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November 20, 2017

To Log or To Sign

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

I first say the term on the old What’s My Line game show, which you can still watch on YouTube. The celebrity panelists were blindfolded. The announcer said, “Mystery guest, sign in please!” And you saw someone off camera write their signature on a chalkboard (this is in the early era of television). The studio audience would hoot and applaud, because they could see who it was. Then you saw and, O, it was delightful.

Signing-in was something you might have done every so often back in the old days. You’d sign a registry at a wedding or sign a guestbook at a museum or church. It was a physical act: You picked up a pen and signed your name.

When computers first came about, you didn’t “sign in.” You didn’t “log in,” either. The early microcomputers of the late 1970s were single-user systems. You turned the thing on. You ran a program. You were done.

On more sophisticated systems, such as the early Internet (ARPAnet) I used, you had to sign in, but we used the term log in. One word, login, was the name of the prompt or name of your account. Two words was the verb, log-in, though no one paid attention to grammar. “Did you use your login to login?”

You had to log-in to use the system. Multiple users needed password-protection, which is a core feature of any multi-user computer system. I had a login on the Xenix system I managed at the publishing house where I worked.

You never had to log into (there’s another variation of the verb) DOS or the early versions of Windows. Again, the system was single-user, so logging in didn’t make sense.

Then came Windows 95.

Windows 95 sported a login prompt. And the reaction was overwhelming: People despised the login prompt. In fact, most of my books from the period had directions on how to disable the prompt, not because I thought it was a good idea but because users did not want a login prompt. Still, when I wrote about disabling the prompt, I admonished my readers to get used to it because logging in would be a necessity in the future.

Today, people won’t whine about logging in, mostly because you log into everything: The computer, your email account, online accounts, social networking, and it’s a long list. But the issue is whether you’re logging in or signing in.

I believe Windows 8 initiated the sign-in prompt instead of login. Why they made the change, I don’t know. The “log” from login had to do with the various logs on a multiuser computer. One log tracked users, so in effect you were making a log entry when you logged into the computer. Log-in, log-out.

Signing-in is weird. What are you signing? Why, you’re signing the log!

Computers just don’t make sense.

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