Twenty years ago, the PC world began a slow but inexorable consolidation around the desktop metaphor—with its files and folders and recycling bins—that now graces practically every computer screen on the planet. The desktop metaphor has served us well, particularly during a period of mass adoption when consolidating around one overarching visual metaphor helped new computer users adapt to life in front of the screen. But that unified approach is starting to fragment. Soon, Apple and Microsoft will need new metaphors for their operating systems.
Is the Computer Desktop an Antique?
Submitted by sunlit mechanism 2002-12-11 Graphics 30 Comments
The requirements for easy organization of data and later access to said data have far exceeded the capabilities of a basic desktop filing metaphor. Apple has take the swift and easy approach: figure out what data average users have the most trouble managing, and make specialized apps to organize and access that data. Microsoft is taking the complicated and hard approach: make a new system that can manage every kind of data. While that’s an admirable goal, I have little faith in Microsoft’s UI designers based on past experience. I think I’ll stick with Apple’s iApps for now. They’re so easy to use a two-year old could figure them out.
While that’s an admirable goal, I have little faith in Microsoft’s UI designers based on past experience. I think I’ll stick with Apple’s iApps for now. They’re so easy to use a two-year old could figure them out.
Agreed, the iApps do a great job of easing managing various types of data, much more so than the task orientation built into Windows XP which will be taken to extremes in Longhorn. I find recent Windows XP users asking me questions which are more or less “What’s with all these new choices that I have to read over everywhere? In Windows 2000 everything was simple, but now I keep having to choose from huge lists of options”
From my experiences people’s take on task orientation has been negative, and nothing more complicated is needed than the dock with straightforward icons and helpful, easy-to-use applications waiting behind those icons.
Oh please, not again… again…
i see no problem with the desktop metaphor . i have a new metaphor that i will probably write about someday, but its more for fun than to be practical =).
Why do they need new metaphors ? Most users at my work have been using Windows since 95 and still don’t even know what their Desktop is.
that the desktop will simply go away. Considering the 2d aspect of computer screens and many different kinds of applications that can be run from a single computer the desktop metaphor still has its advantages.
There was some little Internet Appliance folks that were creating a Mozilla based web interface of interacting with the computer that I have to admit was intriguing. I think I was one of the only people that did not mind some of web-style browser integration Windows did with the desktop when it began the first IE push. The only alternative to the desktop metaphor is an easy to customize sort of home web site approach but how that would work with task switching and multiple apps floating all over and such would be an interesting challenge. The combo thing fell fal for MS but did it fall too quickly?
Are there aspects of that web integrated desktop that can be done in a cool away for end users?
No, not really. The only antique in the computer industry right now is Microsoft. The only problem with terming them “antique” is that antiques generally rise in value, Microsoft won’t.
far out, do people have to turn this into the bloodbath that “month with a mac” was??? i mean c’mon this isnt topic isnt what is better, mac or pc, so can we please keep it on topic, and without the tone of superiority that seems to be hanging about. keep this away from platform issues, and maybe post your IDEAS, instead of voicing your preference,
i would like to see the return of a command prompt to the desktop,
just a simple one, 1 line, that you can just type
find <filename> it would then sort through a database (aka filesystem) and in a window with details listing shows everything, or make it have choices, in the bar that you type in tab accross to 2nd detail, and put the last date it was edited or what type of file it is,
maybe its just the geekyness that i know how to type quick, but i would use this more than the mouse to navigate into folders 10 folders deep..
what do you think?
People with far out ideas can always build their toys as an env on top of almost any modern OS, like the Smalltalk, or Sqeak, environments, but that would mean still using mouse & kb. Whatever happened to VR & gloves & gestures, oh it made people sick. Perhaps the ultimate would be the Holodeck, but thats still a few years away.
The desktop computer does a lot of things – most of them badly.
Why not just have a lot of cheap optimised wirelessly networked devices instead. A combo mobile phone, video camera and MP3 jukebox is far better for most home users than an expensive desktop.
ok, i will say it if noone else does… some day, sooner or layter, someone will attempt to place AI into the system as a utility, as a needed depended upon real service, not a novelty.
Going with Mark’s idea. What is the feasability of a plain-english shell? pesh? you enter in a phrase, say
“Computer, search for all music files and placed them into my Music folder.”
Using a sentence parser(is that the right word), could the computer organize that information into a usable command? Along with a strong dictionary thesaurus, where things like find and locate are considered the same, maybe this is possible. the idea could be extended with voice recognition, where the voice is translated to text and then ran through the pesh(or whatever) engine.
I have heard that Apple’s scripting language (applescript) using plain text in place of code so that novice’s can use it and not just programmers. I have also heard that that applescript can be very particular on how you structure your sentences…
Nothing to stop anyone from using any of the AI apps out there right now if you know where to look & have access & a specific need.
The level of AI always seems to fall down mostly because of common sense, these programs don’t have much of it & are quite mechanical. In the end, simple domain specific query languages with limited word sets can get the job done without confusing the AI SW. Free unlimited language input opens up the can of worms as soon as you enter ambiguous input.
AI lite could happen more quickly by simply going to a website that is hosting AI agents, I thought Jeeves was supposed to be like that, but the dot com bubble probably killed those grand ambitions. A centralised AI site would be better placed to host the kind of deep common sense knowledge database needed to answer even the most basic questions of the world. But I am sure it will happen, just doesn’t need to be on local PC. CYC seem to be still cranking along.
I do not know how the task oriented Longhorn will do…it will be very interesting and I’m sure Microsoft will change a lot of stuff on the way. It is risky though, I think, because, in real life, people like to have “places” for their “stuff”. Whether it’s a filing cabinet or photo album or CD collection, that is how we basically are. But, we are also task oriented in how we spend our work days or projects at home, so it isn’t as if task oriented computing makes no sense. Right now though, I think most of us still prefer having places to put our stuff 🙂
>>The desktop computer does a lot of things – most of them badly.
Why not just have a lot of cheap optimised wirelessly networked devices instead. A combo mobile phone, video camera and MP3 jukebox is far better for most home users than an expensive desktop.<<
try playing one of the newest games on a mobile phone, video camera or mp3 jukebox. isnt gonna happen. plus i couldnt imagine writing a paper on a mobile phone!?! or even email. websurfing?
i dont really see the desktop going anywhere until display and input tech changes dramatically and for the good. (nueral interface anyone?)
When I think about improving the UI it all boils down to having a common neural/statistical/ai/whatever interface, not controlled by applications but by the OS. I hate coming to a machine and start guessing what it has to offer, where do I have to click and do some funky widget chasing. It’s happening, but we’ll have to wait, I guess
i reckon thin clients wirelessly networked throughout the house would be good, with a server that is powerfull enough to do the work, but games etc, would need a re-design, but imaging sitting down to your flatscreen , the monitor has small cameras in it to detect eye control, and for lip synchronisation for speech control,
that way you dont need to talk, it is totally private,
you feel that you want to play a game, you say the game name silently, and it starts up, you open your draw and pull out two a small 8 button keyboard for movement,
and a mouse, both wireless, place it on your desk and start fragging away at quake VII or really really unreal tournament 2008… you decided to turn up the sound to enhance the game play, so you turn up the sound through the control integrated on the flatscreen, it is 1am in the morning but you dont worry about waking your parents as the speakers emit two frequencies, one to play the sound, and another to reflect off the wall and dampen the sounds in a 2 metre space around you. (already invented) theres no need to input cd’s as it is streamed from the internet, we all got 100gig connections years ago,
okay, so we’re finished out games and decide to do our homework, so we speak the words without making a sound, just moving our lips, and then integrated it with a digital video, we then put put it in our shared directory in our computer. the next day at uni, i just have to bring up the presentation…
somebody care to continue my dream???
let me know hehehehe
Here’s a desktop tip I picked up from I don’t know who–just to make the tired old Windows desktop a bit more functional:
1) Right-click on the desktop and choose “new folder”
2) Give it a name, like “Apps”, “Media”, “Projects”, whatever;
3) Drag it to one edge of the desktop and drop it there
4) It will expand to a bar, with all of it’s contents listed
for quick, one-click easy reference. Leave it to your imagination as to what the folder should contain; basically,
all the document/program files and shortcuts that would otherwise be cluttering your desktop as icons.
This makes the desktop a much neater and more useful place, really. I am surprised how many Windows users never heard of the option.
“i would like to see the return of a command prompt to the desktop,
just a simple one, 1 line, that you can just type
find <filename> it would then sort through a database (aka filesystem) and in a window with details listing
shows everything, or make it have choices, in the bar that you type in tab accross to 2nd detail, and put the
last date it was edited or what type of file it is,
maybe its just the geekyness that i know how to type quick, but i would use this more than the mouse to
navigate into folders 10 folders deep.. ”
I keep the Shell icon in my dock, so a command line window opens with
one click, ready to use a Find command or any other CLI command.
However, there is also the icon of a Find uitilty with a simple GUI in
the dock, and that is usually faster.
“I do not know how the task oriented Longhorn will do…it will be very interesting and I’m sure Microsoft will
change a lot of stuff on the way. It is risky though, I think, because, in real life, people like to have “places”
for their “stuff”.”
The Amiga never had a desktop. It has a Workbench, with Tools stored
in Drawers (not in folders).
The result is exactly the same but it gets away from the idea that you
buy a computer to perform office tasks. I’ve never worked in an
office, and rarely used an office or desk at work, so the office
metaphor slightly repels me.
IMO if everyone who is now sitting in an office was told to go home
and stay there, the world would go round a good deal faster. 😉
The desktop metaphor has grown idiomatic, what with all those windows and controls/widgets which are similar from GUI to GUI. http://www.cooper.com/articles/art_myth_of_metaphor.htm is an interesting read.
Do it like in all the movies we have ever seen, just have a place to type a command like “Send virus” or “Override Security” or “Open secret files”! That would be the coolest UI *grin*, no more folders to search, no more things to click on, etc.
“http://www.cooper.com/articles/art_myth_of_metaphor.htm is an interesting read.”
Good article. I submitted it to Slashdot. We’ll see what they think of it.
I personally organize my files through hyperlinked web pages. This way you can get to a file several different ways and I can design my own interfaces and it will work cross platform. For the original editable graphics files I actually name my files by the content and if I get confused the application I use for graphics – Real-DRAW shows a preview of the file. I think it would be cool to have a search that works in documents using Perl so it is cross platform for html, xml, svg, etc files, but that is for the poorly organized. I am making a databse for my mom’s recipes and I am using MySQL and Perl DBI so she can just type in what ingredients she wants and then she will get a list of the recipes. I would never trust a Microsoft database – the Veterans use Microsoft terminals and they are always down as well as my data being lost at Friend Finder and they use Microsoft databases.
I had wondered about replaceing the desktop metaphor with that of “channels.” With diffrent channels handleing diffrent task. It be little more than a series of fullscreen apps and an application to change/search/control the channels, but everyone on the planet would already know how to use it.
I’ve already started a project to experiment with this concept ( bella.sourceforge.net )
“i would like to see the return of a command prompt to the desktop, just a simple one, 1 line, that you can just type
find <filename> it would then sort through a database (aka filesystem) and in a window with details listing shows everything,…”
This system exists today…it is called the Bloomberg, named after the mayor of New York (who is the founder of Bloomberg). It is a financial information system that has data on virtually everything related to the world of finance, investments, etc.
The software runs on top of Windows or Solaris and is sort of like an X Window server that interacts with the Bloomberg mainframe. You typically get two screens set up in a snazzy Bloomberg-branded dual LCD. At the top of each screen is a command prompt. The entire system is accessible by typing in commands. Below the command line is your output: various tables of numbers, charts and further menues to explore. You can click on a menu or type in a number for the menu at the command prompt. There are commands to take you to specialized apps: from that point you can use your Tab key to change fields to enter data into the apps. There is a learning curve to using the system, but once you have a grasp of the basic commands, you can do lots of amazing things with it.
If you know a stockbroker that works for a major investment firm, you should ask him if he has one and see if you can check it out.
When talking about new UI’s, people often speak of 3D UI’s, however, as we have all seen, it’s very unlikely that a 3D UI would be able to offer any more naturality to the UI, or make it easier to organize data, etc….
Have a look at this… http://research.microsoft.com/ui/persona/home.htm
It is a vocal based UI, and, I think, the future of UI’s for most cases (except places like the office or such, where you can’t have everyone on that floor talking to their computer all day).
>I reckon thin clients wirelessly networked throughout the
>house would be good, with a server that is powerfull >enough to do the work, but games etc, would need a
>re-design, but imaging sitting down to your flatscreen ,
>the monitor has small cameras in it to detect eye control, >and for lip synchronisation for speech control,
>that way you dont need to talk, it is totally private,
>you feel that you want to play a game, you say the game
>name silently, and it starts up, you open your draw and
I see. So every time you … uhhh … express your feelings while debugging a program your pr0n collection comes up automatically?
I had wondered about replaceing the desktop metaphor with that of “channels.” With diffrent channels handleing diffrent task. It be little more than a series of fullscreen apps and an application to change/search/control the channels, but everyone on the planet would already know how to use it. I’ve already started a project to experiment with this concept ( bella.sourceforge.net )
So basically, what you’re idea is, is that you maximize all my windows and switch between them using ALT+TAB. Either I don’t understand what you mean, or it’s definitely not a good (or innovative by any mean) idea 🙂
“So basically, what you’re idea is, is that you maximize all my windows and switch between them using ALT+TAB. Either I don’t understand what you mean, or it’s definitely not a good (or innovative by any mean) idea 🙂
I wouldn’t say alt-tab..there would need to be a “channel guide” just like a cable or sat. box that lets you quickly search other channels. I’m not saying this would be a good idea for all (or most) computer applications, but I think it would be good for people new to computers or for use on the new media pcs that are comming out now. I looking at somthing that would use a remote for primariy input with a keyboard for use only when needed.
The ultimate goal is to prevent you from having to learn entire new programs to interact with your mail messages, your contacts, and your home movies—to ensure that each data type doesn’t become the exclusive province of a specific application.
Wow, we can search thru images with thumbnails. Wow, they want to standardise searching for files in a consistent fashion in all apps. Good. Now show me how this can be done more seamlessly and logically than we have it currently, and I’ll judge; until then, what is the fuss about? The metaphor they are talking about is essentially unchanged, and apps are doing this already where it makes it easier to sift through audio or video files and so on. So really, we are just getting what some applications are already doing integrated more with the OS, right?
So I can search through my emails with the Search feature? So I can more easily interact with my pictures with thumbnails? So I can sample and interact with my audio files easily? Nothing new here. Just sounds like more integration to me. Files are still kept in directories, right? C drive and so forth, and still separated with slashes? And we still click thru to deeper ‘levels’ when we are looking for something, don’t we?
Can someone explain how the current ‘metaphor’ is on its last legs, ’cause I sure don’t see it, and I don’t see anything better replacing it, with our AI technology and current input & output devices.