Friday, October 26, 2007

Bump Top and New Computer Interfaces



In the short video embedded above (another TED talk, if I might pitch TED again) shows a computer interface prototype that is, no doubt, fun to watch. Unfortunately, the talk is only fun.

It's fashionable to complain about the desktop metaphor in the computer science community: it's too old, it's hard to find things, whatever. There are lots of valid criticisms, and watching demos like this are inspiring, and make you think "wow, if I only had this things would make a lot more sense."

It takes some careful thinking to realize all the wonderful things about the interface of current computer systems. For the rest of this essay I'll assume you've watched the video above. It's short; it's worth it.

Note that he never opens any applications. If things are tacked to walls and in piles on the floor, do you have minimize or close all of your open applications so you can see enough of the floor to find it?

What about labels? If the pile has no label, you can only know what it is and what's in it by cueing your memory based on it's location, size, and what's on top.

And hierarchy? I'd go crazy if I had to give up my hierarchical organization in my file system! I have some folders going five or more levels deep! Imagine all of those as piles on the floor. Unlabeled. I'd go nuts trying to find the right file.

I'm not saying these problems are insurmountable, but they need to be addressed, and the talk did not address it. When you give a sexy demonstration, if you don't back up what you're doing and address the concerns people will eventualy think of, you are gaining a short-term gee whiz reaction and sacrificing the long term taking-seriously of the project.

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