Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Desktop Metaphor

Hi,
I've been reading a lot about  UI related discussions here and also in other sites. There have been a lot of ink on changing what is known as desktop metaphor. The argument is as the pda and hand held gadgets get prominence, the desktop metaphor cannot hold on.
In my opinion I feel that the desktop metaphor will eventualy be absorbed or replaced by something more intuitive and more easy to use. I feel more aspect should be on the work at hand then going through the process of clicking, window arrangement etc etc.
The change may not be soon maybe it may start with PDA's and then migrate to pc's.(if they exist as a standalone in future)
What do you guys feel in this regard? What kind of metaphors do you guys envision our grand/great grand childrens maybe using?

R K
Friday, April 11, 2003

I'm sitting at a desk with a laptop on it, a pad of paper, some paperwork i need to read *groan*, a pencil pen and ruler.

The deskop metaphor is therefore one i still understand and use every day for performing my work.

Leaving aside for the moment the question of how well current OSes implement "the desktop", I'd consider that the metaphor doesn't have to change until the way we work in general changes.

Have you seen the UI research project at http://research.microsoft.com - in particular have you seen their video demonstration of a new interface idea?

Robert Moir
Friday, April 11, 2003

I understand how one relates to desktop metaphor. 
I"ll tell an incident on change. In a  company with SEI5 process control there were lots of forms to be filled. When the system was introduced the forms were in Word, like the forms you get printed.  All they did was transformed paper based office to paperless office but kept everything same layout for filling in.  So in each form everbody had to fill in details like name, project etc etc which was repeatative and time consuming.

Now someone observed these and started doing some workflow analysis. Later all these forms were replaced with a single window or HTML page with little text boxes in the place where only the details regarding the process were to be filled.  Rest was all automated.

So due to avalabilty of tools the paper like concept was eliminated and a more work friendly concept was adopted. Even though people were adapted to paper based  form filling they really liked it.

My point is, similar kind of research may change the desktop metaphor altogether. I am saying not now maybe in 7-10 years or more.

R K
Friday, April 11, 2003

At this point, making any major changes to the user interface of a desktop computer would be like deciding to switch the drivers seat (in US cars) from the left side to the right. It would be utterly pointless and would result in lots of confusion for everyone. Even if some researcher in some lab determined that we could all be 30% safer behind the wheel of a car just by switching the driver to the other side of the car, no one would accept the change. Especially because, during the transition period, safety would probably temporarily (but drastically) decline.

Likewise, if there was some fundamentally different user interface developed for desktop computers, it would destroy everyone's productivity for at least three to six months. Why, exactly would that be good?

I agree that there will be a paradigm shift in computer user interfaces, but not until computers move away from the desktop. Voice activated wearable computers will obviously need different UI's. Car computers would probably benefit from different UI's as well. But these things are waaaaaaaaaaaaay out in the future. The desktop UI will probably never have any significant changes made to it.

Benji Smith
Friday, April 11, 2003

There is a difference there, though.  Theproblem in that case study was that people hadn't separated the goal of an operation from the methods of achieving the goal.  Consequently they had simply duplicated the method they had used electronically, and only later analysed what their actual goals were and how they might achieve them more efficiently.

However, the desktop metaphor for GUIs isn't there because designers think people need an electronic desktop.  It's there to provide a frame of reference, to make it easier to recognise where things are and what things do. 

Now, as computer literacy grows and users acquire a knowledge of what the metaphors actually refer to,  it's possible that they might outgrow the metaphor.  Or alternatively it's possible that a new realm of human experience might end up providing a better metaphor. 

But I think it's unlikely.  If only because the metaphor will and in fact has become conflated with the underlying mechanisms.

JP
Friday, April 11, 2003

Maybe the metaphor for a PDA should be the little leather binder with a pad on one side and a folder on the other, maybe one with a calendar in it too.

Isn't that what a PDA is trying to be?

MAX2000EXTREMEOHYEAH
Friday, April 11, 2003

I don't get it.

a) what would we replace the desktop metaphor with?

b) how aware is any given user that the desktop is the metaphor being used?

c) how strong is the desktop metaphor today anyway? A magnifying glass with folder has replaced what used to be a filing cabinet.

d) I have a desk with a computer on it with a desktop with a computer icon on it... This is all getting very (the name of that artist who painted the picture inside the picture).

I mean, if we re-named the Desktop something else, how aware would any of us be that it is supposed to be a desktop? The file/folder metaphor works fine and will continue to work fine until the world comes up with a more complex ui (think creo six degrees).

www.marktaw.com
Friday, April 11, 2003

The thing bad about the computer desktop, is that mine is as messy as my physical desktop.

apw
Friday, April 11, 2003

The PDA UI is predicated around small, low resolution screens. I rather doubt that a Palm calendar page would work well on my 17" 1280x1024 desktop screen.

Chris Tavares
Friday, April 11, 2003

I'll take this opportunity to lobby for the UI I'd like to have.

One problem is finding files. Where are they? What are they named? Why can't the computer be a secretary and automatically file things for me with an algorithm like the one that google uses to categorize news?

Seeing things spatially arranged is helpful -- I can remember that I put it in a green folder somewhere in the lower right side of some window. OK, that's OK and better than a lineal list from "ls -l", but still not good enough. I want to see my files in filing cabinets and cubbyholes inside of rooms. Stuff that is really old can get moved to the attic or basement. On the main level, I can walk into the 'library' room to find bookshelves with great works of literature automatically arranged sensibly, and into the 'office' room I can go to look for my customer records, and in the 'art studio' all of my graphic design, gardening articles out in the greenhouse, etc etc etc. All this in a 3D interface which I walk around 3D shooter style. That's the file finder -- there will also be desktopS (plural)/or 'work surfaces' to go to that are saveable and task related, like collections of open window settings and toolbar placements and choices that some programs now have.

Keyboards are fine but if the mouse is used on the right, the numerical keypad should be on the left so the keyboard will be in the center.

Actually, I want two mouses, a left hand and a right hand, each with several buttons and at least one wheel. The OS should support two mouse cursors so now I can select an object with one hand and perform and action to it with the other like I do in real life.

Modifier keys like control, shift, option and command should come as footpedals as well as being on the keyboard in the standard computer.

There's plenty more but that's enough to get started.

X. J. Scott
Friday, April 11, 2003

Here's the problem with UI.

X J Scott's ideal interface would have me destroying the PC with a meat cleaver.

I don't want anyone to arrange things for me.  Leave it where I put it!  Let me decide what things are called. 

Shove your "My Documents" concepts where the sun don't shine.  Stop opening Windows Explorer with all that pre-selected Windows crap expanded!  I don't let Windows decide where anything goes, 'cos nothing is more certain than that after the next upgrade I will never find any of it again.

As for 3D ... barf!

Party animal
Friday, April 11, 2003

"(the name of that artist who painted the picture inside the picture)"

Escher

Jim Rankin
Friday, April 11, 2003

Check out this project http://www.sqldesktop.com/ it's supposed to be more like a filing cabinet environment.

Matthew Lock
Friday, April 11, 2003

Party Animal,

You'd still have the old interfaces as an alternative way of doing things. The automatic filing 'secretary' function would not force you to use it -- all files in this system can have an unlimited number of references -- you can still store your stuff wherever you like, but the secretary places references and cross references to all data in various locations automatically  (just like google does not actually delete or change the location of the original news stories that it automatically categorizes). Not having this as an option is like advocating an internet in which search engines and links are not allowed - each document can only be accessed by typing in its URL to the URL bar and pressing GO. Imagine web navigation in which you are only allowed to start at ip addresses and access directories from the top level. No hyperlinks. No search engines. That is the state of desktop technology - very primative. There's tons of room for improvement.

X. J. Scott
Friday, April 11, 2003

"Escher" Of course, I immediately thought of escher, but weren't people doing this before Escher?

www.marktaw.com
Friday, April 11, 2003

Which has me thinking... If M C Escher had designed the Windows GUI...

www.marktaw.com
Friday, April 11, 2003

---"If M C Escher had designed the Windows GUI... "---

He would no doubt have written it in LISP

Stephen Jones
Saturday, April 12, 2003

Every now and then some self-proclaimed user interface "guru" comes along, complains loudly about the current state of computer usability, and makes some vague statements about a "new paradigm". Then they disappear from whence they came, their manifesto confined to the dusty corners of the Web.

The problem is that we don't really want a single user interface. Different tasks require different interactions. Each application should be permitted, even encouraged, to adopt a user interface most suitable to the needs of its users. Obviously, there are a bunch of common tasks that many programs will have in common: buttons, opening files, printing, etc. but the central purpose of an application will be different from any other application. If this were not so, why would we need that application?

Applications are the reason we use computers. The job of the operating system is to get out of the way and let the user get their work done with the tools of their choice.

Look at Quake. It's technically feasible to create a file management system that works like Quake, running around deleting files with your rocket launcher, but why would you want to? Sure, its a neat hack, but would you actually use it on a day-to-day basis?

The right tool for the right job.

Angus Glashier
Sunday, April 13, 2003

"Look at Quake. It's technically feasible to create a file management system that works like Quake, running around deleting files with your rocket launcher, but why would you want to?"

I think companies would pay for a program that does something like that.  It would allow employees a venue to vent and save on the bills paid to retain a psychologist on call for those employees who are on the edge of going postal.

Just kidding :)

HeyMacarana
Sunday, April 13, 2003

Check out http://www.cs.unm.edu/~dlchao/flake/doom/

DJ
Monday, April 14, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home