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GUIs Get a Makeover

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 7 years ago | from the new-hotness dept.

540

jcatcw writes "From Xerox PARC to Apple to Microsoft, the GUI has been evolving over the years, and the increased complexity of current systems means it will continue to change. For example, Microsoft is switching from dropdown menus to contextual ribbons. Mobile computing creates new demands for efficient presentation while the desktop GUI doesn't scale to larger screens. Dual-mode user interfaces may show up first on PDA phones but then migrate to laptops and desktops. Which of today's innovations will become tomorrow's gaffs?"

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540 comments

GUI? Bah! (4, Funny)

rrohbeck (944847) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193291)

You only need them to open mutiple xterm/CMD windows, so who cares?

I dont agree (4, Insightful)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193299)

i think they have been slowly DEvolving over the years, becoming more bloated and complex. They are starting to outreach the average joe.

We have had simple and effective GUI's in teh past, like Atari's GEM, and Apple's Newton. Simple and effecitve. but they were tossed aside for much larger and complex systems, requiring more hardware and brain power.

Re:I dont agree (4, Insightful)

Scoth (879800) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193371)

I'd say gaining complexity is perhaps the definition of evolution, perhaps even including bloat and complexity (even biological systems aren't immune. Lots of complex animals have useless bits left over weighing them down. Appendix, etc).

I think the argument is better made that GUIs have evolved too much for their own good. I wonder what would happen if you launched NT 4's explorer.exe in WinXP.... I think i'm gonna go try it...

Re:I dont agree (4, Funny)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193479)

evolved too much for their own good

Yes, cause that's an apt analogy.

Re:I dont agree (2, Insightful)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193967)

I'd say gaining complexity is perhaps the definition of evolution

I'd say the opposite. When systems are overly complex, it's a sign that they're in need of simplification. OS X shows what such a system looks like. Users have an easier time working with the system, while programmers have an easier time maintaining it.

Windows Vista shows what happens when you keep trying to complicate an overly complicated system. The system eventually extends beyond the control of the developers, making each change more and more difficult to make. Users feel it in the way of a confusing interface, and slow progress.

As for biology, I don't see any signs that things are tending toward more complex. Even a single celled organism is quite complex. Multicelled organisms are the ulimate in modular software. ;)

Re:I dont agree (4, Interesting)

fyngyrz (762201) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193987)

I'd say gaining complexity is perhaps the definition of evolution

My product an image manipulation system, has had contextual, ribbon-based selection of tools since 1990. We use a chapter/verse metaphor (click on one level of the toolbar to select the chapter, such as filters or geometric tramsforms, the next level slides into view which contains individual tools such as sharpness and feature removal, or ripples and rotations.)

This layout, like MS's "new contextual ribbon" puts what you need in front of you, and buries everything else until you need it. Our chapters function exactly like MS's "tabs" and our verses function as accessors for sets of tools -- basically, there are three levels to the GUI. We don't put the third level in the toolbar, because there are far too many controls for some tools (as many as 70 sliders, buttons, drop-downs) and it is (we think) a poor decision to always take large amounts of vertical space in an image-processing application. Dialogs let you move all that tool-consuming real-estate around. They aren't modal, though, so you can keep working.

This really is a better and more evolved way to work, and I commend MS on finally getting the point (although I note with some humor that they certainly didn't invent this methodology.) Of course I'm partial to it, having been building and using such an interface for well over a decade now.

The thing that seems to stick in user's craws isn't the difficulty (or "increase in complexity, as you put it) of such a layout, because there isn't any, really... but simply that it is "different." Change is a force for user discomfort, especially UI change. I'm not saying that UI's can't get more complex, they certainly can, but contextual ribbons are a simplifying factor, count on it.

Re:I dont agree (5, Insightful)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 7 years ago | (#16194015)

puts what you need in front of you, and buries everything else until you spend hours swearing at the machine until you convince it that you need it

I fixed that typo for you, no need to thank me.

Re:I dont agree (2, Interesting)

FudRucker (866063) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193563)

i have to agree, i miss the old KDE-2.2 && Gnome-1.4 and Win95 GUI for its simplicity, nowdays both Windows & Linux are suffering from the bloat of feature creap, but i doubt we will be heard, lets hope xfce stays simple, there is always EDE or ICEwm, then there are lots of light and simple window managers & file managers for Linux, good thing linux offers a choice and the Windows users wont get...

Re:I dont agree (2, Interesting)

newt0311 (973957) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193659)

Yeah. I have to use FVWM2 with a minimalistic config file to get the setup I want. no gnome or kde for me. just too much junk in there. what use do I have to title bars, window borders, start menus etc... when I primarily just use the keyboard. I wish there was a good way to do mouseless browsing but I haven't found anything good.

Re:I dont agree (1)

nxtw (866177) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193859)

Tried Opera? It worked a lot better than Firefox did, back when I tried to use a laptop without a touchpad or pointing stick.

Touch screen talking pie menus (4, Interesting)

SimHacker (180785) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193315)

I've been developing touch screen talking pie menus [piemenu.com] on handheld devices, like the Pocket PC. Pie menus work very well with touch screens, but of course the way they track and display and give feedback has to be adapted to the quirks of small touch screens. Talking pie menus give you audio feedback with a speech synthesizer, so they don't require a lot of visual attention and hand-eye coordination.

Talking pie menus make it possible to use an application without looking at the screen! That's important for mobile applications like GPS navigation systems, which people use while driving (despite all the warnings again it).

-Don

Re:Touch screen talking pie menus (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16193421)

Prof Steve Mann at the U of T has done what you have years ago.

I suggest researching his work.

Re:Touch screen talking pie menus (4, Interesting)

SimHacker (180785) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193895)

Of course I've heard of Steve Mann's work, and his Gnu/Linux Wristwatch Video Phone [linuxjournal.com] , which used pie menus (but didn't talk as far as I know). He built his prototype pie menu watch in 1998, about 10 years after we (Jack Callahan, Don Hopkins, Ben Shneiderman, Mark Weiser) published a paper [donhopkins.com] about pie menus at ACM CHI'88. But in 1988 (and 1998), not many people had hardware they could carry around that was suitible for implementing talking pie menus.

Speech synthesis requires a lot of memory to store a good voice, and speech enabled applications require a lot of task-specific scripting control (so they don't start talking and talking at length about something the user is no longer interested in). I'm using the Lua scripting language on the Pocket PC, to develop flexible speech enabled touch screen pie menu based interfaces, which will run on commonly available Pocket PC phones. (I've done a lot of Palm programming in the past, but that's a dead platform.)

Here's a video that Dave Winer [scripting.com] took of me demonstrating an example application: a remote control for "Rock and Roll [podcatch.com] ".

-Don

Re:Touch screen talking pie menus (2, Interesting)

zboog1 (704154) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193743)

You really ought to look at the marking menus in Autodesk's Maya, which have been around since before Maya existed back when it was called Alias Power Animator. These marking menus are also hiararchical, and allow for moving up and down the hiararchy easily (which yours don't). Someone even developed it further as a script to include icons (Xumi [highend3d.com] ) Also, there have been a number of pie-based gesture extensions for Firefox for as long as there have been extensions for Firefox, Firebird, etc... One such extension is still being developed/maintained/updated (easygestures [mozdev.org] ).

Re:Touch screen talking pie menus (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16193887)

Do they befriend a man who travels back in time for some reason?

I know today's main GUI gaff... (4, Funny)

Quaoar (614366) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193317)

...well, at least for websites: Spreading the fricken article over several pages, e.g., this article...

Re:I know today's main GUI gaff... (2, Informative)

Modeski (1002388) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193391)

Print view is your friend.

The problem with guis is they don't work (2, Insightful)

rebeka thomas (673264) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193319)

The problem with guis is they don't work. There's been no evidence that they actually increase productivity or ease of use in the long term, and indeed may hinder usefulness. There's nothing you can't do in a shell that a gui provides extra ability for, when you've been well trained or decided to -learn- how to use a text mode interface well. A GUI will certainly allow for some extra functionality right off the bat, when someone is first exposed to a program they know nothing about, but after a few months usage, those who use text mode interfaces will be outstripping their gui counterparts. It's trading off learning skill with convenience, and like convenience foods ends up in bloated overweight apps always trying to cater to the lowest common denominator.

For a simple example, look at a spreadsheet in its most basic form. Tab goes to the next column over, return goes to the next row down. Entire usage of the software can be made in a text screen, and FAR quicker than entering a number, moving to the mouse, moving the mouse to the next cell, clicking, then moving back to the keyboard, when instead you can enter a number, hit return, enter a number, hit return, etc.

The "inventors" of the gui really have something to explain.

Re:The problem with guis is they don't work (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16193381)

There's nothing you can't do in a shell that a gui provides extra ability for, when you've been well trained or decided to -learn- how to use a text mode interface well.

I use photoshop.

Re:The problem with guis is they don't work (0, Troll)

rebeka thomas (673264) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193437)

I use photoshop.

You have my sympathies. Perhaps you're not aware that you don't need a gui to use a solid graphics tool. See GIMP's scripting [gimp.org] where you can do everything you'd normally do from a GUI, without the overhead.

Re:The problem with guis is they don't work (2, Insightful)

neil.orourke (703459) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193571)

So if I'm airbrushing a busy background out of a photo, which has enough colour variation to make it a bit confusing where the background ends and main thing begins (I edit photos for the technical manuals I write for industrial equipment), you can do this in GIM with scripting?! Cool!

Re:The problem with guis is they don't work (1)

PixelScuba (686633) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193587)

See GIMP

You have my sympathies.

GIMP (1)

SimHacker (180785) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193607)

I think he meant "See GIMP, for an example of a spectacularly badly designed graphical user interface, and compare it to Photoshop, if you want to see how much better a well designed user interface can be."

I hate Adobe as much as anyone, but there's no reason for GIMP fans to lie about how easy it is to use, compared to Photoshop.

-Don

Scripting PhotoShop (1)

SimHacker (180785) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193639)

By the way, Photoshop has scripting, too. The GIMP fans should learn more about the competition before trying to trash it. One reason GIMP is so far behind Photoshop, is that many of its developers refuse to try Photoshop or learn more about it, because they want to remain "pure" (i.e. proudly wearing a badge of ignorance). That's why real artists who use Photoshop regularly can't stand GIMP.

-Don

Re:Scripting PhotoShop (1)

JackieBrown (987087) | more than 7 years ago | (#16194003)

That's why real artists who use Photoshop regularly can't stand GIMP.
You mean that is why artist who have learned Photoshop can't stand GIMP

Re:GIMP (2, Informative)

dbcad7 (771464) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193871)

No, I think he meant see Gimp, because editing pics and photos can't be done without having a gui. (at least not without going insane)

I agree with you that Gimp is not user freindly. I have adapted, and can use it to do what I want to do.. but I did give up on it many previous times.. but I got further in it than Blender. All I can tell you, is if you don't like Gimp then submit your complaints to the Gimp developers, and if you get no satisfaction then get your money back.

Re:GIMP (2, Insightful)

Psykosys (667390) | more than 7 years ago | (#16194039)

Especially when they're talking about using it through the command-line, for chrissakes. I can definitely think of some good examples of the command-line speeding up tasks immensely, but when you're dealing with graphics it's absurd to suggest most of the tasks (i.e., not mathematically generating abstract patterns or completing very simple tasks like red-eye correction) for which people use Photoshop can be completed more efficiently through scripting.

Graphic-intensive solutions for graphic-intensive problems...

Re:The problem with guis is they don't work (5, Insightful)

DelawareBoy (757170) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193541)

I'd wager that, in the long term, GUIS might not increase productivity.. But an -intuitive- GUI for the end user sure as hell minimizes training for a lay user. Visual Icons representing actions are great reminders for those people, especially older ones, who can't remember three letter short-cut commands.

Bottom line: For an expert user, GUIs slow you down. Basic to Intermediate users, especially middle-aged non-techies, GUIs are a godsend, -- when done right --.

Re:The problem with guis is they don't work (4, Informative)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193561)

There's nothing you can't do in a shell that a gui provides extra ability for, when you've been well trained or decided to -learn- how to use a text mode interface well.

Moving multiple arbitrarily named and arbitrarily chosen files from one folder to the next (or other similar action).

Altering the arrangement of a screen.

Anything having to do with graphic design.

Oh, and:

For a simple example, look at a spreadsheet in its most basic form. Tab goes to the next column over, return goes to the next row down. Entire usage of the software can be made in a text screen, and FAR quicker than entering a number, moving to the mouse, moving the mouse to the next cell, clicking, then moving back to the keyboard, when instead you can enter a number, hit return, enter a number, hit return, etc.

A mouse is not fundamental to a GUI, and a good GUI allows for the same keyboard-driven arrangement that your "text screen" spreadsheet does. In fact, using a GUI lets you do things that you can't easily do with a keyboard alone--such as pick a few arbitrary cells to perform a quick calculation on.

Re:The problem with guis is they don't work (1)

rebeka thomas (673264) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193589)

Moving multiple arbitrarily named and arbitrarily chosen files from one folder to the next (or other similar action).

xtree managed that in the 1980s

Altering the arrangement of a screen.

And that.

Anything having to do with graphic design.

I already addressed that [gimp.org]

Re:The problem with guis is they don't work (1)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193793)

Anything having to do with graphic design.

I already addressed that


Ok, now you're just being a little stupid. Sure you could use batch mode to manipulate graphics, if you know a priori what the image looked like and what you want to do with it or if you want to perform the same operation on a whole host of images. Prior to that, you'll the GUI to see what the image looks like and what kind of operation you want to do.

Re:The problem with guis is they don't work (2)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193911)

How about just not having to remember commands. My brain has 7 slots of active memory, I'd prefer to use all 7 instead of having to swap shit out so I can remember a command, or the options that command takes.

Re:The problem with guis is they don't work (5, Insightful)

SimHacker (180785) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193567)

There's a lot of scientific user interface research that contradicts your sweeping claim that "There's been no evidence that they actually increase productivity ...".

A shell is itself quite a sophisticated user interface, and the commands and scripts you type into the shell are user interfaces, themselves. The TOPS-20 operating system provided completion and help built into the command line of all its utilities and applications. Tell me that's not a user interface. Unix has a much worse, non-standard way of providing parameters to programs and getting help about their parameters, and a lackluster hodge-podge of shells and scripting languages, which are some of the worst text based user interfaces in common use.

There are many things that guis make easier, like picking from a list of choices (menus, trees, scrolling lists, etc), drawing and painting (sure you could paint in a shell by typing in x,y coordinates, but that illustrates my point that there are many common tasks that a gui is better for than a command line).

I understand that you're probably just trying to play the Luddite, by rejecting all graphical user interfaces out of hand in favor of a text based shell, but shouldn't you reject all computers, cell phones and other electronic (and steam driven) devices, if you really want to be consistent? I mean, if you hate bad user interfaces, then you certainly shouldn't use the shell (or at least you should run it under Emacs so you have some reasonable input and output editing ability), because most shells have absolutely horrible user interfaces (i.e. arcane syntax). That's right, the syntax of a scripting (or programming) language IS a user interface. Unfortunately many language designers (i.e. PHP, Perl) have no concept of user interface design, and make many foolish usability mistakes that a competent graphical user interface designer should never make.

Have you ever try to explain csh history substitution syntax to your grandmother? Even if she knows how to send and reply to email with a graphical user interface, it'll probably take her a long time to learn how to use the shell.

-Don

Re:The problem with guis is they don't work (3, Interesting)

pruss (246395) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193821)

GUIs are great for utilities that one uses only once in a while, say every two months. Going through a man page, keeping track of options, etc., is a nuisance, and memorization is not worthwhile for rare use. Likewise, well-organized GUI menus are nice for allowing access to commands that one uses rarely. Ideally, there are keyboard shortcuts for common commands.

Re:The problem with guis is they don't work (4, Insightful)

bunions (970377) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193847)

> There's nothing you can't do in a shell that a gui provides extra ability for, when you've been well trained or decided to -learn- how to use a text mode interface well.

I've gone ahead and highlighted the critical flaw in your well-thought out argument.

People aren't well-trained in anything. The entire point of having a computer for most people is to make the computer SOLVE problems for them, not CAUSE problems that require training to fix. Most people don't want to take the nontrivial amount of time required to learn how to use a command prompt well, and it's for those people who GUIs are for.

Re:The problem with guis is they don't work (2)

Millenniumman (924859) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193985)

Huh, really? Well first of all, without a graphical user interface, you can't see images, or even nice formatting. You also can't arrange windows to maximize your productivity, or for that matter do two things at once at all.

Having a GUI doesn't mean always using the mouse. The mouse is a great tool, but so is the keyboard. Sure, you use the keyboard to navigate spreadsheet cells, but what about when you want to bring up a web page next to the spreadsheet to read off of it? I generally mainly use the keyboard when using my editor of choice, TextMate. But when there is something I don't know a command for, I use the mouse. It's far more efficient than searching man pages. Plus, I can arrange windows to serve my needs, far better than trying to make it work in text only emacs.

For most things, the GUI is better than a CLI. Many good CLI applications are a hack to make it more like a GUI while still being usable in a text terminal.

Re:The problem with guis is they don't work (1)

Kaktrot (962696) | more than 7 years ago | (#16194007)

There's nothing you can't do in a shell that a gui provides extra ability for, when you've been well trained or decided to -learn- how to use a text mode interface well.

How about if I want to grab my Zerglings and run them behind the battle to attack some pylons?

Wha' isn't this a graphic? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16193327)


auden 17:43:41 ~ $

You must be talking about.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16193339)

Slashdot.

This must be the stone age (5, Insightful)

Daniel Zappala (15756) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193345)

Gotta love an article on graphical user interfaces with no ... graphics ... of the user interface.

Re:This must be the stone age (3, Funny)

jpardey (569633) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193425)

There are actually plenty of graphics. Most of them just happen to be ads.

Slashdot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16193349)

Hasn't changed over 5 years, until a few months ago
Just like Windows

Really? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16193355)

Congratulations to editors for being hard at work to find half interesting articals.

Ribbons (4, Insightful)

Modeski (1002388) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193361)

The Ribbon bar concept frustrates me no end. There's a reason that in Windows I switch everything to "Classic" mode. Having grown up with DOS from 3.2, then to DOSSHELL, 3.1,9x and now XP, I like that the fundamental concepts haven't changed. Instead of floating icons that are "intelligently" moved around by the software, I would like to always have the ability to strip back the bells and whistles.

You'll take my File/Edit/View from my cold, dead hands.

Re:Ribbons: An Analogy. (4, Funny)

twofidyKidd (615722) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193475)

Ribbons : MS Products :: Ribbons : Bicycles

They don't aid in the functionality, they only appear to make things look faster, and after all is said and done, you look like a big sissy bitch for using them.

Re:Ribbons (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16193573)

Have you actually used it? Maybe they can have some of the frequently used options ever present regardless of the ribbon chosen. This may already be somewhat true because certain functionality like Save etc. appear constantly present as small icons on the top left of the window. Quite frankly I have not used it either, but from the demo on the microsoft site it does seem much better and way faster than trying to find things/functionality in the old File/Edit/View way.

Here's a link to the demo..

http://www.microsoft.com/office/preview/ui/demo.ms px?showIntro=n [microsoft.com]

Re:Ribbons (3, Insightful)

gkhan1 (886823) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193735)

I can tell you, I have used it, and it is far superior to any other layout scheme in an office suite I've seen. It takes up as much space as a toolbar+menus, it has much larger icons which let you see what effect you are going to have. Everything is easy to find, the layout is very logical, it highlights the portions that you need at every moment, and last but not least: it's very pretty. It's actually something that MS has done right, it's shocking!

There is a learning curve, but it's not a very long one. After five minutes of clicking I knew basically where everything were (a vast improvement over the old "hunt through the menus till you find what you want"-approach, here you can actually find stuff where they should be). If you are THAT annoyed over the ribbon you are either a) not very smart and has a hard time learning anything new or b) an unapologetic a-priori Microsoft basher. The fact is, it's far better than anything else on the market.

Re:Ribbons (1)

backwardMechanic (959818) | more than 7 years ago | (#16194009)

You sound like you'd enjoy fluxbox. No mess or clutter (no desktop icons), just a simple menu for launching the apps I put in there. I get everything else from the command line.

Oh, you're from the other side. Oh well.

we don't have a way to measure effectiveness (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16193365)

in GUIs. GUIs are currently designed not to minimize keystrokes or maximize power, but on a general sense of ooh, that looks nice. WMs like Ion at least try. More effort needs to be put into making environments that help us get work done.

It probably won't change much more (3, Insightful)

Bones3D_mac (324952) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193377)

So long as we're still using the mouse/keyboard as a primary interface for our computers, the current GUI model will likely stay pretty much the same for at least a good ten years or so. Once something better comes along, such as AI-assisted video/object recognition, it may open options similar to what was in Minority Report. Until then though, using a cursor for interaction will remain more effective than cursing at our machines directly.

Re:It probably won't change much more (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16193569)

http://mrl.nyu.edu/~jhan/ [nyu.edu]

I saw the multi-touch display wall at this year's SIGGRAPH. Playing with it is, obviously, worth more than looking at pictures, but you really have to watch the multi-touch interaction demo real.

Re:It probably won't change much more (1)

Gemini_25_RB (997440) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193923)

That video was probably the sexiest thing I've ever seen on a computer. And that's saying a lot ;)

Re:It probably won't change much more (1)

7Prime (871679) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193623)

Voice recognition is getting so good nowdays, as a result of handheld devices (I no longer dial numbers on my cellphone anymore, I just say the name of the person I'm calling), I think we'll start to see voice recognition GUIs here within the next few years, at least on handhelds. The keyboard may then eventually go the way of the dinosaur as an unneccessary paripheral. We'll always see new little GUI gadgets, some of them good (Expose), and some of them bad (Clippy), I don't mind having new options for how I run my system... as long as I can turn off or ignore the ones I don't want.

Re:It probably won't change much more (1)

bunions (970377) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193731)

Total agreement. Your input devices are going to define they interface far more than anything else. We're stuck in a rut with GUIs because people are used to them, and a control people are used to is worth two in the bush, so to speak. Witness everyone here kvetching about the ribbons in Vista. There's nothing particularly wrong with them, in situ, it's just that they're new. Which is awful.

IMHO, the next big innovation in UI design will be touchscreens, hopefully of the multitouch variety. I just don't see people talking to their computers effectively. I had a voice-control setup on my computer a few years ago, and it worked fine, but I couldn't use it because I felt like such a tremendous dork ... "Computer! Play Song!" Ugh!

Re:It probably won't change much more (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16193845)

For desktops, at least, I'd like to see more variety of user input devices. They don't have to be Minority Report-level technology - just the sort of thing that was common back in the days of the old HP Unix computers, or on the VIC-20 even. You could attach a small controller box with some number of dials. The program would then map those dial inputs to some appropriate function. For example, if I were running Gimp or Photoshop, one dial may control brightness. Another dial could control contrast. Rather than search for and jump in and out of dialog boxes, I could just adjust the dial until my picture looked the way I wanted it. In a video editing program, the meaning of the dial may change to adjust the insertion point of a video clip, or change the volume of a sound clip. For Word, a custom keypad would be useful. One button could make the highlighted text turn bold. Another button would turn underlining on and off. The keys or knobs could be labeled using an LCD display, so that the labels would change when you switch programs - or be reprogrammed by the program. But somehow, add-on gadgets have not had much luck in the market (despite how easy they are to make now that USB is common).

Let's cram more stuff on your screen (2, Insightful)

Daniel Zappala (15756) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193387)

"As [displays] get bigger and bigger, you can get more information to the user," says Mary Czerwinski, principal researcher at Microsoft Research. But the current desktop GUI, which simply extends the same desktop across multiple screens, doesn't scale well. With more screen real estate available, computers will begin monitoring and presenting more information to the user.


This seems incredibly divorced from reality. Lots of people use multiple screens, and extending the same desktop across those screens works really well to manage the available space. The answer from Microsoft Research -- waste all that space by monitoring more information. So we should just take that extra screen and fill it up with pretty desklets? And this will make me a more productive person?

Re:Let's cram more stuff on your screen (3, Insightful)

drsmithy (35869) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193619)

This seems incredibly divorced from reality. Lots of people use multiple screens, and extending the same desktop across those screens works really well to manage the available space.

Well, they _work_, but I wouldn't say they work *well*. Some examples:

* OS X only has a single menu bar for all applications and all screens. So if your active application window isn't on the primary screen and you want to access the menu, you need to track all the way back to whichever screen is the primary to access it. Ditto for the Dock. Why can't there be a Menubar and Dock on each monitor ?

(Personally I've always found it rather ironic that MacOS was the early bringing of good multimonitor support, but its UI really doesn't handle them well).

* Windows has a similar problem with only one Taskbar and only one Start Menu. Why not a Taskbar for each monitor and/or, even better, the ability to pop the Start Menu up directly under the cursor ?

* Mouse tracking across multiple, big displays is slow or inaccurate unless you've got the twitch muscles of a fifteen year old first-person gamer. I want trackers on top of each screen that can monitor where I'm looking and move the mouse cursor to that spot.

* There's (typically) no "maximise across all screens" button.

So we should just take that extra screen and fill it up with pretty desklets? And this will make me a more productive person?

This seems to be the model most people think of when talking about multiple screens. For example, the typical multimonitor Mac user wants one screen for their Photoshop (or whatever) window and the other for all the palettes, toolbars and feedback windows is spawns.

Re:Let's cram more stuff on your screen (1)

NineNine (235196) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193799)

Dude, you're overlooking the obvious. On Windows machines, just let each monitor be another instance of Terminal Services. You can run 50 different desktops under the same user, if you want.

Re:Let's cram more stuff on your screen (1)

drsmithy (35869) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193837)

Dude, you're overlooking the obvious. On Windows machines, just let each monitor be another instance of Terminal Services. You can run 50 different desktops under the same user, if you want.

I'm not a TS expert, but I'm thinking that's not going to work too well with moving windows between screens.

Re:Let's cram more stuff on your screen (1)

AncientPC (951874) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193973)

* Windows has a similar problem with only one Taskbar and only one Start Menu. Why not a Taskbar for each monitor and/or, even better, the ability to pop the Start Menu up directly under the cursor ?


* There's (typically) no "maximise across all screens" button.

These two problems can be solved by Ultramon [realtimesoft.com] . Actually, you don't get a start menu per monitor (only taskbar) but there is an option for each taskbar to only display items on that one monitor.

The ultimate user interface. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16193417)

My father had one. I forget her name. She took dictation, corrected spelling, filed and retrieved documents. So, the ultimate interface would be called a secretary.

I'm thinking that an audio interface; secretary, telephone operator, might be a very good thing once the technology is sufficiently evolved.

Re:The ultimate user interface. (2, Informative)

jpardey (569633) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193463)

According to the latest research by the Yankee Group, it is also cheaper than maintaining a Linux desktop. However, Microsoft Vista, with its productivity whatsits and glossyness will be cheaper, more productive, and more attractive.

GTK+/GNOME file chooser disaster. (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16193435)

While I understand that GNOME has its admirers, and it can't be classified as a failure, it sure hasn't lived up to the hype of the early days.

GNOME was touted as being a real competitor to KDE, before the days of Qt being dually-licensed under the GPL. There was some initial progress, but since about 2000 it seems that KDE has been the leader. Ever since Miguel became more focused on Mono, the quality of GNOME really decreased.

One notable incident was the terrible GNOME file chooser. You can see it here:
http://developer.gnome.org/doc/API/2.0/gtk/filecho oser.png [gnome.org]

The many usability problems are well known, and were much discussed. One major flaw was the inability to enter in a pathname or filename manually. The lack of path separators made the top breadcrumb trail difficult to follow at times. The 'Places' pane wasted a lot of space when it listed few items. The file list didn't show enough detail about each file. It wasn't possible to view only certain file types.

Frankly, it was a rather massive mistake to include that dialog. When compared to the dialogs of KDE, Mac OS X, and Microsoft Windows, it was the black sheep. What was worse, on some platforms non-GNOME applications like Mozilla Firefox made use of that dialog, in turn making their usability a nightmare. While things have gotten better, and the newer dialog is a slight improvement, the mistake was still very costly.

I personally know about six people who used GNOME, and swore that they'd never touch it again after seeing that monstrosity. One went back to Windows, to the best of my knowledge. The rest switched to KDE, and have been quite pleased, as far as I know.

I think that the GNOME file chooser disaster is one incident that all GUI developers should learn from. At least then it wasn't a total waste.

Re:GTK+/GNOME file chooser disaster. (1)

Spikeles (972972) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193759)

I personally know about six people who used GNOME, and swore that they'd never touch it again after seeing that monstrosity. One went back to Windows, to the best of my knowledge. The rest switched to KDE, and have been quite pleased, as far as I know.
Me as well, it was the main reason i stopped using GNOME, it still shows up time to time when you use a GNOME app in KDE, so i'm not completely rid of it. I had been using GNOME for about two weeks before i even discovered you could actually type in a pathname, it's so un-intuitive it's not funny.

Re:GTK+/GNOME file chooser disaster. (1)

DianeOfTheMoon (863143) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193901)

I personally know about six people who used GNOME, and swore that they'd never touch it again after seeing that monstrosity. One went back to Windows, to the best of my knowledge. The rest switched to KDE, and have been quite pleased, as far as I know.

Oddly enough, my boyfriend is switching away from Windows to GNOME because he likes it that much.

It could be that they are trying to write a 'joe six pack' environment, whereas the current Linux userbase is anything but that.

Re:GTK+/GNOME file chooser disaster. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16193979)

Can you find out from him what it is that he likes so much about GNOME?

Myself, I have tried it out a few times before, for several weeks at a time. With most other environments, I find that a couple of weeks is enough time for me to adjust. But that never happened with GNOME. It just never felt right. More often than not I was fighting it, even moreso than when using Windows. And when I'm struggling with the poor design and poor usability of a desktop, I find it's difficult to get anything productive done.

I have to say that I consider Windows 2000, for instance, to be far more usable than GNOME. Win2K has a consistency that's quite good, and a GUI that's simple, but still functional. GNOME just doesn't feel as polished, and of course there are the many usability problems, a small number of which have been discussed here.

I've had some stability problems with GNOME. For instance, I've had it crash (what appears to be) randomly. It's likely not a hardware problem, as KDE runs fine, and I never experience crashes with any other programs. Often times, GNOME applications will lock up without any apparent reason. They just stop redrawing, so you end up with a window displaying the content of any other windows that are placed over it.

You might want to warn your boyfriend about these sort of issues, so he can be prepared to deal with them. They were more than enough to make me switch back to KDE.

Re:GTK+/GNOME file chooser disaster. (1)

Malc (1751) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193963)

Their dialogs have made me refuse to use apps under Windows that use the toolkit. Things like GIMP. When on Windows, why don't they delegate to the common controls provided by the platform instead of their own dreadful implementations?

Re:GTK+/GNOME file chooser disaster. (1)

grotgrot (451123) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193993)

One notable incident was the terrible GNOME file chooser

For some reason, this is actually a UNIX trait. You should have seen the file selection dialogs in Motif, Athena and various earlier X toolkits. It was as if programmers decided they hated their users. Many applications even wrote their own choosers. Oh boy did they suck. The Gnome chooser is way better than the bad old days, but as you rightly point out it isn't something to be proud off. (Try selecting a file or directory starting with a dot sometime!)

The situation used to be similar on Windows. Every "programming Windows 3.0" book used to have a chapter on writing your file selection dialog. One of the changes in Windows 3.1 was the provision of a standard file selection dialog.

I'll add my voice to those asking developers to learn from this :-)

Big displays... (1)

digitalhermit (113459) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193445)

It's very true that the fixed menu doesn't scale... This is probably the biggest reason that I use Fluxbox. It allows me to right click anywhere on the desktop and pull up an application menu. Contrast this with my XP machine which I'm using now: It has two widescreen displays but the Start Menu only shows up on the left screen. If I'm on the non-Menu screen, I need to scroll across two desktops to click the Start button and then select. There are workarounds but some keyboards don't have the Windows key, etc.. The Application menu is also problematic for the same reasons. If someone knows a way to add entries to the XP Desktop menu, please let me know...

Re:Big displays... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16193631)

You could try unlocking the taskbar (right click task bar white space (blue space?) and uncheck lock the taskbar) then you can drag and dock it on any screen, including the bottom of the right screen or the right edge of the right screen, and have it anywhere you wish. The Start button will typically stay on the left edge of the bar but if you (like me) dock it on the right or left edge of the screen, it will be at the top. Gives a lot more room for active programs to show as well.

AC

Re:Big displays... (1)

B5_geek (638928) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193697)

You sir have hit the nail on the head. This is exactly the same reason I use Flux too. I have never given much thought, but the agony of using a different OS/DE and not having my application list NOW and close to my point of of focus drives me batty.

As I type this I think that is the answer. Point-of-Focus, (I should (tm) that now and get ready to sue.) is the MOST user-friendly way accessing data. Your eyes are there, your focus is there, and more importantly your thoughts are there. Not needing to move my head to find the menu and not miss-click is a huge time and concentration saver.

This issue get more important as we move to multiple displays.

Re:Big displays... (1)

JackieBrown (987087) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193921)

You can set that behavior very easily in kde. In the Control Center got to Desktop --> behavior

Re:Big displays... (1)

Malc (1751) | more than 7 years ago | (#16194031)

I often use keyboard navigation anyway with the Start menu. You can use the first letter of menu items to jump to them.

If you don't have a Windows keyboard, Ctrl+Esc brings up the Start Menu (didn't this use to be a key combo for task switching under Win 3.1?), and Shift+F10 brings up the context menu (is that what you're calling the applicaton menu?). Good look getting the latter working with apps that refuse to follow Windows UI guidelines, like Trillian. Why are some programmers so ignorant?

More keys here [microsoft.com] .

What I'd really like to see... (1)

TheDarkener (198348) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193449)

Is a desktop GUI that is based on the menu system style of MythTV [sourceforge.net] instead of "START". This would make it SO easy to navigate for novices, I mean, after all, what's wrong with a GUI for a computer that was made to be easy enough to navigate for people who watch TV?

Re:What I'd really like to see... (1)

Osty (16825) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193657)

Is a desktop GUI that is based on the menu system style of MythTV instead of "START". This would make it SO easy to navigate for novices, I mean, after all, what's wrong with a GUI for a computer that was made to be easy enough to navigate for people who watch TV?

That'd be great, if your 90% use case is on a TV (10' experience). For non-TV use, such a simplified UI would be extremely annoying and limiting.

Unfortunately, this is where designers usually screw up. They think "easy" == "simple", which is not necessarily the case at all. It's hard to build an easy interface for complex actions. Instead, we end up with crapfests like Bob, or one-size-fits-all attempts at a "simple" interface like you're suggesting, or an options dialog with tabs stacked three deep for "advanced" options.

In terms of "interfaces for people who watch TV", MythTV and Windows Media Center Edition get it mostly right -- the UI is a separate full-screen app that is great for when you're using the PC on a TV, but the "real" interface to the OS is still available for the rest of the time.

The Human Computer Interface (2, Interesting)

inKubus (199753) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193477)

Ideally the computer should just know what you want to do and do it for you. The problem is telling the computer what to do. I'm surprised that voice-recognition hasn't progressed further. The Apple OSX voice stuff is pretty cool but not responsive enough to be useable. And all it does is integrate into the window manager. Why would I want to ask the computer to open a window if I just want to ask a question? For instance, say I want to know what time it is. I can't just ask the computer, "Computer, what time is it?" Instead, I have to say, "Computer, open clock" and then read the time. Maybe some feedback would make it better. Communication requires feedback. Maybe the computer could respond, like the XO of a ship responds to the captain: "Make turns for 30 knots" XO: "30 knots, aye"

I think a big problem is the mouse. The mouse is so great for so much, yet it falls short. I know they have mice that have practically a whole keyboard on them. I'd like to see that idea extended beyond the window manager also.

One thing that has really excited me recently is the Optimus dynamic keyboard [artlebedev.com] over at artlebedev.com. Thinking more about adapting the interface around the user and the software is important. A lot of that will be workflow analysis, such as "User A always saves before printing, so if they save, make the print icon easier to find and click." will be necessary.

A lot of what needs to be done the computer can do for us. The hidden options in MS Word are a good example of this. Although it was a support nightmare when it first came out, it really helps speed up the work when you are doing common repetitive tasks. This could be expanded to allow different hidden options depending on what you're working on. For instance, if you're writing a letter, addresses and envelope stuff should magically appear, but it should not show up if you're writing a scientific paper.

One thing that the MS monoculture has brought us is a somewhat standard UI experience for most users. That would be impossible with 100 competing OS's. The web does not offer that opportunity except maybe through some toolkits like Swing (which sucks), or Ruby on rails with the prototype.js. The monoculture has stifled innovation, however, so I hope in the future there will be more people thinking about design when they make their interface and MS being open enough with this Aero stuff to allow designers freedom to make something new. I seriously doubt that will happen, however.

Re:The Human Computer Interface (5, Interesting)

Pfhorrest (545131) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193655)

And all it does is integrate into the window manager. Why would I want to ask the computer to open a window if I just want to ask a question? For instance, say I want to know what time it is. I can't just ask the computer, "Computer, what time is it?" Instead, I have to say, "Computer, open clock" and then read the time.

I don't know much about the present speech systems in OS X, but the older one in classic Mac OS had a "speakable items" folder that was mostly filled with AppleScripts. Speaking the name of any item in that folder would launch that item; if it was an AppleScript, it would do various thing. The system shipped with a number of useful scripts already built in: one of them was called "What time is it?", and all it did was speak (via TTS aka MacInTalk): "It's [current time]", e.g. "It's five oh four pee em." (Then again, I don't find this very useful because I've got a menubar clock, as all Macs have by default for ages, so it's quicker just to glance up there).

There was one really impressive script in that that would tell a number of interactive knock-knock jokes, called "Tell me a joke". So you'd say "Tell me a joke", and it would speak (via TTS) "Knock knock". A response of "Who's there?" would prompt it to select from a number of responses, and it would then listen for "[previous response] who?" after which it would deliver the appropriate punchline.

I just looked, and there is a Speakable Items folder and it has all this same functionality still. Runs a lot faster than it used to, too. Sweet.

Re:The Human Computer Interface (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16193803)

And yet there was there no "Unspeakable Items" folder.

Re:The Human Computer Interface (2, Insightful)

iceburn (137875) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193713)

The Apple OSX voice stuff is pretty cool but not responsive enough to be useable. And all it does is integrate into the window manager.

Actually, in OS X you can ask it the time, and it will speak it. You can also ask the date, tell it to start the screensaver, and a whole bunch of other crap. It's certainly not perfect, but it can do a lot more than just open/close windows.

Re:The Human Computer Interface (1)

proxima (165692) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193727)

Ideally the computer should just know what you want to do and do it for you. The problem is telling the computer what to do. I'm surprised that voice-recognition hasn't progressed further. The Apple OSX voice stuff is pretty cool but not responsive enough to be useable. And all it does is integrate into the window manager. Why would I want to ask the computer to open a window if I just want to ask a question? For instance, say I want to know what time it is. I can't just ask the computer, "Computer, what time is it?" Instead, I have to say, "Computer, open clock" and then read the time. Maybe some feedback would make it better. Communication requires feedback. Maybe the computer could respond, like the XO of a ship responds to the captain: "Make turns for 30 knots" XO: "30 knots, aye"
(emphasis mine)

In fact, you can ask Mac OS X, "What time is it?". See this article [oreillynet.com] for more info. Also try out "Tell me a joke" to which the Mac responds "Knock Knock" and you have to reply "Who's there", and it tells you one of a few bad knock knock jokes (are there good knock knock jokes?).

Re:The Human Computer Interface (2, Interesting)

7Prime (871679) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193801)

The problem is telling the computer what to do. I'm surprised that voice-recognition hasn't progressed further.

I was just writing about this above. Actually, voice-recognition has progressed considerably in the last few years, due to handhelds. Cellphone voice recognition is practically standard, now days. There's a few problems with bridging the gap over to desktop computers (less with laptops, though), the main one being that most people don't have a mic built into their system. Companies have TRIED with mics built into monitors, but that hasn't seemed to fly, except in the Mac world.

A lot of that will be workflow analysis, such as "User A always saves before printing, so if they save, make the print icon easier to find and click." will be necessary.

These kinds of things scare me. People become faster with computers as they learn repetative operations. Even if something is a little more confusing than you would expect it to be, people become quick at it because they know how to do it. Placing the printer icon in a different place after a certain operation may speed up operation, in theory, but it leaves the user constantly guessing as to where the options are going to be placed next. I'm all for customization, but let ME do the customizing, through actually doing the customizing, I then learn exactly where things are. Traditionally, AIs have always been very bad at trying to figure out as to what users want to do, and usually make the operation much more difficult as a result. Take arrow "Snap To", for an example. The thing is supposed to figure out where I want to click next, in a dialog box. At the same time, every time it auto snaps, I'm left going "what the hell just happened?" and searching for the arrow. which takes a lot longer than physically moving over to the dialog box and clicking the button. If anything, I think computers try too much to figure out what you REALLY want to do, and most of the time it's either disorienting, or just feels patronizing.

Every thing has its time... (1)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193539)

...but I like and love what kde developers have done with KDE4.0. Just have a look: -

http://www.abclinuxu.cz/images/clanky/kratky/kde4- plasma-2.png [abclinuxu.cz] http://img93.imageshack.us/img93/4884/filebrowser0 ql.jpg [imageshack.us]

Once this is out, is will impress lots of folks including myself. That will be its time. I know that for others, some found on slashdot, KDE will always be a non starter.

On a side note, the Morris Minor had its time too. Here it is:

http://www.oldclassiccar.co.uk/classic-car-images/ morris3.jpg [oldclassiccar.co.uk]

I'll never forget my ride in one of these as a kid.

How will it improve my productivity? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16193637)

(Disclaimer: I have been a KDE user continuously since late 1998.)

The one thing I always ask when presented with a GUI change is, "How will it improve my productivity?"

Now, from looking at those screenshots, I have my doubts. That new taskbar idea looks like shit. Notice that the labels on most of the items are truncated after about six to eight characters. It makes it difficult to know what they're saying. I mean, look near the bottom. What site is "www.pl"? What is "www.ku"? Were I not a previous user of KDE, I would have no idea that "Konver" was the truncated form of "Konversation". Look at all the wasted space above and below the truncated labels. Compared to the old panel, that sidebar is a piece of shit.

What's that thing in the middle supposed to do? Can I click on those icons on the left to accomplish something? Why are there icons that look to be from Mac OS X, and appear to represent web browsers and email clients, doing next to a description of the Kopete instant messenging software?

And why so many textual descriptions about the applications? Being a long-time KDE user, I already know all that information. I don't want to read some bullshit marketing blurb about Kopete, I just want to use Kopete.

As for the shot of Konqueror, I don't see the need for all that gradient nonsense. I wastes a lot of screen space. What is wrong with highlighting the item selected on the left, and then only having a thin vertical separator bar like it currently is? The current look of Konqueror is very compact, makes very good use of the screen space, is comprehensible, and works very well. I don't see any benefit from changing it.

Like I said earlier, I ask myself, "How will it improve my productivity?" In this case, I don't like the answer I see. I like that KDE is trying to innovate. But they're going in the wrong direction. They need to focus on making better use of screen real estate. We don't all have 24" LCD monitors yet. On a 15" or even 17" screen, any wasted space is unacceptable. And the changes they do make have to have a purpose, hopefully increasing productivity. But it doesn't look like that's the case, as most of these seem to do the opposite. They add confusion and reduce clarity. That's not a good thing to be doing.

It'd be okay if it worked (2, Insightful)

DrBuzzo (913503) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193559)

Well... I don't really mind having bubbly/shiny gui, IF it works correctly. And by that, I mean that it is implimented effeciently and ideally rendered in hardware. However, with Microsoft it never seems to work that way. Instead it's a big graphic slapped ontop of something written in VB, which is running ontop of a heavily-object-oriented high-level super-ineffecient program. I don't mean to sound like a Mac fanboy, but in OSX, the animations and interface don't gum up the works, because they're built into the OS on a low level and rendered properly.

Near perfection (2, Funny)

G1975a (913602) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193617)

What about (Microsoft's) Bob?

Xerox PARC? (2, Informative)

dubbreak (623656) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193641)

Shouldn't that be from Stanford Research Institute to xerox to...

SRI is where Engelbart and crew started (he later ended up at Xerox PARC). What the doremouse said [indigo.ca] has a good review of the beginings of the PC.

Some is old news (2, Funny)

ArcherB (796902) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193665)

From TFA:
By the end of the decade, computers may also incorporate secondary, lower-resolution e-paper displays that can maintain an image even when a laptop or desktop computer is turned off.


We already have that with CRT monitors... it's called burn-in

Dhumb! (2, Interesting)

jacoby (3149) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193677)

I find it interesting that the examples of bad GUIs are 3/4 Microsoft. While those three are bad (Clippy? Bob? Ew. I get adaptive menues, though. The idea is valid, to a point.)

The Apple example, handwriting recognition on the Newton, is a good gaff. Which is to say it isn't something that any rational person would look out and say "That's dumb. Don't do that." It isn't Clippy. It isn't Bob. It's trying to get the computer to adapt to the person rather than getting the person to adapt to the computer. The big win for Palm was that Grafitti forced the user to adapt to the computer. Our handwriting is the way it is (hopefully) so that other people can read it to. Typewriting is not a natural thing, even though some of use geeks reach WPM speeds that make it seem like it is.

When we're talking about verbal user interface gaffs, we'll find similarly goofy things, and we'll find things that made sense intellectually but didn't work in reality. That's what we call research, kids.

Fishing? (3, Funny)

MeanMF (631837) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193747)

Unless we're talking about GUIs that can catch fish, shouldn't it be "gaffe"?

Re:Fishing? (4, Funny)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193815)

The Editors just made a fox pass. Apparently, spelling isn't their fort.

mod parent "loltastic" (1)

bunions (970377) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193857)

so awesome.

Re:Fishing? (1)

WilliamSChips (793741) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193971)

And pronunciation isn't your fortay :)

Re:Fishing? (1)

TenBrothers (995309) | more than 7 years ago | (#16194025)

....except that "forte" is pronounced with one syllable.

Change is bad (4, Interesting)

DrVomact (726065) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193833)

I firmly believe that when it comes to GUIs, change is almost always for the worse. One reason for this is that once a set of GUI conventions has become established, change is disconcerting--you now have to accustom yourself to the new "look" or to the new way that the GUI works. That inconvenience is rarely repaid by the alleged advantages of the change.

As an example, consider the difference between the Windows 2000 and XP desk tops. Just how is the XP desktop better than the older one? I sure couldn't see any advantage to it. Yet, if you were to use the darn thing (and not switch to the "classic" view), you'd have to figure out again how to do a bunch of stuff you already knew how to do before the interface changed. This is progress? Even at the detail level, the changes are silly and unhelpful. Look at those three-dimensional window title bars. Why is that bulgy look better than the less obtrusive flat title bar of the old Win 2K interface? What convenience or information is added by the 3D bulge? Or how about the XP icon for video options--it's a screen with a flat paintbrush on it instead of the 2K screen with a round paintbrush and ruler in front of it. The two look different enough that it takes me a couple of extra seconds to find that icon in the Control Panel whenever I'm forced to use the default XP interface. It's not that the new icon is better or worse than the old one--but why ever change a familiar, easy to recognize icon? It's done to create the illusion of progress, of course.

Making icons look "cooler" in successive iterations of software is one of my particular pet peeves. Whenever someone releases a new version of their software, they think that people won't believe they got their money's worth if the GUI looks the same--so they jazz up the icons. Usually, this means adding more detail, even though this violates the basic principle of the icon: that it should be simple and easy to recognize. In other words...icons should be iconic.

That brings me to another reason why software publishers change GUIs. From the article:

The increased complexity of today's computer systems is forcing change upon the GUI. As the number of features has exploded, users have been overwhelmed with layer after layer of icons, tool bars and menu options.

Excuse me, but if you've got "exploded" features, then you do not have a problem that can be solved by a revamped GUI--you have bloatware. Clean up the mess, and start over.

I haven't seen these new "ribbons" MS is talking about for LongVista, but even the name is dumb. Look, the people at Xerox Park gave us the foundation of a great GUI, and there's no reason to change that basic set of visual metaphors until there's a fundamental change in the mechanics of the computer/human interface. The requirements for a good GUI are well-understood: it should be as simple as possible, it should be consistent between applications, it should use easily recognized familiar symbols and conventions. It most definitely should not change from one moment to the next according to the notions of some guy in Redmond who thinks he can anticipate what I want to do.

back to DOS word? (2, Informative)

wardk (3037) | more than 7 years ago | (#16193965)

ribbon menu sounds like Word 1.0 on DOS' menu

hopefully file saves can go back to this intuitive nirvana...

Transfer -> Disk

Real Men ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#16193995)

use an etch-a-sketch

Beer. It's not just for breakfast anymore.

We don't need any steenkin' new paradigms... (4, Interesting)

dpbsmith (263124) | more than 7 years ago | (#16194001)

...absolutely all we need is halfway thoughtful, somewhat intelligent application of the paradigms we already have.

If software developers just spent an extra hour to watch an untrained user play with their software... and their managers gave them a couple of extra weeks to incorporate what they learned by watching... that would have more effect on software usability than the introduction of new techniques.

The problem today is that so much software leaves you gasping with amazement at the seeming perversity of their design. It's been observed since the day Windows 95 was introduced that it is stupid to turn off your computer from a button labelled "Start." Microsoft has had over a decade and one, two, three, four, five major software releases to do something about it, and they haven't. If they don't get it yet, all the pie menus and gestures and voice recognition isn't going to help them.

You may cry foul because this isn't strictly speaking, a software problem, but will you take a gander at the button layout on this portable DVD player? [dpbsmith.com] In case you don't get it--it's so mind-boggling it took me a while to get it--the northeast button moves you east, the southeast button moves you south, and so forth. That's why every button has a little printed arrow next to it.

An awful lot of modern software design seems to me to be be putting little printed arrows next to utterly misplaced buttons.

the future (1)

nazsco (695026) | more than 7 years ago | (#16194017)

ion3 window manager. plan9 interoperability.
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