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The Desktop Metaphor Done Right

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Every now and then there's a lot of waffle about innovation in UI technology, extending or replacing the metaphors we use to interact with computers, blah blah. Usually this centers around some abstract 3D file browser or some kind of cheesy and thin analogy that conjures up unwanted memories of Microsoft Bob.


Today though I found something that not only managed to impress me, but make me actually want the technolog. Via the Joel Reddit, here's "Creative Mess on your Desktop".

I actually laughed out loud a couple of times during the video segment - it's that cool. It's pretty much precisely how I envision my dream-desktop working; in boring old real life, I "stack" icons into little piles all over the place and generally make a lot of marginally organized chaos - just like my real desk. This tech takes physics simulation and abstract UI tools to bring the metaphor one step closer to life - hell, it's even better than life: when was the last time you pointed at a pile of documents on your desk, said "sort by type," and had them all break into neat little piles aligned on a regular grid? Didn't think so.


For all the hype around "radical" and "innovative" UI technology, I personally usually find it a waste of time; the tried-and-true stuff is good enough to keep using, and often the benefits of the "new" tech are marginal at best. This, though, looks like it has some genuine potential to enhance the way we use our computers - and you don't have to be Tom Cruise in the year 2649 to use it, either.
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At one point, Apple was playing around with a "stack" filesystem object, which was like a folder but it rolled out when you moused over it.

Someone made a flash demo of it, but I found it virtually uncontrollable. And thus OS X still has the files/folders paradigm. I can't really think of many ways to improve it, other than maybe intellisense that lets me type in the entire path from any folder (similar to VS2005's intellisense when you type part of a method call and hit period to go to the next "level").

I dunno the rest of the improvements. I think the whole WIMP paradigm is fundamentally flawed, and horrific application-centric abortions like PocketPC file soups, the toolbars and roll out drawers of VS2005, the Column view in OS X and the Office 2007 "interface" are examples of just why.

We need to replace it with a keyboard-centric interface that's a lot like what Jef Raskin was doing. But I dunno how we'd do that.

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