I did at predicting, or, for further description, reviews, or to special order a copy, check out the Tog on Software Design page at

Starfire, the Paper

"The 'Starfire' Video Prototype Project: A Case History"

Our team set out to explore both the good and bad sides of what we predicted would be an explosive growth in networked computing. Our methodology was simple: Write a story that would force us to develop new, more efficient ways for users to get their work done. Having developed the best solutions we could, "tighten" the story so that users had to get things done even faster and under worse conditions. Continue looping until ideas (and designers) were exhausted.

Have a look at "The 'Starfire' Video Prototype Project" paper to get a more detailed view of how you can develop video prototypes that are both predictive and challenging to your development team.

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