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From Jeff Smith <>
Subject Re: [OT] orthogonal?
Date Tue, 15 Apr 2003 02:40:43 GMT
Finally a question on this list I feel confident in answering. :-)

Two concepts or issues are referred to as "orthogonal" when they do not
influence one another or more specifically - when issues in one domain do
not effect anything in the other domain.

Taking a real-world example, you might say that two concepts like gender and
hair-color are orthogonal, whereas gender and height would not be (men
tending to be taller than women).

The term originates (at least in my world-experience-view) from the field of
vector algebra, in which vectors which are at right angles to each other are
termed "orthogonal". Consider the x axis and y axis vectors. No amount of
adding multiples of the x-direction unit vector to another quantity will
ever effect its Y axis value. (Had to put that in for all us math geeks.)

In the math world, the opposite of "orthogonal" would be "parallel". And in
the generic sense in which you're asking, the opposite might better be
termed "overlapping". A compiler and an image editor might be orthogonal
software systems, whereas a text editor and a word processor would be
overlapping. And in the extreme, you might say that MS Word and WordPerfect
are strongly overlapping. (I'm not aware of a better generic term for the
opposite of orthogonal in the non-vector sense. But I'm sure I am about to
be deluged with suggestions. :-)

Hope that explains it for you.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Bill Johnson" <>
To: <>
Sent: Monday, April 14, 2003 8:19 PM
Subject: [OT] orthogonal?

> Excuse my ignorance but what does this mean in
> relation to software and computers?  I see it
> referenced all the time in articles and books and
> wasn't quite sure of it's meaning.
> -Bill
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