4 June 2015

Chained to the Desk – The Sequel

Not Now Jon
In a previous post entitled “Chained to the Desk - TheParadigm Shift” I discussed the importance of questioning everything and the danger of accepting the current paradigm I gave examples of how the status quo can perpetuate for years and even decades before someone introduces an innovation that once suggested seems so obvious it is amazing that it was never thought of before.

I referred to a modern day situation that I believe is just such a paradigm and one to which we have all become blind; the desktop user interface. The current model has perpetuated since 1973 and so it definitely falls into the “decades” family of paradigms.

I’ve had some responses to this suggestion and understandably the majority refer to the value of the desktop environment over that of the tablet. They quote the limitations of tablets, and the strengths of the desktop and I certainly don’t disagree with them…

…or at least I don’t disagree when it comes to the physical aspects of the desktop environment. Greater screen sizes and multiple screens creating a larger working space. A full size physical keyboard providing a far better typing experience, but that is a comparison of the physical provision and not the operating system or user interface.

When it comes to the user experience there is so much that has always frustrated me, and even more now that we have the pleasure and ease of the tablet experience.

Poison Arrows
To illustrate, let’s look at some basic questions about the typical desktop UI.

  • Why do I have to use a little arrow to grab that tiny area in the bottom corner or at the very edges to resize the window?
  • Why is it that the only way to move the window is to use that same arrow to grab the title bar (even if the title bar is off the top of the screen)?
  • Why do I have to hit a tiny icon the in the top right (or top left) corner to minimise or maximise the window, not to mention the dangerously co-located “close” icon? Who am I, Robin Hood?
  • Why are all the options in pull down menus that require dextrous handling to get to and then hit the right option?
And now to the desktop itself. Even with the larger screens and multiple display options there are some annoying limitations.

  • Why am is that space around the screen not reachable?
  • Why do I have to drag a window into the screen in order to look at it?
  • Why am I forced to choose between large and readable (but limited space) and small and illegible (but loads of space) via tucked away display options that when selected are treated like major engineering decisions? “Do you want to keep these highly dangerous settings? You may never get your display to work again.”
  • And why, now that I’ve paid all that extra money for a touch screen do I find myself resorting to using the mouse all the time?

The answer of course is simple… because that’s the way it’s always been; that’s the way desktops and laptops work! Get with the program Jon!

Moving Pictures
What I want from my user experience, regardless of the equipment I’m using, is a natural human interface. Something that fits the natural, instinctive way in which we interact with the physical world. In the real world, when I want to move something around, get rid of something, or open something, I use my hands in a natural way. The success of the iPad, in my opinion was driven primarily by Apple’s ability to tap into these natural gestures and to add a sense of the physical to the virtual, the “list bounce” being just one of these.

So Apple, Microsoft, Google, or whoever; please can you give me a desktop on which I can, using touch alone to:

  • Zoom the whole display area (not just the window contents) using pinch to zoom
  • Resize individual windows using pinch to zoom gestures
  • Move the virtual desktop around allow to bring those areas off the edges of my screen into view simply by dragging the viewing area with my fingers.
  • Drag windows around by touching any part of the window, not just the title bar
  • Close or minimise windows using simple swipe gestures
But as I’ve said before, if people can’t see it and live it they’re not going to get it, so a blog post won’t break the desktop “I need my windows paraphernalia” paradigm that has existed since 1973.

I guess I’m going to have to go and build a demo…

The Enterprising Architect

1 comment:

  1. I guess I was one of those who commented on the previous post. What I was trying to say was that not all Operating Systems and therefore UIs are the same.

    I use various Windows devices, various iOS devices, OSx, Linux command line, various Linux GUIs and various Android devices on a daily basis.

    They are all good for their purpose. ipod is great for music, OSx is great for general purpose computer use, Linux command line can't be beaten for engineering productivity android is great on phones etc.

    I have a fairly old (by technology standards) android tablet with keyboard add on. The ASUS eeePad. It doesn't require me to use a mouse at all. Let's me use the keyboard when I need, the touchscreen when it is more convenient.

    The point is UIs are evolving and if you are disappointed with your experience you are probably using the wrong OS, the wrong device or both.