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GUIs for Everyone 675

Posted by michael
from the you-must-be-this-smart-to-use-the-computer dept.
An anonymous submitter writes: "A former Microsoft and Creative Labs interface designer has an interesting diatribe on the approach of Linux GUIs on the desktop. Thomas Krul has three Microsoft patents for human factors research into digital interfaces and graphic software functionality. Probably most known for the interface work he had done on Softimage DS and its web site. Though not a technical read, it does provide an interesting note on the approach for Linux on the desktop." And headless_ringmaster notes that Jef Raskin, the guy who designed the first Macintosh and author of The Humane Interface, has a SourceForge project putting his ideas into action.
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GUIs for Everyone

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  • by w.p.richardson (218394) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @01:35PM (#3979280) Homepage
    Are there any aesthetes who have input into GUI's for Linux?

    It seems to me that the GUI's available (including KDE) favor substance over style. To make significant inroads to the desktop market, that needs to change. People love flashy things!

    • This is not nessicarily true... Win3.1, 95, 98, NT, 2k were not flashy. In fact, there is a lot more you can do to customize things in X then in Windows IMHO. Not that flashy things aren't a good idea, but ease of use is probably a better thing to focus on. Just think, if every one bought what was flashy most people would have an iMac.
    • Wrong.... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by dpilot (134227) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @01:42PM (#3979347) Homepage Journal
      To make significant inroads into the desktop market, we need to learn how to make it so substance and style don't conflict, so we can have *both* at the same time.
      • who cares about the desktop market
        the whole thing is wrong you stare at a HD display

        now interfaces to worry about are

        Playstation 3

        my phone/PDA/lifemachine

        regards

        John Jones

        • I can see your point, but embedded applications don't need the same type of function/appearance as the desktop. But I don't see the desktop/laptop going completely away, because the 'general purpose machine' is just too compelling as a working model. It may well shrink, but I predict that the desktop/laptop will not shrink below 25%-50% of where it is, today.

          What's a "deltic"?
    • by kisrael (134664) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @01:44PM (#3979362) Homepage
      I don't know, I hate flashy.

      Here's an example: do "regular users" prefer the new look of WinXP, or the old one? My mother-in-law, in setting up a system for an elderly friend of hers, set the overall system to the Win95 look-and-feel, after I showed her how. She also had the very good idea of clearing off the desktop to a blank background, and putting the icons for 4 or 5 apps right there, so the newbie could avoid the start button altogether for now.

      Anyway I hate the new fisher price look, and am grateful that they include the ability to rollback...which of course raises the spectre of using the same GUI for the next couple of decades and becoming an old fogie....

      But I don't think the Win95-ish interface is that bad, frankly. The taskbar was actually a throwback to the earliest version of Windows that had the "running programs" all in one place, but that isn't that bad of a thing...running programs should look different from program launchers in my opinion. (That's a mistake I think OSX makes, kind of mixing the two)

      Maybe I'm too short sighted about the future of GUIs, but I think th status quo is pretty decent. And for as long as Windows is the dominant desktop, the more Linux acts like it from the UI, the better, since learning new UIs is a pain. (Paradoxically, by making XP look all new and flashy, they may have done Linux a small favor, by opening people to the idea that it doesn't *have* to all look the same as it has for the past 7 years....)
      • by 1010011010 (53039) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @02:03PM (#3979529) Homepage
        .running programs should look different from program launchers in my opinion. (That's a mistake I think OSX makes, kind of mixing the two)

        After using MacOSX for a while, I'm not sure that it is a mistake. Think about this: people want to run their programs. They need a way to tell the computer "I want to use Word." They don't care if the system starts a new copy, or if it brings to the front an existing copy. So, by placing launcher+task icons in the Dock, just clicking on the "Word" icon does the right thing, every time. They do provide the little arrow to distinguish running apps vs launchers, as secondary information, but that's what it is -- secondary.

        • I see the idea in theory, but I'm not sure if it holds up in practice: most useful apps are very stateful. I'm editing a specific document, I'm viewing a particular webpage, I have a ssh connection open and who knows what's gone on in there. Getting back to those app instances is very different than starting up a new activity...also, I prefer a seperate "task list", because it acts as a reminder of things I probably want to get back to sooner rather than later, as opposed to my launch icons...who knows when I want to get to them. (Also, I like a marked hierarchy w/ my launchers: I put everything I come back to regularly on my immediate start menu, and everything else lives in the hierarchal menu ghetto.)

          I haven't used OSX enough to know if the "little arrows" is enough of a difference for me, because I don't consider the difference between things I'm doing and things I may want to do in the future as secondary. (Also, I assume you don't put *all* your launchers in the dock, just the ones you like to use a lot, so I don't know where the rest of the launchers live, what tht's like)

          (You know, one of the things I miss from 3.1 was that it made it really easy to "paint" the icon canvas, it was just like any other screen, so it was fun to make mini-art there)
        • "I want to use Word." They don't care if the system starts a new copy, or if it brings to the front an existing copy.

          Actually, because of the way Word works, I do care. If I open an existing copy, there are already one or more documents open in there. Sometimes I want the control that associating a window with a document - rather than an app - gives me (e.g., editing defaults, etc.).

          In fact, I believe that Word should be more mono-document-centric rather than multi-document-centric - after all, most people use Word to create and edit single documents. This means that there should be one entity on the screen (window, icon, whatever) for each document - not one application window with multiple documents hidden inside of it.

          I know that most programmers think that programs are the most important things, but to most people, it's what the program works with that's the most important. Failing to realize this is the largest UI error most designers make...

      • by Maniakes (216039)
        Nontechnical users think of the UI as the whole OS. Even if they know better, they still make a connection at the gut level. By doing a major overhaul of the UI, MS gives users the impression that they're buying a completely new version. People will pay more for that than for a few bug fixes.
      • by MaxVlast (103795) <{ot.als} {ta} {mixam}> on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @02:11PM (#3979599) Homepage
        The apps being mixed in the dock is a legacy of NeXT UI principles. They figured that with modern computers that preemptively multitask and with endless virtual memory (theoretically), the user shouldn't care or think about whether a program is running or not, he should simply use the right tool for the right job. There is even less of a difference between running and non-running apps (just a tiny grey ellipsis) in NEXTSTEP. I dig it, and I like the principal.
      • by Feynman (170746) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @02:36PM (#3979790)
        But I don't think the Win95-ish interface is that bad, frankly.

        Herein lies an important tenet of usability testing, which is Jakob Nielsen's "First Rule of Usability:" [useit.com]

        Don't Listen to Users

        You may think the Windows interface is OK, but your saying so is no substitute for observing you in action. Chances are--and no offense intended--you probably don't get along as well as you think you do.

        And you have to have something to compare it to. When compared with the Macintosh, the Windows GUI is much slower. Just, Ask Tog [asktog.com]. Finally, as MaxVlast points out [slashdot.org],

        • the user shouldn't care or think about whether a program is running or not, he should simply use the right tool for the right job
        It goes by many names, but this concept is what Alan Cooper [cooper.com] calls "Goal-Directed Design." Design the system so the user can do what they want to do. The underlying technology should be transparent.
        • by kisrael (134664) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @03:01PM (#3979974) Homepage
          I've taken some UI in college, and had a fair chunk of real life experience.

          I think "usability experts" are way too quick to disregard user feedback in favor of things that can be easily measured. I think that those metrics leads to a reductionist viewpoint that misses the overall user experience. Yes, I might be .2 seconds faster to locate an item in on a long list if such and so scrollbar is set thus, but that doesn't mean a system that used that method would be improve by virtual life. User satisfaction is a better goal than user speed.

          Here's a great example: keyboard shortcuts. Experienced users love 'em. "Usability experts" point out how most tasks are faster with the mouse, and point to this as proof that you shouldn't listen to the users. This is R-O-N-G wrong. If using the keyboard comes more natural to the power user, than it's likely using less mental energy, and not distracting the user from whatever he or she's actually focused on, what he or she is trying to get accomplished overall. I haven't seen many tests that get into that level of detail, that really focus on the whole job rather than tiny subtasks.

          Back to the dock vs the task/launcher seperation: Yes, the underlying technology should be transparent, like if the system shuffles old process to disk or whatever, but I think for most users there is a big difference between getting back to things (documents, webpages) they're working on now (tasks) and wanting to start on new things, blank documents, new browsers (hence, the seperate launchers)
    • by Lemmy Caution (8378) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @01:47PM (#3979393) Homepage
      That is wrong. "Flashy" is the dead wrong idea. The right word is pleasurable, just like the article said.

      In a GUI substance and style are pretty closely linked. "Style" is a shorthand for visual features that communicate things clearly and elegantly, in a pleasurable, attractive way.

      One of the limitations that the linux GUI is suffering right now is that there are too many aesthetes, actually, who mistake skinning and customization with actual GUI style. Where you put the buttons for the windows and what color the window borders are isn't what's important - it's how whatever symbolic language that the GUI embodies communicates that tasks desired by the user in a way that doesn't provoke anxiety, is unambiguous, and fun.

      One problem that a lot of writers about GUIS and HCI - including MS and Apple - often run into is the myth of the pure non-user: the idea that GUIs have to be made to address the people who have a complete blank slate about computers. There are no such things. Like it or not, we have a population that has a history of interaction with computers and that has given them a set of skills and expectations that must be accounted for. I've seen efforts to "reinvent computing" to capture the mythical "Aunt Bertha" market that all run aground of the fact that most people in modern societies already have developed a background of interactive strategies for dealing with computers, and that it's somewhat inefficient for them to completely dispose of it.


      • you assert that developers "often run into is the myth of the pure non-user" but you do not back up this statement. It is an interesting point but i wished you had backed it up.

        One of the follow up replies suggests you go to rural africa (rural anywhere for that matter), but i would also suggest you look to your family (particulary your grandparents if you are fortunate enough to still have them) look to the very young and the very old in any society.

        Granted there are lots of Electronic Devices such as mobile phones, telephones, toasters, kettles, fridges, video recorders (even TiVo) that may contain microchips and could be considered computers but the users dont see it that way and they are designed to be used differently (i am loathe to use the word paradigm) they are generally focussed on a single task rather than multipurpose machines like PCs so i dont think it is fair to say that because some one is familiar with other modern technology they are not a blank slate when it comes to computers.

        It usually makes sense to base your interface on real word interfaces that users can relate to but take a look at the criticisms of Quicktime 5 in the Interface Hall of Shame (google for it) and you will see a few examples when not to.
        • My grandfather (may he rest in peace) doesn't need a computer at all - and if he did, he'd avail himself of the skills and knowledge possessed by those who already have a history of interaction. I have relatives in their 60's and 70's and all have some experience with web browsing and email (usually hotmail or the like) on some machine or another. While making a little internet device for them might amuse them, it's not going to be the basis of the future growth in computing technology. How many of the people who have no priming about interfaces really are chomping at the bit to get a computer, but just aren't happy with the UI metaphor yet?

          Even if you don't use a computer, the interface features of computers are depicted and described in language and media everywhere. Also, I don't know about rural Africa, but I know about remote corners of Latin America, and in many small villages and towns there is one old 486 running Windows95 that is shared by dozens of people in Internet 'cafes', giving everyone some exposure.

          It is difficult, perhaps impossible, to quantify the way that the learned practices of modern computing have permeated society. Computer ownership has very little to do with it - libraries, kiosks, cybercafes, schools, and the like are filled with computers, and many of the people who use them don't own computers of their own. So I don't know just what "backing it up" would mean for you, except in appealing to the evidence day to day experience in the world. I think that the failures of attempts to create large, viable markets using low-end internet applications could be thought of as some sort of supporting evidence.

    • Enlightenment [enlightenment.org] granted it is currently a window manager, it has quite a lot of style. The new e-17 looks promising though.

    • The GUI is one of the things that attracted me to GNU/Linux. I love having four virtual desktops. When I use Windows I always want to switch to another desktop. Then - DOH! - I realise that I can't.

      Some people don't really care, but I just love the screensavers that came with my distro. They're so cool! I sometimes just sit and watch my screensaver for minutes at a time. The windows users that I work with are always impressed with what my computer is doing when I'm away from it. And I love having the random screensaver option. No matter how cool your Windows screensaver is, and no matter how much you get a kick out of it when you first see it, you eventually get tired of the same old thing.

      I also like how customizable Gnome is. I was very impressed when I first used a png for a shortcut icon. Try doing that in Windows.

      These are very small points, and I'll probably have a string of replies mocking me for this, but remember that these are the kinds of things people like. I'm an end user, not a developer. There are some good and unique things about our GUI that attract new users.

    • It seems to me that the GUI's available (including KDE) favor substance over style. To make significant inroads to the desktop market, that needs to change. People love flashy things!

      I just set up a new GNOME desktop last week, and, after adding some choice icons, translucent terminals, and a tasteful background, it really is gorgeous. And useful too, since everthing has the right amount of visual contrast, and the taskbar has exactly what I want. Traditional Windows is pretty darn stiff and ugly by comparison, and Windows XP just feels more patchworked-together than GNOME.
    • by grip (60499)
      To make significant inroads to the desktop market, that [substance over style] needs to change. People love flashy things!

      You are so right, but at the same time -- so very wrong. The first problem is that most programmers are not designers -- even though they fancy themselves to be. Add to this that a GUI that controls an OS has to allow for incredible complexity, but to appear simple to operate magnifies the problems of programmer as designer.

      However, making things "flashy" isn't much better. IMO, MAC OSX is very flashy, but it is basically the same as MSWindows -- which is what Thomas Krul also clearly says.

      I like the idea of an opensource GUI dev group, but it has to be lead by GUI designers whose sole concern is the end-user experience. The history of Linux development has demonstrated how little the 'non-geek' end-user is regarded.

      Cheers,
      Grip
    • I read the article (mind you, I'm not implying that you did not read it), and I don't think this really has to do with aesthetics. I thought he was writing about a deeper issue. It isn't about just making it look flashier. It's about providing a fundamentally different interface.

      For example, Macs, Windows, and the popular GNU/Linux desktops, all use the "desktop" metaphore with a mouse and windows. It's so basic and simple that you can basically use any of these systems if you've ever used just one of them. One might have a taskbar, and another has a task menu, and one might have a start menu while the other has a launch pad, but they're all basically the same.

      The article, however, seems to be saying that people aren't going to switch to GNU/Linux just because Linux desktops are "finally as good as" proprietary desktops. They will need to relearn the interface a little, they will need to give up or re-purchase all the other apps they are used to, they will need to convert their documents, and even for many businesses, it's just too much trouble. Sure, GNU/Linux is free and all, but it's not really worth it to people who have been using proprietary software all along and haven't had much to complain about. And I must admit, even though I've switched to GNU/Linux, I never had much to complain about proprietary software. In fact, my Mandrake Linux system crashes about as much as my old Windows system did (which may just be the distribution, or it may be my hardware, it could be anything, but that's not the issue). The main reason I switched was for the freedom of the software, but that's not nearly important enough for most people.

      So if we could come up with something revolutionary, and not simply evolutionary - that would be the carrot that drew the horse to free software.

      Unfortunately, the achilles heel of free software seems to be research. Who has the time or money to work on a project like this? It takes "really smart people" to do something like this, and most of them are captured ASAP by companies like Microsoft and Apple because these companies know what these people can do for them.

      The future of computer interfaces will, I think, find us first using hibrid voice-recognition/GUI systems, and eventually mostly voice recognition altogether, enhanced by basic remote control. People who still need GUI (artists, publishers, drafters, etc.) will still have them, but as computers become more pervasive, and voice recognition becomes better and better, the need to have screens everywhere will be reduced.

      What can Linux do? The best thing would be if a few companies like Red Hat, IBM, Sun, etc., were to get together and sponsor open source research into advanced human interface concepts. Maybe there's a better paradigm than windows+mouses that we just haven't though of yet.

      But beyond that, somebody needs to bring voice recognition to open source, and compete well. You know when people can really start talking to their WindowsXBox device, they're going to totally forget about that free software fad...
      • Those calling out for "new interface paradigms" are missing it by not digging deep enough. It isn't so much a matter of "command line" vs "GUI", it has to do with a deeper fundamental grammar of the communication.

        When it comes down to it, when you want to tell the computer to do something, there are two possibilities: "action-object" and "object-action". You can either specify an action (print, compile, grep, display, etc) and then the object (file, link, document, image, etc) to which that action applies, or you specify the object and then the action.

        Now, it happens that a CLI works better for action-object, and a GUI works better for object-action (although you do get oddities like AutoCAD and others which seem to favor action-object within the program). No amount of glitz or 3D or voice input will change that. (Voice input tends to be action-object like a CLI, and 3D is just a fancier GUI).

        Come up with some new grammar other than A-O or O-A, and coming up with a radical new interface will follow on easily.

        But I don't think you'll find such.

    • Microsoft didnt create the GUI, We should be getting lessons from Xerox and Apple.

      Lets see interviews with Apple OSX engineers.
  • Mmm... (Score:4, Funny)

    by PissingInTheWind (573929) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @01:36PM (#3979291)
    I'd rather not trust an "interface designer" that publish green text on gray background...
    • Re:Mmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Hornsby (63501) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @01:44PM (#3979369) Homepage
      I was thinking the same, but then I checked out the main part of his website. It's actually quite nice, and he's done some kick ass interfaces. This guy knows his stuff, and I think he's got a point here.

    • I'd rather not trust an "interface designer" that publish green text on gray background...

      That's the very first thing that I noticed when I went to his webpage, and the very first thing I was going to comment on.

      Typography has a very long history of user testing that has helped refine what we know about how to present textual information for maximum legibility . Having a high contrast between the foreground and background color is obviously a key element.
      Black text on a white background may not be hip, but it is much easier on the eyes than virtually every alternative.

    • Re:Mmm... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by ethereal (13958)

      Not to mention makes you scroll up and down the page in order to read all of it. Hint: this interface mode works great for the newspaper, where just your eyes have to move. It doesn't work so great for the web where you have to move the mouse or click keys in other than the normal down-the-page direction.

      Why is it that every single Famous Interface Designer who graces the /. front page has demonstrably poor abilities at interface design, and their failings are immediately apparent to all and sundry? Is there some sort of law, like the one followed by clothing fashion designers, that the amount of your fame is inversely proportional to your true ability at your work? Don't any of these people ever try to use the interfaces that they think are designed to be so usable?

      And patents - well, we all know how restrictive a club that is :)

      • However, having narrow columns *is* good -- otherwise, your eyes spend a lot of time finding the beginning of the correct next line. I prefer two narrow columns where I have to jump to the top once to one really wide page where I have to keep jumping back and forth.

        Of course, one narrow column is probably the best of all.
    • I'd rather not trust an "interface designer" that publish green text on gray background...

      You make an excellent point. However, you forgot to mention the hugely positive attribute of that page: It was damn fast. Even though it's probably being "slashdotted" right now, it still showed up immediately when I clicked on the link.

      That segues very nicely into another important part of UI design... it's got to be snappy. The people who work on the Linux graphical system often seem to forget this. No matter how ridiculously fast the machine is, moving the mouse and interacting with the UI feels sluggish and difficult. I often get the sense that I'm being very demanding, that it takes a lot of effort to press buttons, drag things, etc. That kind of amorphous "feeling" is what can make or break a UI. From what I've heard, Microsoft spends billions of dollars doing UI research, trying to figure out what makes people Happy to use a particular UI, while open source in general seems to put the UI on the back burner. When people with a good eye for this stuff start putting in thousands of hours, the Linux UI will finally start to draw people in.
  • Irony (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Moderatley interesting read but does anyone else find it a tad ironic that the colour choices on the page make it difficult to read...one wonders how much HCI experience was applied to the article itself...
  • by Interrobang (245315) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @01:39PM (#3979319) Journal
    When I was in grad school, I did a paper on the Windows interface from an end-user design perspective, and it sucks. Surely there are other ways to handle a GUI that might make sense.

    Other people who've weighed in on this subject include prominent researchers like Jpseph Goguen [ucsd.edu], Terry Winograd [stanford.edu], and Eben Moglen [immaterial.net].

    Right now I'm not proposing a solution, either, but I am working on understanding the problem.
    • While I get suspicious when I read someone telling me that the way to improve a GUI is to make it more "pleasurable" (aesthetics is not a universal value, as shown in this discussion), I have to agree that things are not where they should be. Windows is certainly not the way. Apple/MacOS is better, but despite the fact that many say it "gets out of your way and lets you work", there are still many areas of the GUI where you have to read the programmer's mind to figure out what to do.

      If we are looking for a new paradigm, perhaps we should examine Watson [versiontracker.com] by Karellia [karelia.com] and the new Sherlock 3 [apple.com] by Apple [apple.com] which is essentially a clone of Watson. These new paradigms of web browsing try to present information in the form which is best, rather than trying to sublimate it to whatever fractured HTML presents it on the Web. The result is a fast and efficient means to find exactly the information you need.

      Maybe a next-gen GUI could use a similar idea and provide seamless ways to present the information you want to view or work with, without a desktop. Are you working on a text file? Automatically move into a word processor-like relationship. Are you viewing an image? Automatically move into a image viewing/manipulations relationship. If these different "relationships" could be placed into the OS in a way that they seamlessly interact, it might provide a way to interact with pure data, rather than simply shuffling around icons on a desktop.

      Random idea. Course, if you were to do this right, it would require even more integration than Microsoft or Apple have done with their packaged apps. Every function would have to, in some way, be plugged into the OS. Is that better or worse than what we have now?

      • by medcalf (68293) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @02:39PM (#3979811) Homepage
        Apple came up with what I believe to be the best human-computer interface idea in a long time during the late mid-90s. It was called OpenDoc, and the idea is that what matters to people using a computer is the data, rather than the applications. A document was a collection of elements of different types, and there were tools for editing different types of data.

        For example, you might be putting together a presentation with some textual information, some graphical images, a chart and some sound clips. When you click on the text, your menus and commands change to those of the text tool you've chosen. When you click on a chart, your menus and commands change to those of the chart tool you've chosen. Word would be the equivalent of a text tool that does outlining and such, combined with some other small tools that work with graphics and such. Say you didn't like the graphics tool that came bundled with Word? No sweat, just tell the computer to use a different one instead.

        This would have maximized competition, as well as making computers much more sensible, in my opinion. It got killed, and I'm not sure why, but I'd sure like to see it get revived.
        • Re:OpenDoc (Score:3, Insightful)

          by krmt (91422)
          The problem with this, and it wasn't just a problem with OpenDoc, but it continues to be a problem to day with component models, is that the interface does change right out from under you.

          I really like the idea of having a document-centric model. It just makes sense. But in the practice of using OpenDoc, it brought back the concept of modes. Unlike the command vs edit modes of vi, one of the greatest achievments of the Mac was to eliminate modes. You just opened up MacWord and typed your letter. Wanted to adjust formatting? No "format" mode, just edit it from the menu. The menu didn't change ever.

          OpenDoc was confusing because it brought back those modes. You've got your word processor mode. You've got your vector drawing mode. You have your web browser mode. Etc, etc. This is bad, because the interface becomes a constantly changing thing. With separate apps, there are clear divisions between things, but not so with a document-centric model, because it's all data in the document. What if you just want to view the picture rather than edit it? What if you want to use the text in a page layout fashion rather than plain ASCII editing? Data is mutable and it makes the UI mutable too.

          Honestly, I can't think of anything worse for the end user than a constantly shifting UI. You can set it up so that the UI components are your choice, but they are, by necessity, still shifting within a multi-type document. This difficulty on the user was particularly apparent in OpenDoc when you looked at the menubar to see what you were running and it didn't tell you. Strange problems abound in that UI (although it's been so long I don't remember a lot of my gripes). It was great tech, and great theory, but OpenDoc still had major problems that were never solved, mainly due to being killed in its infancy.
        • by the_verb (552510) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @03:20PM (#3980151) Homepage
          This would have maximized competition, as well as making computers much more sensible, in my opinion. It got killed, and I'm not sure why, but I'd sure like to see it get revived.

          I did a lot of research on OpenDoc around the time it was taking off, and worked closely with one of the companies that was doing tons of development for it. They bet the farm on OpenDoc and lost big when it tanked.

          For those who don't remember it, the whole affair was based on a couple of core concepts:

          (1) Big, monolithic applications suck. They never provide the perfect set of features for a given user, they're overkill for everyone, and they tilt the market in favor of huge companies with massive feature lists, punishing smaller companies that make focused products.

          (2) Users don't care about applications: they care about documents and tasks. As long as the user's "favorite" tool works and lets them manipulate the same data as any other tool, the user will be happy.

          (3) Creating solutions out of many tiny components instead of monolithic applications will result in a larger, richer software market.

          Although it all looks good on paper, it didn't play out. In my opinion, it failed for the following reasons:

          (1) may be true, but tracking down two or three dozen text manipulation components to build your 'pefect word processor' isn't much better than biting the bullet and buying MS Word. In fact, most Opendoc demos were really monolithic apps with a few custom components 'plugged in' to provide simple image editing, or graphing. It was the only way to provide a workable UI for users in the soup of 'universal data.' At that point, the 'revolutionary paradigm' is nothing more than a meta plug-in format.

          (2) Users may care about tasks and documents more than applications. This point is actually the best one, but Opendoc's soup of "container apps," "editor components" and "read-only components" for distribution made building that 'perfect mix of features' more difficult for a user than just buying a monolithic app. Want to send a document to a friend? Unless they have the very same mix of components, you'll need to imbed them in the document. Watch that letter to grandma swell to a meg or so...

          (3) Building software out of discrete parts was supposed to make everything cheaper for uesrs, and provide more opportunities for developers. Someone has to pay, though. Even if a user only has to pay $15 or $20 for each component of his perfect word processing solution, the aggregate cost is likely to be higher than a monolithic solution. Apple talked about companies selling 'pre-packaged' collections of OpenDoc parts as readymade solutions and making a profit on the integration work, but this is no better, in the long run, than monolithic apps with hooks for other programs to integrate with.

          In addition, it would require complete re-writes of existing monolithic applications with no benefit to the companies save additional competition. Since it was a Mac-only technology, it would have made porting software nigh impossible as well.

          Mind you, I never actually DEVELOPED OpenDoc software. I used OpenDoc software o nmy own maching for almost six months, and I spent quite a bit of time talking to developers who were willing to bet the farm on the idea. I'm still sad that Apple didn't succeed -- the problems they wanted to solve wree real ones, but the solution died under its own weight. There was no real value proposition for end users or software companies.

          Apple eventually realized this, and axed it.

          --the verb
        • The two big things that killed OpenDoc were ActiveX and JavaBeans. Apple looked at them, decided it wasn't worth continuing to use OpenDoc, and let it go by the wayside. ActiveX and JavaBeans, while perhaps not as powerful, offer practically exactly the same feature set. (The only two things that OpenDoc offered "free" that they don't have are network collaboration and versioning, but either could be added without a whole lot of effort if anyone really cared, and JavaBeans have supported network transparency for quite awhile now.)

          More than that, though, neither OpenDoc nor any of the other technologies really seemed to catch on. If you check, you'll discover that you can embed a Quattro Pro spreadsheet in Word, or a Word document into a WordPerfect file, and chances are really good that you can edit them afterwards. KParts in KDE provide the same functionality. But end users really don't seem to care or to make use of it. The problem, the reason they don't care, is that the entire system must be oriented around documents, or the idea really doesn't work terribly well because vendors can still support some extra functionality through integration. I can click a button in Word and an Excel spreadsheet pops up, but I have to go through a clutsy and unintuitive Insert Object menu to get a CorelDraw document in place. The only way to overcome this would be to replace even the applications themselves by documents, not at all unlike, oh, I don't know, maybe Mozilla, where the browser browser itself is just a big document that ties together a bunch of components through XML...
    • When I was in grad school, I did a paper on the Windows interface from an end-user design perspective, and it sucks.

      That's too bad. I hope you someday find the time to go back and revise your paper until it doesn't suck. ;-)

      • Hey, the paper didn't suck...the design of the UI sucks. Learn to parse a sentence. English doesn't come with software to do that for you...which is probably why so many code jockeys are so bad at it.

        I'd put the paper up somewhere and share it with everyone, but the original's sadly gone to Data Heaven, and the disk copy is probably in the same pocket universe as half the rest of my stuff...

        Related case in (original) point, the button on Netscape that used to say "Guide" in English said "Guide" in German, because the direct translation is der Fuehrer.

        Sloppy thinking. I mock in their general direction.

        Not only that, but the metaphorics are equally cringe-worthy.
  • by Jerky McNaughty (1391) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @01:42PM (#3979344)

    I don't put a lot of stock into articles like these because the way I use my computer is so vastly different from others that most people couldn't even sit down and use my computer if they wanted to.

    No, that's not "bragging" or me feeling "31337". It's just a fact that over the period of eight years of using UNIX, I've gotten things reduced to the minimum amount of stuff I need with the exact customizations I want.

    My desktop has nothing but an xclock (yes, the real xclock in digital mode). My Emacs has no toolbars or scrollbars. All fvwm does for me is decorate my windows and give me a root menu. zsh is finely tuned for my daily tasks with all kinds of aliases.

    And that's the thing... UNIX has always given me the capabilities to make my user interface work exactly like I want. This is something most other OSes just haven't given me. If you use Windows, you get a one-size-fits-all interface that assumes you do a particular set of common tasks. For many people, that's exactly what they want, because they do very similar tasks. But for me, I spend my days using a large number of xterms, Emacs, and Mozilla. I need nothing else, I want nothing else. Just give me screen real estate, UNIX, and I'll customize it to my precise needs.

    I'd be great if Windows would give you those kinds of capabilities. I find myself frustrated every time I use it. Mostly because it's not what I'm used to, but partially because I can't change the way it works when I disagree with what the human-computer interaction, GUI-gurus have dictated everyone needs.

    • zsh is finely tuned for my daily tasks with all kinds of aliases.

      I LOVE the idea of aliases. I could save so much time. But I refuse to let myself use them for fear that someday (it wouldnt take long) I would run an alias in a pipeline that doesnt exist and destroy a filesystem, or something as horrible. Course, my boss uses them, and he's got the wise unix admin thing going on, so someday I'm sure I'll see the light, but for now, I hang back and go the long way around.

    • I'd be great if Windows would give you those kinds of capabilities. I find myself frustrated every time I use it. Mostly because it's not what I'm used to, but partially because I can't change the way it works when I disagree with what the human-computer interaction, GUI-gurus have dictated everyone needs.

      Have you looked at Shellcity [shellcity.net]? There's lots of great UI tweaks and utilities for making Windows look a lot better, including replacements for the Explorer shell like Litestep [litestep.com] (the Litestep site seems to be down right now, however). With a shell replacement, you can regain that control of having the desktop you want.

    • by gosand (234100) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @03:19PM (#3980139)
      Just give me screen real estate, UNIX, and I'll customize it to my precise needs.

      Sorry, I don't mean to be mean or anything, but you are the exact reason why this approach should not be taken for the mass market. But I agree with you, for my own preferences.

      But here is the deal - the mass market needs to be the same, or very similar. Think about TVs, VCRs, etc. They all have the same basic functions. On, off, channel up, channel down, vol up, vol down, play, pause, stop, fwd, rwd, etc. Everyone needs to have similar interfaces. Can you imagine being on the support line of a company that allowed you to configure the interface however you wanted it? Nightmare. It is a nightmare now, when all the interfaces are the same, but at least there is a common starting point. (Go to Start->Settings->...)

      Most people don't want to configure that stuff, they just want something that works. I am stepping out of my techie shoes here, because MOST computer users don't care about all that crap. They don't mind that Microsoft makes all the decisions about this or that - as long as it works. I like Linux because it gives me the choice of what I want to use. I like trying out Mozilla, Opera, Konqueror, etc. My family doesn't understand why they would want to use anything other than what they are used to using. I recently got them off of Netscape 4.72 and put them on Opera. I still field phone calls and emails about various things, and get the inevitable "It didn't used to do that".

      Microsoft knows what the average shmoe wants, they want things handed to them. They want to be spoon fed because they don't understand these scary computer thingys.

      But I think that time could be changing. I have been playing with computers since high school back in the early 80's. I like computers. Kids growing up with computers are taking to them. The time is going to pass where people are scared of them, just like the fear of electricity, telephone, and automobiles passed. The new generation of computer users are going to be the ones who are not aware that computers didn't even exist at some point in time. (just like it is hard for me to imagine a time when telephones or cars didn't exist). They are going to be the ones who decide what direction the personal computer goes. They are the ones who are going to be saying "I remember my first computer, a Pentium 4 with 512MB of memory" instead of "back when I was growing up, we didn't have computers".

      But until that time, whatever appeals to the unwashed masses will rule the desktop.

    • by jhines0042 (184217) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @03:30PM (#3980234) Journal
      I used to do exactly that.

      Then I would go use someone elses computer and be almost completely lost.

      Now I try to maintain a computer that is as near vanilla as possible so as to be able to sit down and use a vanilla machine when presented with one without swearing and cursing or hitting the wrong key/expecting a certain macro to work.

      Just a different approach to a different problem.
  • by perlyking (198166) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @01:44PM (#3979356) Homepage
    Oh my god, Creative Labs produce software with some of the worst interfaces i've ever seen!
  • by evilned (146392) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @01:44PM (#3979367) Homepage
    The guy worked for creative, the live software has a crappy interface, their video card drivers have absolutely horrid interface and dont even talk to me about the infra drive software. So take what he says with a grain of salt.
  • Original? (Score:3, Offtopic)

    by Dark Nexus (172808) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @01:45PM (#3979372)
    Nobody wants a copy, they want something original
    Well, that's obviously not always the case. Just look at Windows. I wouldn't exactly call the Windows GUI much of an "improvement" over the MacOS GUI. Even saying that Win95 was an improvement of the Mac GUI really came down to a matter of preference. There weren't any direct improvements, just differences that people liked more/less.

    Now of course the climate is different, Linux is hardly in the same position Microsoft was when they released Win95, but it just goes to show that some people DON'T mind copies.
  • by Sebastopol (189276) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @01:45PM (#3979373) Homepage

    great article. it points out one of the interesting things i witness over the past few years with linux guis. namely, the obscurity of the linux o/s, or any o/s for that matter, is difficult to hide with a gui. yes, it may look more appealing and candy like, but as the author says, when the system finishes booting, you're faced with thousands of options.

    simply having a solid o/s and a vast open-source community does not make your gui any more successful. it feels that the general consensus about linux guis is: hm, now why didn't that work as well as we expected?

    a previous poster asked if there were any aesthetes with input?

    here are mine:

    1. limit all fonts to a 24 point minimum

    2. design the gui for a 3 year old -- make the boot screen look more like palm o/s

    3. screw power users -- you want power-user mode, boot to an ANSI console (root doesn't get a gui)

    tv manufacturers used to understand this: they even merged on/off with volume, and there was the channel changer. the power user could pop open a a panel to adjust contrast, brightness and hue, though i doubt anyone ever did.

    then sony went bananas and added all this digital shit, audio stuff, PIP, sleep timers, gah...

  • by gosand (234100) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @01:47PM (#3979399)
    I found the article interesting, but lacking insight. Consider this:

    "It's all about Pleasure."

    "I used to derive pleasure when using my Apple, Amiga and sgi because they had a unique personality through various touches and tools that made the interface more cognicent of my existence. Windows completely lacks that interface. It's dumb and arrogant. It's heartless and ultimately disposable."

    I don't know about other Linux users, but I do get pleasure in having a desktop with several windows that can all be doing something. I find typing enjoyable and flexible. I can write small scripts to automate some tasks or make some jobs more efficient. I like grep. Compare this to the mouse. The mouse is boring, and very one-dimensional. Without the OS, or a software package, the mouse is pretty useless. That is why there are so many menus (right-click) associated with the mouse. Typing can be melodic, but that click-click-click of the mouse about drives me nuts.

    I think what the author is missing is that he thinks the user interface needs to be a GUI. No, that is what Windows offered, and they have pretty much taken it as far as it can go. I am not a Mac person, but I am guessing that the GUI there has gone about as far as it can go too. It's about going back to the basics, back to the keyboard.

    Unless of course, someone can figure out a 3D UI like they have in the movies. But that always seems REALLY annoying.

    • What makes you say that? From the info about his sourceforge project, it says that it's a command line program, not a GUI.
    • My idea for a 3D UI is this:

      First the input device is a head tracker and a standard wheel mouse. The output device is a 2D (monoptical) or a 3D (bioptical) head mounted display.

      Think of a sphere that surrounds your head. That is the new "desktop". The applications are standard 2D applications that we know today. The windows are anchored to the sphere such that their plane is parallel to the tangentental plane at the center of the window. Forground applications are fully in front of background ones.

      The mouse moves along the sphere until it visually falls on a window, then it moves in 2D within the window. Grabbing the title bar and dragging moves the center point on the sphere, and thus adjusts the orientation to still be parallel to the tangent.

      Holding a special key (alt, maybe) and rolling the wheel expands and contracts the sphere. Holding another key and rolling on an application rescales the application. This is different from dragging the sides and corners as that changes the size the application thinks it has and thus changes layout and may obscure some information on the screen. Rescaling just allows you to make something small that you have to contract the sphere to get it closer to see well.

      This design has a few good advantages:
      - the user can place applications that are similar to each other close together, so that, for example, looking close to straight forward you have your work applications, while to the left you have websites. Changing context just involves rotating your head.
      - the user can place less important applications to the sides. The looking straight forward is the most natural position to be in. Applications that aren't important harder to look at areas. For eample a stock ticker may be above and to the right, and you can check it by glancing there. Also, you can take advantage of the human peripheral system that has been tuned to detect movement over providing clarity. A stock alert that pops up there will be noticed by the user but not interrupt the application they are working on unless they choose to look.
      - Because the sphere is actually a 2D surface in 3D, it can use normal 2D tools, such as the mouse, to navigate on. Yet, it still allows the user to arrange things in a 3D space, without actually worrying about how to move in the 3rd dimension.
      - Since the user will typically only place windows where they can physcally rotate their head to, the windows all end up being within reach fairly quickly.
      - It's natural for humans to interact with the world by standing in one spot and rotating their head. It isn't as natural for us to fly in all 3 directions.
      - No changes to existing applications need to be made. They don't have to know they are being projected in a 3D world.

      If linux were to have this, I doubt I would ever go back to windows (much like I can't go back to IE because of what it lacks over Mozilla). Now, I can go between them without caring because they aren't very distinct, featurewise.
  • by sphealey (2855) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @01:47PM (#3979400)
    From the article:

    Unfortunately, something important is missing.

    That something is an Open Source GUI development community who's role is to concentrate on creating a new interface standard for Linux@home users instead of continuing the cycle of emulating the Windows story.

    I might take this guy seriously if he bothered to mention anywhere in his essay that the MS-Windows interface is derived from the seminal work done at Xerox PARC and the subsequent refinement by Apple. He speaks as if Microsoft invented the GUI ("next the Party will claim to have invented the steam engine") when clearly this was not the case.

    sPh

  • by Tall Rob Mc (579885) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @01:48PM (#3979405)
    The entire article seems to focus on the fact that nobody has developed a Linux UI that improves on the Windows UI. However, he fails to mention any specific examples of what can be improved. What does he want to see in a Linux UI that will greatly improve on Windows?

    From my Windows XP Pro desktop I can access all of the applications that I commonly use with a single or double click. I can access all of my applications in seconds by tabbing through an easily-navigable menu that is clearly displayed. I can also use this menu to easily navigate to my Control Panel, Printers, and most recently used documents. Sure XP's default setting may look a bit cartoonish, but it seems to work easily enough.

    What is it, Thomas Krul, that you want this Linux UI to do that will make it leaps-and-bounds better?

  • by Otter (3800)
    1) If you're going to be pontificating on the inadequacy of the Linux GUI developers, you ought to be able to make a readable web page out of a few simple paragraphs of text. That thing looks like the mess Word makes of columns right before you give up and switch to Quark.

    2) I considered saying this to this poster [slashdot.org] but decided against it, but since there's a linked article doing the same thing -- the reason "we" haven't implemented a super new interface that's revolutionarily better than existing ones isn't because "we" don't want to, but because it's monumentally hard. If you actually have such an idea, tell us! Meanwhile, those of us who are doing the best we can don't need to be asked why "we" aren't doing better.

  • New Ideas (Score:3, Interesting)

    by spencerogden (49254) <spencer@spencerogden.com> on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @01:51PM (#3979433) Homepage
    I am a little sick of articles and comments that bash current GUIs for being derivative, without coming out with new ideas. It all fine and good to say that we need something new and exciting, like the GUI was to the commandline, but it hardly does any good to complain about there not being something new if you don't present your ideas on what the new paradigm should be.

    The most creative thing I have seen are 3D desktops, but those don't seem to be a major improvement over virtual desktops. I guess the next big thing should be computers that you can converse with(not neccessarily with spoken speech) and just tell to do a job, which would be great if we could do it.

    I guess I am just tired of people complaining about WIMP derivatives. If there were better viable ideas out there, we could do them, but I haven't heard any.

    If anyone would like to enlighten me as to what the next paradigm should be, I would be happy to encourage and help it's developement, otherwise stop complaining until you have an epiphany.
  • by DG (989) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @01:52PM (#3979438) Homepage Journal
    I think the biggest failing behind Windows (and by implication the Mac that it so blatently stole from) was that it hid the Command Line Interface (or shell if you prefer)

    GUIs are well-suited for simple tasks, and are good for the important-task-infrequently-used items, but for items of moderate complexity, nothing beats dropping into a shell.

    But by hiding the shell (and making it clunky, as per Windows and DOS) or by removing it entirely (Mac) there is now a huge class of computer users who expect *everything* on the computer to be availible via GUI widgets. The concept of communicating with the computer via a type of language is completely and utterly foreign to them, and is viewed with fear and distrust.

    But to ignore the shell is to ignore the greater part of the power of the machine!

    It's like all the books in the world were suddenly converted into comic books, and all literature was abandoned. Not that there's anything wrong with a comic book, but they don't deal well with Shakespere or Gibbon.

    Celebrate the shell! Bring back the CLI!

    DG
  • by Skyshadow (508) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @01:52PM (#3979439) Homepage
    This guy says the exact same stuff that I've heard people talking about since 1995 when I started using X on top of Linux. I don't want to be one of those "why is this news" trolls, but I can't really see what the usefulness of this article is. Did I miss something?

    That said, let me address his points: The mistake I see this guy making in his logic is assuming that OSS makes large-scale innovations. In reality, I've noticed that OSS projects tend to borrow a basic framework and when innovate in smaller steps. Linux looks like Unix, KDE and Gnome look like Windows, etc. The difference, of course, is the small changes and nifty add-ons that make any given system more configurable, useful or whatever.

    The real strength of OSS is the rate of evolution, not in the ground-up creation. I'm convinced that it takes a small group of well-led, motivated people with an original idea and good planning to make truly structural leap -- think Be. I haven't seen an open source project do this *yet* (not saying it's impossible, however).

    So, instead of just doing is shallow-understanding critique of open source development, he should have been discussing a way to allow open source development to make these sorts of large-scale fundemental leaps. That would have been useful.

    • I'm convinced that it takes a small group of well-led, motivated people with an original idea and good planning to make truly structural leap -- think Be. I haven't seen an open source project do this *yet*

      What about TeX?
  • Drivers and software (Score:2, Interesting)

    by EvilBudMan (588716)
    I think the main isssue here is not the GUI but if your hardware has drivers for Linux and if all of the software that you want to run will run on Linux.

    For instance, Photoshop is not available on Linux. Some CAD and 3D software is also not available. Some of the popular games are not available. When you see those things for Linux, you will have popularity on the desktop.

    Notice, I didn't mention M$ Office. There are alternatives for that on Linux. When you see Adobe, Autodesk, and others develop for Linux, business will switch due to cost. Then the consumer will switch too.
  • So the author's idea of an "active" interface is a flashing cursor? Linux has any number of these from the *shes to the various xterms.

    I'm not sure I want my computer to be doing anything when I turn it on. Unless I have multiple power-on buttons like "Form of a Wordprocessor" and "Form of a Web Browser", how is this general purpose device to know what I want it to do? Instant-on would help a lot, but you still have to tell the box what you want it to do.

    Perhaps a pseudo-command line is the way to go. Start typing first, and then have the box try to guess if this is a URL, an email, a shopping list or the Great American Novel. It would kind of suck to end up at ItWasADarkAndStormyNight.com [bulwer-lytton.com], though.
  • I think this guy is wrong on several accounts, though it was an interesting read. For example:


    After 20 years of speed and capacity improvements, the computer just doesn't seem any brighter or smarter than it used to. And that needs to change.

    What? So the computer doesn't seem any smarter than it was in 1982? Uhh.. not sure how to respond to this, other than to state the obivous. In 1982, GUIs were pretty much non-existant, the OSes WERE dumb (no auto-detect, no learning), etc. This statement is purely incorrect. On to the next:


    Linux desktop interfaces provides little that is new, and are dismissed as copies of Windows by the undeducated consumer who does not realize the value of the Linux underpinnings hidden behind the scenes. Nobody wants a copy, they want something original, and that means a radical departure from the desktop analogy.

    I disagree. I think businesses and those who want productivity DO want a copy. All GUIs are copies of each other in some way or another. There is an unpublished standard of GUIs that is adheared to somewhat, and copies mean less learning of new things. I would like something revolutionary and new, but I just don't see it happening any time soon.


    The apple, on the other hand, had simplicity on it's side: one keyboard (maybe even a mouse) and a single flashing cursor on the command line. The concept that impresses people is that with this one continuously flashing entrypoint into the computer (awaiting input) is that even if you left it on for 2,000 years you had the idea that the machine was waiting patiently for your input - the concept that you were communicating with a machinentity that was trying to understand you.

    I never found the flashing cursor of a prompt that fascinating. If it was a better way to do things, it would have stayed around and people would have preferred it. How can one advocate a completely new GUI yet cherrish the CLI? Computers are meant to sit there and wait for you, but a prompt hardly menas the machine is "trying to understand you" - if anything it is dull and more machine like than any GUI.
  • by deranged unix nut (20524) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @01:54PM (#3979462) Homepage
    Usability isn't just for the framework, it is also for the individual applications. Windows has standards that are recommended for applications.

    First, are there application or user experience standards for KDE, Gnome, X, or command line apps? I know that there are a few de-facto standards on the command line, but is anything codified (especially for gui)?

    Second, how many open source projects have done a usability study to see if your aunt, cousin, grandmother, or neighbor can easily use your cool new application or tool without significant assistance?

    Formal usability studies are expensive and time consuming, but they do work.

    Then again, if you are building a car in your garage, do you just care about yourself, or do you spend the extra week to make an adjustable seat so that it is comfortable for other drivers?

    If you want me to move back to using linux as my main desktop machine, you need to make it much easier to install and configure the OS, the desktop, and all of the applications. Linux may be powerful, but I don't necessarily want the power to cut my leg off if I don't spend an hour reading the docs before I attempt to compile and install a new program.
  • Blockquoth the article:
    That's why many of us threw out hundreds of dollars of records and diamond needles the day CD's came out.
    I'm all for the points the guy raises, but this is a bad example. The adoption of CDs was actually quite slow -- the technology was introduced in 1980 [oneoffcd.com], but didn't outsell vinyl until 1988 [80sxchange.com]. Indeed, universal adoption of CDs awaited two things: the CD-ROM (turning every computer into a CD player) and the decision not to release on vinyl anymore.

    The lesson? The surest way to enforce adoption of a new technology is to disallow other technologies...

  • Here I am reading the article scrolling with my mouse wheel. I get to the bottom of the first column, instead of being required to move the mouse, grab and drag the scroll bar, or repeatedly scroll the wheel back up, he provides a quick link to jump to the top.

    Very simple, yet elegant. You don't see things like that often. Small little things like that can greatly improve the end user experience.
    • Oh well not for a weirdo like me. At first I was gonna scroll up to continue reading but then I realised that there's a (more) link and thought that this may lead me to another page but I decided to run my mouse over the link and saw that it actually scrolls up.

      Sure it's nice but it required way too much thinking on my part.
    • Actually, it kinda confused me when I saw a link at the bottom of the first column. I knew there was a second column, but did not know which way I was supposed to go to continue the thread I was on. If it was newspaper style, the more link would be the way, but it could be that the more was supposed to be interpreted after the whole article. I highlighted the link to see, and all was made clear, but it certainly threw me for a loop there, hardly intuitive...
  • Unix has been around for 30 years or so now. a lot of the command line utilities people use today are ports of programs written in the 70s.

    There's MORE to choose from in a Unix environment because people have been writing software for it longer. The good software sticks around. Do you know what people used to find files by content before grep? I don't, and I don't care, because grep kicks ass. Would it be better than Start->Find->containing text for my dad, a hater of computers? Absolutely not.
  • As long as developers just try to make a "better Windows than Windows", there will be no major upswing in the adoption of Linux on the "client" (whether you are talking about the traditional desktop, or other environments controlled directly by the user, such as handhelds). Until now, most efforts to develop Linux interfaces and applications have been focused on simply recreating equivalents of existing software products. As a result, mainstream desktop users have found few compelling reasons to switch to Linux because it does not currently offer an experience that is fundamentally any different from that of Windows or MacOS (notwithstanding its lower price and superior reliability). But as truly next-generation user interfaces for Linux emerge, they will enable the development of new kinds of applications that will be difficult or impossible to match on the existing platforms. Such "killer" applications (which are defined as applications that are so valuable that they justify adoption of a new platform simply to gain access to them) will start the virtuous cycle of platform-application interdependency that will allow Linux to break out of the server ghetto and take off with the masses.
  • Linux has traditionally been designed, developed, and maintained by engineers. Engineers tend to be more concerned with function than form, and thus we are all sitting here using a highly functional, amorphous operating system. The introduction of a "standards body" will require people to actually follow the standards. If the standards are widely adopted, we will have a highly functional kernel with a very well formed interface. The current desktop model has been innovated upon long enough. We need desktop pioneers to come forth and INVENT rather than follow the lead of a product we consider inferior. A major paradigm shift on the desktop could be exactly what Linux needs to take it from the point of being "fragmented on the desktop" to being "seemless from the bottom up". I sincerely hope that people get off their asses and make it happen.
  • What I'd like to see is a plain language command line interface combined with a gui of some form. OSX is close, but not quite there. I'd like to be able to call up a command prompt and type "copy all MP3's in *this directory* (the directory chosen by a menu akin to a save dialogue) to *this disk*. I love OSX, but I'm finding more and more that the whole concept of a window manager is grating on me. I'd love a text parser like the old infocom / Sierra games. *Look Around* gives you a directory listing of where you're at, etc. Terminal's close - it guesses what you wanted to do if you mistype. I'd just like it to be...well, smarter.

    I don't know how possible this is, I don't even know if it exists. I'm a writer, not a coder. I guess I'm looking for a more...interactive experience. Plain language voice control is a good step, but I feel silly enough yelling at my computer let alone pleading with it. (It's fun to use to play chess tho) :)

    Triv
    • The problem is that, really, the "plain language" ability of a command language isn't going to get you anywhere that a not-quite-pain-language-but-shorthand language won't.

      They tried this with 4GLs and cobol. COBOL wears the tips of your fingers down to the nubs because it is incredibly verbose. Doesn't make it easier to program, but damn, it's close to spoken language. "Copy all MP3s from here to the hard drive" makes sense to you. Do you mean to copy every file that has the extension .mp3, the file type of MPEG1 layer 3, the file named "all MP3s" that you use to keep track of what you've got, or what? Do you really mean the hard drive or is that what you call the CD-RW drive? Do you really want the computer confirming every possible ambiguity with you every time? What happens when it assumes wrong? And then what happens when you type "Now, I want you to write my research paper" because you are now ascribing HAL-like properties to a computer that just has a user friendly command line.

      See, we can't parse plain language unambiguously, so you would need to clarify any ambiguities to the computer. So no matter what, you will have to change your method of interaction to deal with the computer. The only thing you do by making it more "plain language" is making it easier for somebody who doesn't quite know what they are doing to get themselves in real trouble.
  • Oh sure, everybody bitches about how bad this or that interface is but it seems that the louder they bitch the less they have to offer in the way of a solution -- let alone a solution that will please every other loudmouthed interface snob out there.

    So why don't we see more proof-of-concept projects to go along with these rants about how poor every interface ever created is? You can do all kinds of wacky things to the Windows desktop using LiteStep and you don't even need to be a coder! X is even more configurable!

    Could it be that most of these whiners are all talk and no walk? Where were they when GNOME and KDE were soliciting ideas for interface designs anyway? The heart of the matter is of course that most of these interface complaints are from people who are supposedly "experts" but at the same time all of their claims as to how inferior this or that interface is are backed by little more than opinion.

    I'm sure somewhere there exists the "technically perfect" interface design that is endorsed by all the research and all the statistics. I'm also sure that this interface is worthless in just as many respects as the existing interfaces are.
  • Where's my 3D GUI (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BeeRad (597156)
    I'm still waiting for the GUI where I have to navigate vis the NES powerglove.
  • There have been a number of articles complaining about the poor interfaces that exist on modern computers and I keep wondering what exactly these critics expect. What feature is it that they want to see in KDE4 that would somehow create this innovative GUI that would just blow everybody away? 3D? Interactive agents? What? Stop complaining and start solving. Sit down, write code, or tell harass somebody who writes code and solve the problem. Isn't this what open source is supposed to be all about. Contributing ideas to the collective and IMPLEMENTING them.

    Furthermore, many articles like this seem to suggest that the next big revolution is right around the corner. The theory seems to be that since the desktop paradigm is 20 years old, it must be replaced with something better. I'm not convinced that this is true. Over the past 20 years, we've been honing the desktop paradigm and frankly I find that it is a really great way to interact with the computer. Of course I'm so old fashioned that I still find the command line to be a great way to interfact with the computer. It seems to me that the next step in computer interaction has to bring the computer to a level that allows for it to seem more human. That level of interaction is, to say the least, non-trivial and I'm not convinced that this is going to be happening anytime soon.

    As a side note, talking about the graphical environments on Linux as being Linux is, once again, misleading. Predominantly people run XWindows with Gnome or KDE. But this is, by no means, the only options out there. Now, I'm unaware of any desktop efforts that are really creating something totally new and innovative, but at least Linux allows for the flexibility to do this.
  • but what's with links [sourceforge.net] to SourceForge "projects" that have nothing more than a name? I go to check it out, and find "This Project Has Not Released Any Files." Great. I go to the project's home page, and find it has little more than, "To be updated later."

    C'mon; even a short essay describing the goals of the project might be nice.

  • What UI do they want?

    Voice: Too slow, annoying, and disruptive.
    Gestures: Too much effort, too easy to make mistakes. If you're using the mouse already anyway then just click something.
    Touchscreen: Too imprecise and messy.

    The simple fact is that the Windows concept is an excellent one. What we need is better teaching, such as "minimizing is not closing" and "right-click for more options" and telling people how the file system works - "your laptop still has a 'desktop', even though it's a laptop."

    Travis
  • HCI is just whiny diatribes about how this or that UI violates the author's arbitrary little rules.

    The last UI "aha" moment I had was a taskbar for Win 3.1, and then Unix pipes. And I doubt either of these was thanks to an HCI "expert." What's the best way to regard such an nonproductive discipline? Ignore it.

  • If you want an example of a 'good' interface, take a look at ColorForth [colorforth.com]. It's not flashy at all, but it's an example of what you can get when some thought is put into a user interface.

    No, it's not what I'd call a general user interface, but it encapsulates a lot of good ideas about comptuer interaction which could easily be generalised and carried over to more traditional GUIs.

  • There is only one useful part of this article: "If the product is better, it does not matter how different it is. That's why many of us threw out hundreds of dollars of records and diamond needles the day CD's came out."

    Other than that, this guy is just a blabermouth. How can you trust this guy when he has a link at the bottom of the first column of the article that takes you up to the top of the same page so that you can read the second column.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @02:22PM (#3979675)
    Yes, go ahead and mod this as troll.

    It appears that so many people here are completely missing the point of the article, and instead do the standard slashdot pessimistic "oh, well give us an example if you're so smart," or attacking the guy personally. Grow up.

    The article's purpose is simply to provolk some thoughts: it's a big pointer to the situation, not a solution. The solution, my friends, is in YOU, the READER'S, hands. No one's going to hand you a vison of a better alternative on a silver platter.

    I believe that despite the attacks on his credibility, he's right on mark. There's not much effort creativity-wise required in emulating Xerox/Mac/MS Windows, and "no one got fired for following the crowd." He is right, though: the current computing paradigm is inefficient and stagnant. The Linux/*BSD movement is a sign that there are many who believe the desktop paradigm isn't working, hence the inclination to use things like linux/*BSD which possess the previous paradigm, the command line (which is a much more powerful interface to the machine, but requires much more from the user).

    Instead of spouting off like spoiled children about all the negative aspects about the article, what about actually getting up out of that lazy-boy, and doing something yourself. Use that mass of brains cells you've got crammed in that head and _think_up_ a better paradigm! Insults aside, I'd reckon that the vast majority of people here are actually very intelligent people (there's plenty of immaturity, but that's par for the course). You've got a good head on your shoulders, so why not use it.

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @02:22PM (#3979680) Homepage
    He has some good criticisms, but no answers. I'm not impressed by someone who claims to be an interaction designer yet puts up a web page with two columns of text, each much longer than a screen.

    If you want to make progress in this area, the way to do it is to set up a proper human interface evaluation. You need a quiet room, a camcorder or two, a Wal-Mart Linux box in its carton, and a half dozen or so people representative of the customer population. You put them in the room, start the camcorders, and give them a list of tasks, like "Unpack and set up the machine, connect to the Internet, compose an E-mail, and mail it to this address".

    When you play back the tapes, you log everything that slowed the users down or, worse, stopped them. Then you make your developers fix all those problems. Repeat until the initial user experience is comparable to that of a new game console user.

  • From the article:

    Nobody wants a copy, they want something original, and that means a radical departure from the desktop analogy.
    [snip]
    ...some run cute little tab and dock apps that help launch your favorite apps (ho hum) but none of these products (OSX included) have revolutionized or even attempted to improve upon the Windows GUI. Lycoris is just a simple Windows copy. No improvements, no paradigm shift.

    Sounds like someone doesn't know his 80's and early 90's history very well, specifically who copied who's gui.

  • ...for some of Creative Labs's crappy interfaces. I hope he chokes on a "Flash For Dummies" manual. I can see sooooo many errors in usability on his web page it makes me laugh. For the newbee not versed in UI usability, here's one for ya... do you really want a slider that has values 10,20,30,40,50, where the diffeence between the values is a few pixels? how the hell does the user easily adjust to 38? And any reposne of "But they don't need to" is wrong, and although I love vi too, you need to read up on User Interface ***USABILITY*** best practices. Start a book club maybe, and make this guy a member.
  • by bockman (104837) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @02:57PM (#3979946)
    Ok. This is the right excuse to throw out some of them:
    • No more overlapping windows. I found that a lot of my time is wasted resizing,moving,shading, opening,closing window. There shall be a better way. I know the experiments with non-conventional window management techniques, like ion or PWM or that other tabbed window manager ... they are not there yet.I'd like to see something which implements emacs window management. In one-buffer mode, every windows take the full screen. For special needs like drag and drop or multi-windows apps like Gimp or Glade, you can split the screen orizzontally or vertically and have one windows on each half, allowing users to resize the two halfs moving the separation bar.Maybe window belonging to the same class may share the same screen area and auto-arranged to look a feel like a MDI. All windows are resized to take all the space they can, unless they are marked non-resizable (like toolbars) or the user sets its own preferences.Dialogs always-on-top and centered wrt their application.
    • An active desktop background, which actually works as a full-screen, always-on-back file-manager window. It always show your current working directory..Able to split in a multiple-direcory view. With the capability to specialize background (and other user preferences) on a per-directory basis.I know, it looks a little like StarOffice 5.x desktop. But it wasn't a bad idea, it was only half-cooked: too simple and rigid for a desktop, too overwelming for an app main window.
    • On the bottom quarter (or less) a shrinkable command line or mini-terminal, which is kept in sync and can interact with the graphical part, the way the mini-buffer of ROX Filer works (or the embedded Terminal in Konqueror).
    As you see, no brand new ideas. But I'd love to see them put all togheter, even oly to discover that it was a giant mistake. Maybe one day I'll try it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @03:07PM (#3980036)
    I love these trolls - they complain about the author's lack of any solutions and then don't offer any alternatives themselves.

    The author is trying to spur discussion for new interface ideas.

    So - I'll try suggesting something.

    How about a search-engine based UI?
    Here's a use case:
    You are presented with a prompt - it says "What do you want to do today?" (ala MS) I enter in "email Bob Johnson about the party on Wednesday". The computer then responds with an email form - it has already entered Bob Johnson's email into the "To" field and has put "Re: the party on Wednesday" into the "Subject" field. The cursor is in the contents of the email with my signature already entered at the bottom and a greeting at the top.
    Once I am done - I click on the gigantic "Send" button.
    I never even see an email application - just the form to create a single email.

    Programs would be installed into a database along with keywords and use cases - this is where the search engine gets all of the info.

    Each use case has an associated wizard or application or form for the user to fill out. If the search comes back with more than one entry - it presents the user with the entries so that they can choose.

    The web (and various web search engines) could meld with your machine. If the search through the local database turns up nothing, it will go to the web and give you some results.

    Other use cases:

    -- Burn MP3s
    -- Create a picture (opens the GIMP)
    -- What's for dinner? (search for a good recipe)
    -- What's the weather like? (web search)
    -- Troll on Slashdot
    -- Buy movie tickets (web search)
    -- Write a resume (loads a word processor)
    -- Balance the checkbook

    The computer will create convenient shortcuts
    to the use cases that the user frequents to
    further customization.

    Applications would be defined by their use cases. That way, when someone talks about a
    piece of software, people can discuss the use cases it adds to their system.

    Oh well. I just thought I'd offer something instead of whining about the author's lack of solutions. What do you think? Offer constructive criticism - don't just troll.
  • by Twister002 (537605) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @03:11PM (#3980063) Homepage
    ...it's with the input devices. As long as we are still using mice as the primary input devices for our GUIs, we're going to be stuck with the usual descriptive buttons.

    Not that buttons are a bad thing, does anyone here want to dial a phone number using a rotary dialer?

    How about inputting your account # by lining up numbers a'la a bicycle lock mechanism?

    There are only so many ways you can create a GUI as long as the user has to point at the screen and click on something.

    new ideas for input devices:
    How about gloves that allow you to manipulate the desktop? Want a file? Open up the drawer and get the file. Want to read it? Hold it up as if you were reading it. Yeah, yeah I know..old 80's movie cliche about how computers will work in the future.

    Maybe the future of the GUI is that it isn't tied to a central information store. I can already enter my address book into my Palm Pilot and interact with that. If I want to watch a movie I have a TV. If I want to listen to music I have a stereo.

    Maybe the role of the computer desktop should change from "tool" to "information storage and coordination". If I want to watch a movie, rather than opening up Windows media player or Quicktime, I turn on my TV, it connects to my computer and the computer plays the movie through my TV. Same with music.

    Maybe the future of the desktop is extinction?

  • Err, no. (Score:3, Informative)

    by Com2Kid (142006) <com2kidSPAMLESS@gmail.com> on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @03:13PM (#3980081) Homepage Journal
    • I used to derive pleasure when using my Apple, Amiga and sgi because they had a unique personality through various touches and tools that made the interface more cognicent of my existence.
    • Windows completely lacks that interface. It's dumb and arrogant. It's heartless and ultimately disposable
    Emphasis mine.

    I have to disagree here, the Windows interface DOES have style, and it is continuously evolving. Windows 98 was a large leap ahead in terms of interface design over Windows 95, and Windows 2000 was at least an equally large leap over Windows 98.

    It is the little things that count. Unfortunately most of them are not enabled by default.

    Being able to open a DOS box to any directory by simply right clicking on it and selecting "Open Prompt Here."

    Being able to open any file with any application, and have a list of commonly used applications used to open that particular type of file listed automatically for the user. Sweet.

    Almost everybody knows of Alt-Tab to shift through running applications, but did you know of Shift-Alt-Tab to reverse shift through the list of running applications?

    Backspace goes back a page in IE, but guess what shift-backspace does? Yup, it goes forward a page. Amused the heck out of me when I realized that somebody at Microsoft had taken the time to make the user interface that consistent. Shift is the universal reverse modifier key in Windows (or at least it is in those applications that follow the UI specs, which unfortunately a good deal of the parts of Office do not. *sighs* Makes MS look bad that, ick. )

    Control-Z is undo. Shift-Control-Z is redo. (before shift was made The Big Reverse Key many programs had Control-Y as the redo key. Unfortunately some applications are still hardwired to only support hotkeys consisting of only two keystrokes.)

    Control-Tab cycles through the list of view panes in the currently running program, Shift-Control-Tab reverse cycles through the list of view panes in the currently running program.

    See, consistency.

    In Windows 2000, the Location Bar in the upper portion of Explorer View panes is actually semi-intelligent. It has a REALLLLY nice auto-complete setup that actually first selects the most commonly gone to files and directories, and then if you do not select one of those, it narrows down the list using frequency of access sorting based upon how many times you have entered that item in the Location Bar. Reaaaaly handy and saves me a lot of time, on a properly setup Windows 2000 system is is capable to access any of literally thousands upon thousands of files with just a few keystrokes! Sweet.

    You can select which hotkey you want to use for Auto-Complete in DOS boxs, and can even choose at which level the Auto-Complete works at. Files, Directories, Files and Directories, there are even more options but I do not have the complete list of them sitting in front of me right now. :-D

    Of course if a person wishes they can completely
    ditch explorer.exe for their UI and plug in whatever shell that they want too. In fact there is a very healthy and active software market out there for alternative shells for Windows. Heck back in Windows 9x for awhile I even ditched the GUI thing all together and just used command.com. Sweet. I think 4DOS released a 32bit version of their shell, so if you wanted a CLI for Windows that was darn nearly infinitely customizable, there you go.

    Microsoft is successful in the UI biz because their UI is consistent all around, easy to use, and does not do unexpected things. Exactly the opposite of the reasons that people hate the Office UI so much, ick.

    Of course all this is a rather moot point with XP, which tries way to hard to do shit for the user, even if it can be disabled, I don't even want an OS on my machine that has that sort of crud compiled into it. :(

    (which is of course where the advantages of Open Source Software come into play. :-D )
  • by Arandir (19206) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @03:31PM (#3980240) Homepage Journal
    Gee, let's just rant on a bit without saying a damn thing! There is absolutely no substance in this article. He bitches that we need an Open Source GUI (even though we have several already) but offers absolutely no suggestions on how to get there.

    He even said that Mac OSX is a Windows clone. Duh! If neither KDE, GNOME, GNUstep, XFCE, Blackbox or even OSX are improvements over the Windows GUI, then I guess the situation is hopeless. What does he want us to do? Throw away the monitor?

    As near as I can tell, he wants something that is stunningly new and amazingly original. He wants the GUI to be a "killer app". Well that's just not going to happen anytime soon.

    Examples: you want to launch an application. Your choices include typing a command at a prompt, clicking on an icon, or selecting it from a menu, or annoying your coworkers by using a voice command. Or maybe the computer should be document-centric. Fine. You want to write a memo. You either select "new document" from a menu, type it at a prompt, speak it into a mike, or drag a template off of an icon. Given the currently available hardware, I can't think of any other interface that will do the job. Does he want the GUI to read our minds or something?

    A general purpose computer with multiple applications available for any given task will NEVER be as easy to use as a single-purpose appliance like a toaster or refrigerator. It simply will not happen. His only hope for a "pleasurable" GUI is for specific purpose computers to make a comeback. Like PDAs that only do address books, or game consoles that will only play one game.
  • by psicE (126646) on Tuesday July 30, 2002 @03:56PM (#3980449) Homepage
    It involves a keyboard and a piece of paper.

    I'm being serious.

    Want to write something? Pull out a Bluetooth keyboard, and an 8.5 x 11 touch-screen OLED, what I like to call "Bluetooth paper". Start typing on the Bluetooth keyboard, and watch your text appear right on the paper, with quality as good as a laser printer. Or you can dictate it. Or you can handwrite it. It's completely up to you.

    Want to check your email? Press a key sequence, or say "email", or write "email", and your email is shown right on the paper. Flip the paper over to see the second page, flip it over again in the same direction to see the next page, flip it in the other direction to go back.

    Want to print something? Put the paper near a printer, press a button on the printer, and whatever's on the Bluetooth paper will be printed out on the real paper; a permanent copy.

    Want to surf the web? Type in, or handwrite, the URL; the page will load up, viewable on the paper. If you've got another sheet, it can split itself, showing content on one page, and navigation on the other. Touch a link, and it opens up.

    Now, tell me you wouldn't want to use an interface like that. The OLEDs and keyboards (of course) are in production today, even if the paper's a bit expensive. All you'd need is a device that would intermediate, that would accept input from whatever source and broadcast the raw pixel data back to the paper. It could be in a hub-like box, in a cellphone, even in a wristband. Anything.

    To make it work optimally, you'd need the Bluetooth paper to be a touchscreen. That's not possible yet, but it will be soon; until then, you could use a wireless Bluetooth "remote control", or trackball. Also, you'd need to embed a Bluetooth chip in the OLED; again, if it's not possible today, it will be by this time in 2003.

    Revolutionary? Not quite. It's simply making computers more natural. And until what I describe is widely available, we need to make existing computers work more like that. One wonders, why aren't all current desktops running WinCE or Symbian? Both of those OSes are powerful enough to run productivity and email apps, and WinCE is powerful enough to run games, too (if the Dreamcast could use it, so can desktops). Imagine if someone could press the power button on their PC, and have a list of applications come up *instantly*, because the OS is installed in ROM! It might mean multitasking isn't as powerful as it is now, but no users use multitasking anyway; just us geeks, and our boxen are not desktops, but workstations.

    So, in the short term, what should we do? Extend the LinuxBIOS project to be a full-featured OS with a Palm-style interface, that can load applications off a hard drive, but caches the most frequently used apps (browser, email, word processor) on flash for fast access. Obviously, X is completely out of the picture; really, gtkfb should be appropriate. Start shipping 64MB flash cards, in USB2, FireWire, and IDE versions, with LinuxBIOS, some GTK launcher applet, Galeon, Balsa, and AbiWord preinstalled; you could charge, say, $150 for the initial device, $20 for future upgrades on CD-ROM (or free download). And make very liberal use of AutoPlay for the CD-ROMs; for example, if someone wanted to play Alpha Centauri, all they need to do is pop in the game, click Install, and *everything* happens for them; in the future, all they need to do is pop in the CD-ROM and it loads. For system upgrades, you pop in the CD, wait for a dialog that says "OK" and ejects the CD, take the disc out, and watch it restart itself.

    And better still, we could ship a computer, with a custom mobo (or at least, a mobo with a custom BIOS), that has the whole thing built-in to the computer; so it's even faster than IDE, in fact instantaneous. And that computer could be quite small and cheap. Why? Base it on VIA's VPSD Mini-ITX mobo. Smaller than FlexATX, it clocks in at 17 square centimeters - quite possibly, the world's smallest x86 mobo. It has an embedded processor, and sells for $125 from PriceWatch (including shipping). About the only thing it doesn't have onboard is RAM. You could sell one of these things for cheaper than a Dell, and that's including a 15" flat-panel monitor! As long as it had game support, I imagine lots of people would buy it.

    The problem with all the other devices that were like this was that they didn't run standard apps. This box, being a real PC, would run standard apps; it could run most any console or GTK program, even if it required a recompile. The killer app, though, would be games. Sell the box in two editions; regular, and gamer's edition. The game one comes with a GeForce 4 Ti (or the latest card at the time), VGA-to-RCA converter cable, and no monitor.

    Sounds like a console? So it is; essentially the Linux version of Xbox. But it can also be used as a regular computer; considering that, it wouldn't cost very much at all, and importantly, neither would the games. No subsidised loss-leaders here.

    So, enough of my rambling. Between all these ideas, we should be able to do *something*. So why aren't we?

It seems that more and more mathematicians are using a new, high level language named "research student".

Working...