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Screen Wars,
December 5, 2000 9:45 AM   Subscribe

Screen Wars, a decent stab by Stephen Levy from Newsweek/MSNBC at summarizing the changes afoot in desktop OS GUIs. Credit where credit is due for some notable Apple alums; more faith than is justified in .NET.
posted by m.polo (14 comments total)

 
Well, it is on MSNBC.

The .NET browser/thing looks god-awful and to be really poor with screen real estate. Do I really need a "My Industry" button? Do I really need a "My anything" button, for that matter? If that's an IE6 preview, ick.

This stuck out from the description of Eazel:
Another innovation is the ability to drag “emblems” onto files to brand them with various attributes: favorites, secrets, drafts, etc.
Note the verb: brand. Can branded folders be far behind? Your Adobe "folder" (or whatever metaphor happens) stands out because it's got the Adobe logo on it, which you can't change.

Branding my secrets?
posted by hijinx at 11:33 AM on December 5, 2000


Jobs is sanguine, saying that when the loudmouths actually sit down and use Aqua, their howls become squeals of delight.

That's not what *I* hear.

I hear that Aqua so badly violates the Macintosh HIG (some *very* well thought out, and *tested* rules for designing user interfaces) that it's making some people barf.

I guess it's that Reality Distortion Field Generator kicking in again: if you say it often enough and loudly enough, it must be true. Sounds like Pravda to me...
posted by baylink at 5:29 PM on December 5, 2000


Oh:
To go all the way, he explains, you have to define a new style for a new generation of applications. You have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to do it. You have to eliminate previously sacrosanct concepts and unify formerly disparate functions.

... you have to charge the *users* those hundreds of millions of dollars... which will keep you in business.

*Always* ask who makes the money.
posted by baylink at 5:31 PM on December 5, 2000


I've been using the Mac OS since 1984, so I feel I can speak from a decent sense of familiarity with the UI. I'm not actually squealing, but minus the hyperbole, Jobs is right with regard to Aqua. I detested it - at first. The more I've used it, the more I've appreciated how well laid out it actually is. There are feature gaps in the current Public Beta that keep me from using it as a primary OS on my own computer (no printing to local printers and no support for TCP/IP communications to applications running under Classic), but Aqua itself is nothing like the Apple-killer some would like to portray it as.
posted by m.polo at 5:58 PM on December 5, 2000


Re: branding... I think that's "brand" in the sense of "branding iron." You stick the emblems on the icons, in other words, as you would brand cattle or a piece of wood. It would be similar to the arrow that Windows affixes to shortcuts (and Macs affix to aliases).

The feature described is really just a combination of "icon stamps" like the alias arrow (the Mac actually has several of them; there's also a padlock for write-protected files, and others I can't remember right now) and the Mac's Labels feature, with the addition of direct manipulation (by dragging the labels to the icons). Evolutionary, not revolutionary.
posted by kindall at 6:20 PM on December 5, 2000


Maybe I'm missing the point, but how is this "branded folder" thing any different than the ability to paste a custom icon onto anything? If that's all they're talking about, the Mac's been doing that for years, and it's nothing problematic... yes, software manufacturers stick their logos on folders their installers create (sometimes), but if anything it makes it easier to see what's where.

-mars
posted by Mars Saxman at 6:58 PM on December 5, 2000



The impression I got was that the brands add themselves to icons you drag them on, rather than replacing them. Also they seem to have some additional classification capability (kind of like apple's labels, I guess?). So you can drag a 'favorites' ribbon on top of a folder, and the folder'll come up in a search for favorites.
posted by muta at 8:03 PM on December 5, 2000


Yep, reread it and it looks like "branding" in the pre-1990 sense of the word... mea culpa.
posted by hijinx at 8:34 PM on December 5, 2000


The .NET browser/thing looks god-awful and to be really poor with screen real estate.

There's no way it can't be. Quote from the article:

“Folders are ridiculous!” [Steve Capps] says with a snort. “Computers have 20 things that are important, 10 things you use often and a bunch of crap. Let’s put it all on one screen—go for it!”

posted by aaron at 9:41 PM on December 5, 2000


Remember, Steve Capps' last project was Magic Cap, which forced you to walk down a virtual street to get to the device's various services. Naturally, .Net will be equally flawed from a usability standpoint. While he does have a point about putting the 20% of things you use 80% of the time right up front, I can't help but think that hiring him for this project will turn out to be a mistake.

What this proves is that Bill Gates can't tell good interface from bad interface, which should not be a surprise to anyone.
posted by kindall at 10:05 PM on December 5, 2000


I'd have to add, as someone who used Windows for the first time in 1999 (Mac all the way until then, and still half the time now) I think OS X is going to be a better replacement. I haven't played with it much yet (just because I haven't had time to install and play), but after I got over my revulsion with it's visual messiness, I sure thought it was cool. The screenshots sucked, but it feels good — even initial meanderings with the mouse were rewarded with the kind of pixel-level preconscious UI satisfaction that I've always gotten from the Mac OS. Not that that is any kind of analysis, but, then, how something feels is what makes the biggest difference when I'm using a computer to actually get some work done.
posted by sylloge at 10:57 PM on December 5, 2000


Well, it seems time for me to climb up and screed:

<soapbox mode="repetitive,annoyed,tired">
While OS/X and Aqua may not be as bad as they're first portrayed to be, their introduction does still require some pointed questioning. Interface experts have a tendency -- Alan Cooper, the "Father of Visual Basic" is a good example -- to say "this is bad, I don't know why they did it this way; you shouldn't".

Unfortunately, the topics many of them tend to choose for this sort of assertion are things as fundamental to current computer interface design as the File menu and the File-based interface itself.

Yes, perhaps it would be nice if computers didn't force people to have to think about the abstraction of a "file", and cleaned up all the other loose ends that would create ("if I have to save when I'm done, I can therefore throw away my changes by *not* saving, and just quitting" -- an idea he says is not all that commonly used... I dunno, *I* do that a lot).

But there is this thing called "the installed base" to worry about; user interface and program design does not take place in a vacuum. If you build a better mousetrap, very often, people will make sure there are 4 dozen of them beside your bed when you wake up the next morning.

At this point in our computing orbit, the installed base isn't even just Windows, or the Mac; substantially *all* the common desktop interfaces, including X/KDE/GNOME/Motif/Qt/whatever, the Amiga, etc, etc, all abtract the same underlying concept: files and programs.

Yes, it might make training people easier if computers all just used 'paper', and you could draw a spreadsheet in the middle of your piece of paper and have it "just work", but there are so many fundamental infrastructural problems to work out before we could get there, that it won't happen for a long time; .net notwithstanding.

The most important counter, though, is that you still have to teach them "the old way" because, even if *they're* not gonna work with those kind of computers, lots of other people are. And there just is no way around that.
</soapbox>

Some time this month, I've got an even longer rant on UI design books, including Cooper's About Face (damn clever title; shame), and GUI Blooper; both of the books commit similar sins, and I've been meaning to itemize them. That'll be on my own 'log, though; don't want to impose on everyone here.

Of course, maybe it's just me.

So many things are just me.

Peace, y'all.
posted by baylink at 8:37 PM on December 6, 2000


I think we're all missing the larger issue here. The article acts like there's some revolution in UI coming, and that the old WIMP interface developed at PARC and pioneered with the Mac is going away sometime soon--that there's some kind of time limit on the usefulness of an interface...

Aqua may look different, but it doesn't fundamentally change the way MacOS works from a UI point of view. Some stuff is moved around, some things taken away, some things added, but essentially the same.

Same thing with Nautilus--it may add some interesting new concepts to the traditional GUI, but it's still the same old windows, icons, toolbars.

MS's prototype for the .NET interface is pretty scary, I must admit, and although a lot of screen space is wasted, it could have potential if they try really hard. I mean, the "universal canvas" is essentially a single, always-maximized window in which you work with your data--you don't start Word or 1-2-3 or Eudora, you just do what you want. It's something that MS has been promising/trying to achieve for years (remember "Cairo"--everything's an object? remember the (buggy) office toolbar that came with Office 95 that only had buttons for "create new word document," "create new appointment," "create new spreadsheet," instead of just program shortcuts?). To me, it looks like they're trying to get the PalmOS/WinCE interface onto the desktop. Probably not a good idea, but if it's really lame and useless, it will go away, so don't worry about it. Remember Bob?
posted by daveadams at 6:35 AM on December 7, 2000


Yeah, Dave, I guess you're right.

But there are some *seriously* stupid people out there; the idea that this trend could get traction gives me the *willies*.
posted by baylink at 7:37 AM on December 7, 2000


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