“An inductive, or task-based, user interface is one that is based on “tasks” rather than applications (as in OS X) or documents (as in Windows 95/Office 95, sort of; Microsoft backed off of this concept pretty quickly as the benefits of a task-oriented UI became more obvious). Here’s an example. Let’s say you want to print a digital photo.” Read the article at WinSuperSite.
How it works: Inductive User Interfaces
2003-11-27 Graphics 65 Comments
I don’t even know what to say… here goes. In OSX, when you want to play music, you click on the ‘double 1/8th note’ icon in your dock or your “TASKS”, you want to look at photos, you click on the icon that looks like a photo.. etc…
The difference between this and the garbage he’s talking about, is the thing doing the music or the photo has a name… if they removed the name of iTunes, and put a button that said: “Play your music”, and a screen identical to iTunes opened, then that would be exactally what he wants…. only for some reason, he wants more steps.
OS X has folders like “Documents”, “Pictures”, “Movies” etc.. in the users home directory. This is exactly the same as “MyDocuments” and “MyPictures” in XP.
And if you think of the Dock as the Startmenu of OS X – the items in the Windows Startmenu are activated by a single click whereas the files in “MyDocuments” & “MyPictures” are opened by a double click. Once again no difference. Sometimes single click, somtimes double click to start an action.
I agree that there are still several undiscovered ways to make computer/user interaction easier, but I do not agree that there is a real difference in the ease of use between XP and OS X.
It depends on your personal flavor. My opinion is (as a constant user of XP and OS X) that drag&drop is more consequently used in OS X than in XP. And there is a lot of room for extended use of drag&drop an both systems. …particularly when I remember what IBM with the OS/2 workplace shell did in the early ’90.
While I can see where this might be useful for someone who knows absolutely nothing about using a computer, I quickly gets annoying to anyone who has used a computer for more than a day or two.
Seems like it would be easier (and more obvious) just to drag the picture onto the printer icon.
It is Paul Thurrot after all. You cannot change Earth´s gravity. Same goes for Thurrot.
I agree. Just a matter of renaming things or, sometimes, add an entry to the context menu. Not at all difficult if you really want to. Easily accomplished in most desktop OS’s I know about.
Data-centric computing was where I got off the train, but even that was a bit far for me. OLE, etc…
My thought process is application-centric. I know certain apps deal with certain data types and I use them.
I don’t want to blur the line, although dragging a document to the printer does sound pretty cool.
So, this task based system helps??? you by? If I want to print a picture I usually just open the pict and select print. Of course, depending on what app created the pict… or just choose viewer (default). I don’t want the os just to choose what to use (I dislike this in XP).
Ah, maybe MS wants to elimanate the need for software that is not hogtied to the os…
The article is really moot, it doesn’t really tell us in a definitive way, what is a Task Based OS, other than everything is tied to the os… Yeah we have our pictures and movies folders… User folders, App folders..
Aw, it’s still just a virtual filing cabinet. Now, the idea of Stacking or Bundling files together (apple does have a patent on this idea).
Ever since I’ve been using XP I’ve been happy as punch to go home and use my MacOS X Dual G4 Machine.
Well, here’s another example of a task based interface. Say I have 50 files that are related to 4 different projects and are a variety of pdfs, images, docs, spreadsheets, etc. Say I want to print a “project”. I open my “file browser”, identify the meta data that defines the project, and see all of my project files. I then click in the side bar where it says print and all of my project files print.
You may say, well I could use a folder for that… but remember that those files are shared across projects and have different types so I can’t organize by project and I can’t organize by type.
While I do not like what MS is doing with their task oriented UI, I definitely see the advantages to a real task oriented UI. Apple has bits and pieces of a task oriented UI in OSX but again, it’s not enough. The way it ships makes it appear task oriented b/c there’s only one iTunes, only one iMovie, only one… well you get the idea. Also, they have a consistent application menu (the left most menu in the top menu bar of a running application) that gives you standard menus like about, preferences, quit, etc. That’s task oriented yet we wouldn’t recognize it as such…
The site is “Paul Thurrott’s SuperSite for Windows”
“But it’s not intuitive, and one thing people need to remember is
that everything they do is hard until they learn how to do it: You get out of bed each day and walk to the bathroom without
thinking about it. But it took you months to learn how to walk.”
Is he saying that walking is unintuitive? Maybe computers _should_ only be used by people who have a bit of training…
When you have 4 graphic packages installed to manipulate… graphics… and you have a photo that you want to process with 3 of them by using diferent functionality in those packages… what will the OS decide for me?
The fairy tale of one software to do your task if very nice… but it is still a fairy tale… and as all fairy tales… will never become real… (if it will, then i will quit the IT industry, because it will mean that it becomed stagnant and irrelevant).
I expect you to say the same thing if the next mac-article is hosted on “macworld” or whatever.
personaly i think the vast majority of extra features that are incorporated into windows each new release may well help computer illiterate people however they are a niussance to people with a better technical understanding of them.
They are a pain in the neck until you figure out how to go back to classic mode / or switch off the additional functiunality.
this is not only my opinion but that of other people i have met to.
Paul Thurrot article on task based really make sence. Up till now I was thinking only about how I can setup my machine. If I’m on a network, in Longhorn you would be able to log on from any machine, have all your settings up, look at files via, date etc and right-click to get a list of (tasks) that need to be performed eg, printing, editing, previewing, faxing etc. It would automatically launch the task you assinged to it. Cool. Metadate in action classic OS 9 style. I hope they implement this thing in OS X.
Ever since the release of Windows 95 this whole idea of trying to hide the underlying file system from the user has really pissed off seasoned computer users like myself. I came from the days of DOS where i had my own directory structure and organised my files the way i wanted. Then came “My Documents,My Pictures” and all this crap that windows insists on using. Windows XP was the living end of things with its constant animated popup characters and “what do u want to do now” wizards.
It doesnt take much learning to figure out how to store files on a disk and how to search thro those files and do what u need to do with them.
Any person who buys a computer and then gives up because there is no “intuitive” way to get started should perhaps reevaluate his reason for buying a computer in the first place. Not saying that making interfaces more intuitive is a bad thing, just that at some point the human brain has to take control.
It’s like everyone want’s a piece of the action, but not many knows what to do with it.
“I expect you to say the same thing if the next mac-article is hosted on “macworld” or whatever.”
You’re right, that was a stupid comment and I have my lame reasons for having made such a stupid post. One was to point out to those before me who were saying “that can be done in OS X” and “feature xyz is in OS X”, that his site is dedicated to “information” on Windows and future releases. It was poorly put across. Sorry for the apparent troll and I punt information in quotes because it’s upto the reader if that’s true information or just propaganda.
No more from me today, and if I see an article posted at macworld or some such, that is as blatantly biased, I promise, I’ll say the same thing, but probably with more details so it’s not as ridiculous.
Heh, I said no more from me, and I meant no more stupid troll like comments, so here goes.
There are some very valid points in his article. A set of tasks available for a file is actually a great idea. As someone else mentioned, being able to right click on a file and then select a task, such as print, edit or whatever could be very useful. That usefulness would be expanded if a user (maybe in an advanced options area) could add tasks to the menu.
Longhorn is looking good and has some nice new features.
I can actually see a little relevance here, but in combination with another recent article.
If you assign all data a mime type, allow applications to register interest in specific types of data, then allow the user to assign default application/action per type, along with the choice to override that choice of application for directories of the user’s choice then it might actually work.
So, for example, someone has a few ASCII files lying around. They have some in a folder designated HTML that has a browser application associated with ASCII type files. Maybe some more in a folder designate HTML-Draft that has a WYSIWYG type application associated for that type, and some in a generic folder that just use an editor they’ve assigned as the default application for ASCII type files. Of course they’d always have the option to override, perhaps with something similar to Windows “send to” menu command that gives a list of all apps capable of handling that data type.
Thinking of it that way couldn’t you get away with some kind of extended ACL type system? It would make file assocation far more flexible and powerful than current systems.
Mac OS X is attractive, and arguably “better looking” than Windows XP, though that’s a subjective declaration. But it is most certainly not “easier to use”. And that’s not “Apple bashing,” it’s just the way it is.
Does Paul know the difference between familarity and ease of use? it appears that every zealot loses sight of the fact that familarity does not equal ease of use.
Ease of use to me is the ability for the end user to right click on something and know what “Print” means. If the user thinks, “print what?” then obviously the GUI needs tweaking.
Same goes for the Windows dialogues. How many people here are confused over the Apply and Ok buttons? I’ve seen users unsure whether their changes will be applied if they just click ok, so instead they click apply then ok. Then I have seen some users assume that clicking on OK without apply means that the settings won’t be saved.
Task based isn’t the answer. All task based does is create more complexicity as the list of possible things users want to accomplish gets longer. What is required is good metaphores for the end user to relate to.
For example, I was teching a group of people about hard disks and partitions. The hard disk is like a filing cabnet. Before you can use the filing cabnet, you need draws which represent the partitions. Before you can use those draws, you need file holders which represents the file system, and from there you can add files and folders.
For example, you have a media application, what does one want to do? its like a radio, they want to record audio, play music, see some videos and so forth. iPhoto is a computer representation of a photo album. What does one do with a Photo album? arrage photos, attach comments about each photo and so forth.
Computers haven’t become complicated, programmers and so-called “UI experts” make something more complicated and complex that is needs to be. The problem is then compounded with the marketters coming in stating that 5 people in their “focus group” wants a feature.
The mantra should be “less is more” the focus should be making sure that the features that are added, work the first time. Nothing will irrirate the end user more than an application that crashes when printing or takes too long to arrange photos in a particular order.
I installed Mozilla on my sister’s computer to replace IE and OE, not because I hate MS, but because she kept getting viruses from her husband’s uninformed Internet use.
She just couldn’t remember to remember that “Mozilla” now meant web browser, that “Mozilla Mail” meant email. So, I clicked on the icon, changed the text to say “Browse the Web” and “Check Email” and – kabloom – “inductive” user interface. I didn’t even have to change the Moz icon to use IE’s..
Now, where’s my $10,000,000 in research funds from MS?
The thing I hate about MS tasked based interfaces is that they are too reilant on them. Its fine if you think you want to make a “wizard” available for an initial setup task, but when it becomes the only way of interacting with your computer, it becomes very frusterating. For example, in Windows, it will ask you if you want a wizard to do something, you say yes, and it takes you through setting up some basic stuff. Then later, you go back and you want to tweak things… You have to either run through this stupid wizrd thing all over again, or if you can actually find the application or menu that sets the “real” settings and change them, it totally screws over the wizard next time you try to use it.
Task based just hides the users environment from them, they never learn how to use thier computers. Instead of associating icons with certain types of files, and programs and paradigms with certain things that they can apply later to new programs they run into, they are always searching for a “wizard”. Since every task on a computer can’t possibly be a wizard, when they have to actually do something that requies them to “apply” their computer knowledge to a new situation, they are totally screwed. Ever notice how mac users never have to read the manual for anything? This is because they quickly gain basic skills of how to get around in the GUI, and then can apply these skills to learn how to do things in new programs just by poking around.
Finally, computers are supposed to provide you with an enviroment where you can be creative and leverage them to use them the way _you_ want to use them to get work done. Wizards are the exact oppsite of this concept. You tell the computer you are interested in doing something, and it presents you with a single, serial way of getting it done. Its basically the computer telling you how to work. People who have never used non windows systems don’t realize this. Once you understand that _you_ can be in control, you never want to give it up.
Is there some confusion about drag-n-drop printing in OS X? Just grab any collection of items (a project’s files, as mentioned earlier) and drop them into the printer’s icon. The default action is to print one copy of each item using that document’s preferred application and printer settings. This has been7 true on Macs going way back.
That being said, fuller use of metadata in OS X will be welcomed. BeOS was heading that way, and Apple has hired several people to attack this issue. Worrying about what’s in Longhorn might be a fun parlor game, but when MS delivers as much as they promise, I’ll be shocked. Remember how everyone cowered from the specter of Windows 95? What a waste of worrying that was. That OS was awful.
What saddens me more is the lack of truly innovative GUI designs by most everyone these days. Even X-Windows managers are mostly lame Windows knock-offs. Apple and MS mostly refine and hone complete working solutions for universal (non-specialized) GUI design in mass markets, which is, perhaps by its nature nowadays, a conservative venture.
This guy does not know how macos works and he writes an article, that’s great!
I don’t know why he is always talking about task based interface, it doesn’t make sense to build this king of interface. Why to ask the operating system to do some taks when you can build powerful application integrated with the os, integrated between them to make the job? The approach in what this guy believes has some dramatic consequences in the os interface and ease of use. It makes the interface incredibly confusing with a lot of staf flying around, its not clear!!! Its not clean, the user wants to find a clean os, not a mess of features.
In osx (and this guy should read a book about osx, or better use it), i have my Iphoto in the dock, i click, booom!!!! its here, with all my photos, and a powerful tool to manage it. I can go to the finder, select a picture, drag it to the printer icon and boom!!! it prints.
Much more effective than windows, and apple keeps the interface of the system clean and effective. Because apple can always extend the features of Iphoto in millons ways, can microsoft do that in a task based interface? NO!!!!!! No way…..or you will get a very dirty and uneffective interface.
This guy is just trying to defend windows, its ok, but he should find another point to defend, this one is not relevant at all!!!!
I was with him for a bit there. To totally dismiss OS X as simply nice looking is truly missing something.
Ultimately, I believe that having a variety of options in how a task is executed is a good thing. It allows different levels of users to CHOOSE how they want to go about things. The ideas he’s comparing aren’t as radically different as he would like to think. I can’t and won’t comment on Longhorn, but Windows XP and Mac OS X work similar enough that most people can get their work done in either without much fuss. Heck, you could even throw someone into KDE or Gnome and probably get them checking mail and browsing the web. But as a system I would want to use on a regular basis, I would want it to just stay the heck out of my way.
I guess I just like Apple’s approach where they assume (rightfully so) that anyone using a computer for a length of time will get used to it and seek out the more powerful features if they need them. Wizards, arcane dialogs, and Swiss Army Do-All menus will only get in the way after a while.
Didn’t mean to post anonymously when spewing my two cents.
Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate.
Please stop trolling.
Your post was a bunch of spewed nonsense.
How is task based not extensible or flexible? He evem talks how you can do it in windows at the end of the article… sheesh.
it depends ont he article. most Mac artilces are “Panther is better than Jaguar” or ” a plain vanilla review of the New Mac OS X” I don’t see many head to head chanlenges that hit all over windows and say “it clearly sucks becasue X is the best way to get stuff done I am to stupid to see that Y OS does X just in a diffrent way”
Very well said, I couldn’t have said it better myself.
I’m tired of all of these people who want to “dumb down” the interface by reinventing the UI paradigm. The argument is that it has to be simple enough for Grandma to use it. Well, I’ve got news for you: Grandma isn’t an idiot! There are tons of senior citizens on the Web today, somehow they must have figured it out.
This demeaning line of thought, that the user needs to be hand-held and spoon-fed by the UI, also ignores a basic principle of computing: people rarely have to learn by themselves. Usually, there’s someone to give them pointers or basic directions (in my entourage, that’s often me…) when they don’t get specialized training outright.
In any case, this dumbing-down of the UI is hardly useful in the long-term: kids have noooo problem learning the current interfaces. In fact, when they discover what’s going on under the hood, kids are pretty quick to pick up on the command line as well.
Why dumb down computers when computer literacy increases at such a rapid rate?
Please read again what i wrote, and don’t you think that this article is trolling instead…..or maybe you…..
In any situation, an stand-alone application is much more flexible and extensible that features which are built in the interface of an operating system, its obvious…..Maybe not for you, but it is……sorry.
The task-centric approach is not new at all. It has been in other OS’es like e.g. OS/2 for at least 12 years now.
But this is different. The intent is different. IBM wanted to deliver a user interface that relieves the user of the burden to actually know about programs.
In Windows it will be because: Microsoft wants to deliver a user interface that relieves the user of the burden to actually know about programs.
Programs are made by Microsoft. They will be the default.
It is actually possible to drag+drop a number of files/fotos from the explorer to the printer icon to print a bunch of files. This was possible even in Windows 3.1. So if you do not need any interface or options you could do that easily.
Unfortenately this is not a system setting, but a per document/connected application thing. So the installed apps need to support this in a good way. At least for the MS Office this should work good I think. (normally I check the content and then print the files, so not that big use of it)
After reading all of the posts, I have concluded that no UI concept can be a satisfy all people. What people want in a UI differs as much as the posts put here.
Some want a task based UI with or without the structure of the file system hidden, others want a more grass roots system giving them absolute power over what happens, how it happens and how it will be organised.
It seems to me that the best solution would be to make an OS that is very flexible in paradigms. Allow the users to choose settings for the mode of operation. You could choose between task based, application based or anywhere in between, with various levels of abstraction for the lower system level stuff, like filesystem and hardware. If you really wanted to you could run in a console.
The problem with XP, OSX and others in varying degrees is they tend to lock you in to a certain way of working. No matter how pretty or cool the OS is you still have to follow some predefined way of working, sometimes cusomisable sometimes not.
Surely it is possible today to allow a OS to run in “Dummy” or “Geek” mode.
Why make it more complicated than it has to be?
When I want to use metadata for my files I write it in the filenames. Both in Linux and Windows. It is then easy to search for or sort the files. No need for an advanced database to do that.
Of course it takes some planning, and there is a limit on how long the filenames can be, but it is good to limit the number of metadata categories anyway. Who has the time to write an essay with metadata?
The following video from one of the PDC sessions shows what the UI for organizing files by metadata is like in the PDC build of Longhorn:
I found the stacks and the breadcrumb bar quite interesting.
Some individuals unnecessarily try to make a science out of user interface design. An interface is just a means of communicating with an object. In this case a computer.
The fact of the matter is that no one operating system has the holy grail to user interface design. It is premature to judge user interfaces at the operating system level instead of at the application levels.
On all major operating systems I’ve used, I have seen applications designed with a horrid user interface. Designing a user interface is tightly connected to the function a software application will be performing.
The problem arises when one software applications want to be a jack of all trades but a master none. I’m talking about that application that is a web browser, an email client, an irc client, a jabber client, a terminal, a chess client, a word processor and many more.
When a software application tries to be an all in one client, more often than not expect a horrid user interface. The unix philosophers got it right. Design applications to perform one function and perform it well. That way your interface is simpler, and cleaner.
Of all the applications I’ve used, the GNOME apps and to a little extent Mac iApplications, come closest to a functional and intuitive user interface. When I want to rip a CD to my hard disk, I don’t want to go through heaps of menus, clicking here and there and not sure of what I’m doing.
Instead, I want to launch an application, I want the application to automatically detect the information and contents of the CD, and I want to click on “Extract”. And the application proceeds to rip the CD to my hard disk based on the information I’ve given to it during the application’s initial set up.
I think the author errs by trying to create an artificial distinction between task-based user interfaces and application based user-interfaces. More often than not, they are one and the same. After all, applications exist to perform tasks.
Take BeOS for instance, the Tracker was very Doc-Centric, the thing (IMO) that stopped BeOS from being Task-Centric was that Tracker Addons weren’t Filetype Specific.
If you looked at the Tracker Addon Menu for a People File, for instance, you still had “SoundPlay” and “Army Knife” in there.
If you opened up a People File in a Task-Centric Tracker, you’d see “Send an Email”, “Edit This Information” and “Write This Person a Letter” (for example). These would Launch “BeMail”, “People” and a GoBe Productive Template with this Persons mailing details already filled in respectively.
So if you want to edit an picture in that Longhorn thing you choose “edit picture” what probably tells the OS to open Paint. What if I want to edit it in Photoshop (duh)? I probably have to click multiple times before i can get Photoshop to edit my picture. I don’t really see the benefit of using tasks. A task is nothing else than a program in OS X. The task menu, well OS X has just an more custimized menu for that, the Finder.
Some people are saying that te problem of the “old” OS is that you have no choice how you wanna use it, people want choice. Well, read “the humane interface, New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems” , Jef Raskin. Giving users choice makes a OS even more difficult, users faster learn how to use a certain method than to choose there own.
Let’s face it, Microsoft ain’t known as an expert in user interfaces.
“Why do all of these reviews talk about Microsoft’s infinite wisdom based upon marketing for an unfinished project? In all likelihood, Longhorn will be XP + Aero, and thats it.
How can you criticize anything for not living up to its competitor’s marketing?”
Gee, I don’t know.
Why it is that all these other reviews talk about some far from finished Open Source projects, like future proposals for this or that Gnome architecture, et al?
Longhorn is nearer to completion than a lot of the stuff we read about here (the kernel is there, the main .NET framework is there, some layers are in various stages of completion, etc. Check a recent beta), yet I don’t see you complain about them.
Me, I don’t mind reading about ALL this stuff.
However, the problem with all non-App-Centric Systems in an Open UI (Open as in not Closed-Shop… there are 3rd Party Apps) is that the 3rd Party Vendors want thier Mind-share too.
An Example is Adobe Acrobat in MacOSX.2/3. In 10.2, Acrobat was bundled because Preview didn’t cut the mustard WRT PDF viewing. Adobe still had thier mind-share. PDF files were a hodge-podge of Preview Icons and Adobe Icons. in Panther, Preview was updated and Acrobat Viewer was made Obsolete.
The Hodge-Podge of Different Icons for different PDF Files was eradicated and the user experience became that muchs smoother, but Adobe lost Mindshare on it’s “Introduction-to-User” App. Now a Mac User can go through life using PDFs for all thier electronic publishing needs and they may never know who Adobe is.
In Task-Centric Longhorn, a User could have Corel Painter on thier system, and use it to Edit all thier Digital Images, but still not know that they are using Corel Software. As far as they know, they’re using Windows Longhorn (or whatever the release name will be) to edit thier image. Corel have lost thier Mindshare, even if thier product is on Millions of Computers.
That is the main reason why Doc/Task-Centricity hasn’t really kicked off yet. Third Party software might be sold and distributed, but not recognised. I personally think it is a Shame
I didn’t have time to check all the whining up there but folks, it should be obvious that computers were made to help people and not the other way around. User needs to know the machine internals only because of insufficient implementation and nothing else. Face it.
And these are not my final words…
I’ve thought a lot about the notion of a totally task oriented GUI. In short, I don’t think aspects of this approach should all be dismissed, but only the best elements of it should be used. In other words, a totally task oriented GUI, I think, would be a very bad idea.
To me, the One Big Thing that created the “computer revolution” was the GUI. And I think this is true because probably about 10% of people think abstractly – and these are the original computing people, who could easily pick up on using the command line and almost instinctively understand the hierarchy of “where things are” in OSes like DOS and UNIX.
The other 90% think visually and were lost until the GUI came around. I don’t think a totally task oriented GUI would really help the visual people that much and, as has been noted, would drive experienced users crazy. As I said, I am for some of the elements of it that have been adopted in XP and OS X and am open to inclusion of others if they don’t get in the way of the experienced user.
At this time, XP and OS X have done things to make it as easy as possible for new users. There are many people though that need a friend to sit down with them and show them the ropes or who should take a class at the library or their community center or some other venue. If a person wants to get a computer and use it, the person may have to actually learn a few things. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I actually think a totally task oriented GUI would actually be harder for these people, not to mention infuriate the rest of us They are visual and ultimately get icons, folders, etc. Task oriented, if taken to the extreme, is actually sort of ethereal to the visual person because you can’t “see” it, so to speak.
So, I say take the good from it and leave the rest.
MS produced an IUI guidelines document:
Well, there’s some merit to your argument. Likewise our interfaces still have a way to go (Donald Norman would agree). They are the way they are for a couple reasons. From technological limitations, to economic. We can meet the computers half-way (computer literacy), but our computers haven’t even gotten that far (human literacy).
[ Err ]
Agreed that’s a near solution. Ultimately we will not be worrying about what app do we pick. Neither will there be one uber app as well. More a viewer that can also edit with on-demand capabilities.
[ MarkH ]
I think the better question is why do people need to see the filesystem in the first place? Filesystems are a half-way solution between what works for the computer, and what doesn’t strain the user too much. Ultimately people need to keep in mind what they use computers for, and try to not let the implimentations get in the way.
“Some individuals unnecessarily try to make a science out of user interface design. An interface is just a means of communicating with an object. In this case a computer. ”
The same could be said about psychology. UI design is a soft-science, and like most soft-sciences doesn’t garner the respect that the “ball and stick” sciences do. But it is legitimate, with some hard facts to back it up.
I think you’ll find that when it comes to humans. Lines aren’t not as easy to draw. Most people are a mixture of “abstract”, and “visual”. Quick “Leaning Tower of Giza”, now did a picture pop into your head, or just the words? Quick “Global Thermonuclear War”, visual or abstract? And as for your “experienced” user. Experienced on what? If the user was “experienced” on the new “task-oriented” GUIs? Would there still be a complaint? Not so simple, is it?
I especially appreciate this comment made earlier: “maybe MS wants to eliminate the need for software that is not hogtied to the OS.” I think the poster nailed it on the head. However, I don’t think Microsoft has figured out the difference between a “User Interface” and a “User’s Intension’s Interface.”
Another post: “All task based does is create more complexity as the list of possible things users want to accomplish gets longer. What is required [are] good metaphors for the end user to relate to.” Just how does Microsoft expect to keep guessing what applications to use when a user wants to accomplish a certain task? The list of tasks a user may have could be infinitely long. I definitely don’t want a “Smart Kitchen” that thinks it knows what knife I want when I say I want to cut something.
What Mac OS X needs is a better way to search for files. The filesystem already provides a place to store a form of metadata using the comments for each file. It’s just too bad that isn’t an independent searchable criteria of the files.
What Windows XP needs is a lot more than what I can get away with typing here. There are just too many problems with WinXP.
Apple tried this approach eons ago. Document centric and task centric are very similar beasts; The issue of course is people want more choice in how they do things. The beauty of CyberDoc was that you could mix and match components; the ugly side was of course you could mix and match components. Some tasks are just better done at an application level. I see task based computer as a solution only for folks who aren’t professionals. Witness the major lack of services based applications for OS X.
No, but I remember OpenDoc and CyberDog.
I take this completely as a false statement. Sure OS X does not have these lists of things to do, nor does it have loads of stupid wizards that are supposed to help you do things, but instead, if you take a picture from within the Finder(the file manager), and drag it onto your printer icon, it prints. This is pretty intuitive. This is even more intuitive if you think about it. I want to print this, lets put it on top of the printer, kazaam it prints. There are some problems, because the printer icon may not always be around on the desktop for instance, but this really works. If we step back and think about it, one could say this equates to a ‘tool-based’ approach. In the real world if you want your dirty clothes in the hamper, you put them in the hamper. If you want your picture to print, you put it ‘in’ the printer. Simple eh? For music, in the finder, if you select a .MP3 file(or other audio types), it gives you a little play button(yes built into the finder), and you push the play button, wala sound! It even gives you a slider, etc. http://www.yuma.ca/cgi-bin/blosxom.cgi/tech/osx/task_based_interfac…
It is Paul Thurrott, afterall. Has he ever written non-“Microsoft rules” article?
Said anything about OS X services?
“”If you want your picture to print, you put it ‘in’ the printer.””
It’s this kind of thinking that gave us supposedly “intuitive” media players with an interface that looks like a video player (Eww).
People insert BLANK paper into their desktop printers and documents come out. They don’t insert documents, so the whole “put document into printer to print it” connection is completely artificial. Replace the printer with a photo-copier and you’ve got a much better mental connection to draw upon even though it’s unlikely they have a photo-copier attached to their machine.
Both are pretty worthless visual aids if the person using the machine has never actually seen a printer/photo-copier or has never printed anything before. Pretty pictures are only intuitive if the person seeing them understands the information they are intended to convey. Icons aren’t a replacement for communicating information, they’re the equivalent of information shorthand. The same rules of information passing apply to them, namely that above all else the recipient needs to be able to understand the information they are being given, or the information itself is pointless.
He uses pictures as an example, the problem, with that is who is inputting the “meta data”. Am I as a user going to sit their for 4 hours labeling all my photos that I took on vacation, just so the next time I search for them, it comes up a little faster no. So unless the MS engineers can come up with a way that it will label all pictures automatically, I don’t see this ever helping you searching for photos, unless you have nothing better to do w/ your time. I would rather just dump all the files in a directory and be done with it, if I need them I will manually search for them, no biggie. For text documents It is great but windows XP and Linux both search for text very fast, again is a database needed here? I don’t think so.
The problem with filenames and directories to organize your files is that you have to come up with some cataloging scheme and hopefully stick with it. This basically creates some work for the user.
The database approach has the problem of having the user enter in the metadata. If you have hundreds of photos, music files, and videos, a lot of your time is sucked away at the keyboard. Another problem is what happens when you transfer those files to another computer? May be a computer with a different database file system. Do you loose all of the metadata you spent hours entering into the computer?
What would be great is if the computer could analyze the image, music, and video files and determine objects in images, notes and lyrics in music files, and all of the above for videos.
Having the capability to search for all pictures containing the house you used to live in ten years ago would be a nice trick. First the computer could bring up all pictures containing house like structures. Next, once you see an image that contained the house you are looking for, you could tell the computer to match that particular structure in the other images. The computer could also keep track of what you identify so you would basically be adding metadata as you do searches.
The same would be done with music and video. With text it would be nice if the computer could do searches with context in mind. Instead of bringing up every line that contains a particular text pattern, it would bring up paragraphs that were relevant to your search.
So far those technologies aren’t available yet.
Apple and Microsoft are taking opposing approaches on building tailored interfaces. The differences are with what I term ‘themes’; that is, a set of related tasks.
With Apples’ current model, each application handles one ‘theme’ and the tasks associated with it, and applications interact with one another, either directly or through the filesystem, where there is a need to share between themes – such as including a music track on a movie, or having a movie DVD of photographs.
With Microsofts’ proposed model, all themes converge to one application, which then uses separate applications – whether embedded or not – to perform the individual tasks. Since all the themes converge at the top-level, there is no need for the applications to interact.
Both models work to mask the true filesystem from the end-user by adding layers of abstractions. Apples’ model is application-centric, whereas Microsofts’ is file-centric.
Now, until Microsoft actually implements and releases publicly their interface model, it’s impossible to have an objective assessment of both models side-by-side. But it should be noted that it is not the technologies that will decide which works better, if indeed ‘better’ can possibly be quantified in this discussion.
One way they plan to avoid this is with the “stacks” metaphor. You right click on the column header (column headers are visible while in icon view as well as detail view) for a item property (items are files and other er.. items in WinFS) and select “stack by this item”. The icon view will reorganize with a single icon for each distinct property value in the current set. This icon also shows the count of items in each stack. You can then drag any icons not in one of the stacks onto the stack to assign them that value. You can also create empty stacks on the fly in the same view to enable assigning new values.
Take a look at that link I posted if you can (sorry, streaming only, I imagine it requires WMP). It shows off this feature rather well.
BR, excellent points! I wonder what kind of testing goes into this?
What happens when you want to do something Microsoft or 3rd parties didn’t think of ? Really brilliant software remains flexible enough that users use it in ways the authors didn’t even think of. Software like Photoshop and Illustrator come to mind. How do we avoid limiting what users can do while providing the advantages in simplicity that a task-centric approach could provide ?
There are already tasks for files in Mac OS X, it’s in the Finder -> Services menu. True they don’t have printing or faxing in the menu, but I am sure that it wouldn’t take a lot for Apple to add that. Just move services to a contextual menu, and you have it all right there.
In the PDC build the old-style open/open with items still seems to be there on the right click menu. I think these are going to have to be there (and maybe “edit with photohop” type tasks will be added) as long as there are all-in-one type document editing apps like Photoshop.
As for users who are looking for as task that isn’t listed and don’t know if an app like Photoshop can do it, I’ve seen a hint at a possibility in some screenshots.
The available tasks are listed in that pane above the file/item listing in Explorer. There is also a “more” menu that lists tasks that didn’t fit in the pane. In a screenshot I saw, there was a “search for tasks” text entry box at the bottom of that menu.
My sick little mind was thinking MS could tie this in to a search engine of 3rd party apps that can perfom those tasks (And of course charge a small fee for placement).
I think the concept the author presents is interesting, but only valid at a certain level, that is the top level.
Modern gui’s are all “object verb,” in that we first select the item we are interested in working on, then we work on it. Think cut and paste or reading an email message. The “verb object” methodology is cumbersome because it encourages being in a “mode” which must be backed out of if the user realizes that wasn’t the appropriate action. It would seem silly to go into “cut mode” and then select the text you wanted to cut. Or go into “play mode” and then select the song you wanted to play.
So on a top level, the OS X interface IS “verb object.” Go into “iTunes Mode” before selecting your songs to play; however, once you are in iTunes, you switch back to the more comfortable “object verb.” But I’m not sure that a pure task based system is always the right thing. Human beings are very context sensitive. When I want to perform tasks, I think “ok now lets do email stuff,” or “now let’s do picture stuff.” The application concept supports the contextual reasoning which we as humans live by.
I think much of the problem rests in the fact that applications are typically divided along technical lines which the average user is forced to comprehend. It really makes no sense that a person should go into one app, a word processor, to type something up nicely; then save the file, then change applications to send it as email. (Sure, there are tricks around this, but this is how most people are forced to think.) It makes no sense that I should have to learn MSWord, “Acrobad”, and IE just to read different documents. Basically, when writing, I want a writing tool and when reading, I want a reading tool. Those are things I can deal with. The truth is, in order to ease my own pain of mixed documents and filing, I use Mozilla mail as my main word processor. I get a spell checker, and with HTML mail, I can throw in some fancy fonts and tables. I hate to break it to the MS Word people, but that pretty much sums up 99% of the work people do. (I just wish I had a better way of organizing docs I save in my drafts folder. Ideas?)
But a PURELY task oriented interface is too general. Every document has WAY too many possibilities. I need some way of communicating to the computer the context I am interested in so that I can quickly navigate the options I might be interested in. Good applications like iTunes and iPhoto group both Tasks AND Documents together in a manner which makes sense. Objects and Verbs often go together. The only time we feel some pain is when we’ve got two or more applications that only do part of the task I’m interested in. (Both windows and OS X have nice drag and drop for this, but my folks just can’t seem to get the hang of it.)
“The Humane Interface” by Jef Raskin was rather enlightening in regards to these concepts. It definitely provokes sound reasoning about such subjects. I think he is a little too anti-modal (Vim is the most productive application I have ever used to this day and it demands modes), but his theories are often spot on for many cases.
If you double-click on any file in any major operating system, you will launch an application that has been chosen to deal with that file. That application generally handles more options than the operating system is setup to deal with. For example, clicking on a jpeg file in XP brings up “Rename Move Copy Publish E-mail Print Delete.” This list doesn’t include crop, rotate, color balance, brightness, skew, emboss, sharpen, or many of the things a competent imaging program can do. In nearly all cases, it is better to train the user to double-click on a file they want to interact with and use the resulting program, rather than to single click on it and decide if the OS supports what they want to do.
The problem with things like this is that now there are at least 6 ways to accomplish something… There is the task menu that can print, there is the right-click menu that can print, there is the application route to printing, the File Menu way of printing, Alt-F-P, and drag-and-drop. But the right-click menu, the window menu, and the task bar are not identical, and things that appear in one may not appear in another. The more options you present to a new user, the more paralyzed they are going to become. Should they use an app? Should they use the menubar? Is there a MSConfig route to doing this? Help menu? Double-Click? Right-Click? Middle-Click? Let’s not forget the Start menu, since the author brings it up. Now there are so many ways of doing something that the user doesn’t know where to start.
The reason I prefer the Mac interface over Windows, KDE, and Gnome, is this consistent elegance. In Windows there are dozens of ways of doing what you want to do, some of which may work for this task and some of which don’t. There is no conscious effort to keep the interface clean. Intuitively knowing what a user wants to do is a lot harder than spamming options all over the place. That’s not to say that Microsoft’s approach to the problem is invalid, but that the effort they have put into it negates any potential benefit. Microsoft’s help system, for example, frequently crashes. It has some powerful little scripts in there that oddly aren’t located anywhere else in the system, but when it crashes 1/2 of the time it won’t be frequently used.
While this wouldn’t be possible under the current paradigms, I wonder if you could implement applications completely as extensions to the shell. That’s the paradigm we have been moving towards these past few years. Hmm….
Well IMHO I think is best to start from a most-likely to least-likely, less destructive to most destructive. Meaning that the most likely actions would be viewing, or listening. Next would be creating (and yes I considering bringing in something preexisting, and making “changes” as part of that catagory). Note that there are no hard and fast boundaries, but simple cause, effect, and consequences.
There are different ways of looking at a UI to judge its ease of use. The article argues only for the first-time user, which is important, but certainly doesn’t reflect everyone’s needs. An easy-to-use OS for beginners, in this task-oriented system, becomes a hard-to-use OS for people who really want a structure and know exactly what they need to do what. I, personally, am very particular about what app opens what, and what app prints what, what app converts what, etc… and I don’t particularly want to use an external file viewer to launch or communicate with the app anyway. I’d rather use the file/IO controls of the app itself. I believe, for people who really REALLY use their computer, this UI ‘theory’ is moving in the wrong direction. However there seems to be no middle grounds, and of course the power users can figure out how to extend, change, or replace the UI’s functionality, but not vice versa for the novice users. All in all, no big deal. No big fuss. Nothing amazing. Woo woo.
I’ve used a Mac since ’84.
It seems to me that working with “N” “Task agents” has many more permutations of interaction giving much greater posibilities of use.
I would rather learn 20 things that will allow me to do 100 things than learn 100 things.
Now the rest of indirectly on this subject but please excuse, I need to vent this somewhere…
As the number of programs I use expands, I am quite frustrated because most software is written from the standpoint that you have days to read the manual and understand everything.
I believe that software should be intuitive and should not deny you of what you need to know.
An example is diagnostic messages. I open up FileMaker Pro database which has been shutdown improperly. It gives me the the “softwriter egocentric message” “This file…” It never tells me the name of the file. Now really that software writer knew the name of the file. It should be shown to me.
In other words software should be written to wrap itself around the user and not the view of the programmer.
Another example: AppleScript. It’s taken me three frustrating years to program in it and I’m not a novice to programming. My problem is that it uses what I call the “Rumpel Stiltskin” approach [this is probably the wrong spelling – the childhood story of the man who said guess my name…]. I’ve literally spent *hours* to get one line to work. From an intuitive standpoint, this is the most non-Apple program I’ve ever used. My problem where to I find out what syntax to use quickly. There should be a “help agent” that says “here are all 50 possible permutattions that you can use with this command.” It is a program where I don’t know where to turn to get an answer other than a chat group. I like it now that I’m over the learning hump. I don’t like that there was a hump in the first place. I dropped learning AppleScript three times because of the time-consuming frustration with it.
Software should be written so all possible next steps are intuitive one clik away and all pertinent information is presented as needed with additional info available one click away.