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METHOD AND SYSTEM FOR DISPLAYING
STATUS OF CRITICAL INDICATORS ON
DIVERSE DISPLAY DEVICES
This application is related to the following copending U.S. Patent Applications, filed on even date herewith: Ser. No. 09/548,694 entitled "Method and System for Displaying Status of Critical Indicators on Diverse Display Devices and Indicating Changes in Status" by MacPhail, and Ser. No. 09/548,695 entitled "Method and System for Displaying Status of Critical Indicators on Diverse Display Devices and Indicating a History of Status Changes" by MacPhail.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
1. Field of the Invention
This invention relates to information display, and more particularly to a method and system for displaying the status of variables, or indicators, on diverse display devices. This method may be useful for multiple applications involving information display, including, for example, platform management in heterogeneous systems.
2. Description of the Related Art
The following descriptions and examples are not admitted to be prior art by virtue of their inclusion within this section.
The continuing proliferation of powerful, convenient computational devices has been accompanied by an increase in the use of networks connecting these devices. Computational devices include computers and other, often portable, devices such as wireless telephones, personal digital assistants (PDA's), automobile-based computers and appliancebased computers. Such computational devices are also sometimes termed "pervasive devices". "Computer", as used herein, may refer to any of such computational devices. The networks connecting computational devices may be "wired" networks, formed using "land lines" such as copper wire or fiber optic cable, wireless networks employing earth and/or satellite-based wireless transmission links, or combinations of wired and wireless network portions. Networked computational devices are increasingly configured with the ability to interact and communicate with one another. For example, electronic mail may currently be sent to some wireless telephones and pagers, and PDA's may be used to access some Internet and World Wide Web (or "web") sites.
Many network-based applications involve monitoring variables of interest, which may be called "critical indicators". For example, a system administrator for a computer system or network may need to monitor variables such as transaction rates, application program status, and disk space availability. Such variables may be considered critical indicators in that they are important indicators of the health of the system or network. Alternatively, an investor may wish to monitor a variable such as a stock price, and may particularly want to be alerted if the price rises above or falls below a particular critical value. Entertainment-oriented applications may also involve monitoring of critical indicators. For example, a horse-racing enthusiast may wish to know whether a particular race has started or finished, and/or whether a particular horse has placed above or below a particular level. Monitoring of such critical indicators using a computational device is typically done through a graphical user interface (GUI) on the device's display screen. Many different display formats are possible. For example, a bar graph could be used to indicate values of various indicators, where the heights of the bars vary with time to follow the indicator values. Icons representing each indicator may also
be displayed on a screen, where selection of an icon by a user results in a text display containing information regarding the status of the indicator. To indicate when a variable has crossed a threshold value, various methods may be used,
5 such as changing the shape or color of an icon representing the variable, or not displaying an icon unless the corresponding variable has crossed a threshold value.
The above-described methods of monitoring critical indicators may result in difficulties, however, for users of diverse
1° computational devices having varying display screen capabilities. The trend in size and capability of such display screens often depends upon whether the device is fixed or portable. For example, displays associated with desktop computers are generally getting larger, to provide ease of
15 viewing and/or accommodate increasingly complex applications and operating systems. Such displays typically have a wide range of colors available, as well. On the other hand, displays associated with portable devices such as wireless telephones and PDA's are small and often getting smaller, to
20 enhance, e.g., portability and battery life. These small displays also tend to be monochrome displays rather than color, because of cost, resolution and power considerations. Although not necessarily portable, displays included in automobiles or appliances may also be small monochrome
25 displays, to keep costs down and avoid taking space needed for other functions of the system. This variation in display size and capability for different computational devices means that a GUI which allows effective monitoring of critical indicators when a system administrator's console is
30 used may be very difficult to use when connected remotely with a cellular telephone. For example, text descriptions or icon variations easily understood using a large display may be indistinguishable on a small one. Differences in color used to distinguish, e.g., threshold crossings of variables are
35 naturally not effectively discerned on a monochrome display.
One approach to the problems presented by differing display capabilities would be to use different representations of critical indicators to be monitored on different displays,
40 with more complex (and possibly more complete) representations used for higher-capability displays. Such an approach may be disadvantageous, however, in requiring a user of multiple display screens to become familiar with multiple representations of the monitored indicators. Use of
45 multiple representations may make it more difficult to develop a desirable intuitive feel for any one representation. It would therefore be desirable to develop a method and system of monitoring critical indicators which may be effectively used on displays having diverse sizes and capa
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
The problems outlined above are in large part addressed by a method and system in which icons representing critical
55 indicators are displayed in superposition with a reference shape. The reference shape is divided into "higher-interest" and "lower-interest" portions, such that display of an icon over the higher-interest portion of the reference shape indicates a higher-interest value of the corresponding variable.
60 In the case of a system administration application, for example, display of an icon over the higher-interest portion may indicate that the value of the corresponding variable has crossed a threshold into a range associated with a performance problem for the system or network. For a stock
65 monitoring application, display of an icon over the higherinterest portion could indicate, for example, that the price of the corresponding stock has crossed a "buy" or "sell"
threshold preset by the user. In the case of the horse-racing example mentioned above, display of an icon over the higher-interest portion may indicate, for example, that a corresponding race is currently underway, or that a particular horse corresponding to the icon has placed at or above a 5 preset level (e.g., second place) in its most recent race.
The reference shape is preferably elongated horizontally, and an upper portion of the shape is typically designated as the higher-interest portion, while the lower portion of the shape is designated the lower-interest portion. In one pre- 10 ferred embodiment, the reference shape is an elongated oval. Multiple icons, corresponding to multiple monitored variables, may be displayed over the reference shape. Each monitored variable is preferably allocated a vertical "slice" of the reference shape, such that the position of the corre- ^ sponding icon when the variable is in the higher-interest state is laterally aligned with (i.e., along the same vertical line as) the position of the icon when the variable is in the lower-interest state. In some embodiments, a single icon representing the present status of the corresponding variable 2o is positioned over either the higher-interest or lower-interest portion of the reference shape. Alternatively, two icons may be used for each variable, where one is positioned over the higher-interest portion and the other over the lower-interest portion. In such an embodiment, the icon representing the 25 present value of the variable is given a distinctive appearance, such as being displayed with a higher contrast.
Use of the reference shape to indicate the status (higherinterest or lower-interest) of a monitored variable is believed to confer several advantages. The relatively large size of the 30 reference shape (it may be scaled to essentially fill a display, if desired) is believed to make the status of the monitored variables visible at a glance, even on a small display. Because the status is indicated by position of the icon, differences in individual icon characteristics such as color or 35 shape, which may be difficult to discern on a small and/or monochrome display, need not be relied upon. Since detailed icon structures are therefore not necessary, the representation of the monitored variables may be implemented using a relatively simple reference shape and simple icon geom- 40 etries (such as simple shapes). This simplicity may allow the representation to be scaled to small sizes without loss of information content. In this way, the same representation may be used on displays for diverse computational devices, freeing the user from the need to use different representa- 45 tions on different displays, and freeing application developers from the need to develop multiple representations. Cross-platform interoperability may therefore be enhanced.
In addition to providing a rapid indication of the status of a monitored variable, the representation described above 50 may include a method of indicating that the status of the variable has changed, from higher-interest to lower-interest or vice versa. The status change may be indicated by changing the appearance of the icon corresponding to the present status of a monitored variable. For example, the icon 55 may be made to blink, or to move back and forth. Such a change in appearance is typically implemented for a predetermined period of time following the change of status, where the time period may be set by an application developer and/or a user. Such an indication that the status of a 60 variable has changed is believed to be advantageous in situations for which rapid action is required in response to changes in monitored variables. As in the case of other aspects of the display representation described above, this change in icon appearance is believed to be conveniently 65 observed, even on low-capability displays. The time at which a status change occurs may also be stored and
provided to a viewer through a GUI implementing the display representation described herein. In an embodiment, the time of the status change may be shown on the display screen during the time period of the above-described icon appearance change. Alternatively, the time may be displayed in response to a user selection of the icon corresponding to the present status of the variable. Display of the time at which a status change occurs may be important in, for example, allowing an assessment of the potential effects of the status change.
In some applications, it is desirable to know not just the time of the most recent status change of a variable, but a history of multiple status changes. Stock prices, for example, may cross a threshold value in different directions numerous times a day. The same is true of certain computer system and network quantities, depending on, for example, the degree of utilization of the system or network. As an example, a person providing technical support for a computer network may receive a report of a particular failure, but then not be able to locate a problem. A history of status changes of critical network indicators during the time elapsed since the failure could help in comparing the situation at the time of the failure and that at the time of the diagnosis attempt. In an embodiment of the methods described herein, the above-described representation of critical indicator status using a reference shape is combined with storage of information relating to each crossing of a monitored variable between its higher-interest and lower-interest ranges. The information may include, for example, the time and direction of each crossing, and/or a description of a particular event associated with the crossing. The stored information may then be displayed as a history of the status changes of a given monitored variable. Such a history is typically displayed in response to a user selection of the corresponding icon.
An embodiment of a system for transferring information within a client/server network includes a display controller operably coupled to a display screen. The display controller is adapted to display a reference shape on the display screen, as well as a superimposed present status icon corresponding to the present status of a monitored variable. The display controller is further adapted to position the present status icon over a first portion of the reference shape when the present value of the monitored variable is within a higherinterest range, or over a second portion of the reference shape when the present value of the variable is within a lower-interest range. The system may further include a storage medium operably coupled to the display controller, where the storage medium is adapted to store information relating to the higher-interest and lower-interest ranges. The display controller, storage medium and display screen may or may not all be associated with the same computational device. In an embodiment, the display controller and storage medium are associated with one device, while the display screen is on a different device.
In embodiments of the system, the display controller may be further adapted to change the appearance of the present status icon for a predetermined time interval after a crossing of the corresponding variable between the higher-interest range and lower-interest range has occurred. Alternatively or in addition, the display controller may be adapted to display information regarding the time of such a crossing, and the storage medium may be adapted to store this time-related information. In some embodiments, the display controller may be further adapted to display a history of status changes of the monitored variable, where the history includes a time of each crossing between the higher-interest and lower