Thursday, 8 October 2009

The death of the desktop metaphor?

Carpsio, who knows fuck all about anything, has another thought-provoker here:

I’m sure I’m late to this whole thing (I blog once a week – in my underpants – and I really don’t know shit about technology) but having just had Windows 7 installed, I’ve just noticed that the “desktop” metaphor suddenly feels incredibly dated and stale. I’m looking at Microsoft’s state-of-the-art OS – the full-blooded Professional version, no less – and it seems to me that really I’m looking at Windows 3.1 with shinier icons.

Yep. Even the much vaunted Mac interface is pretty much that.

I used to work in usability, so took the word of Nielsen as gospel. First rule of interfaces? Consistency! So we’ve all spent the last epoch Doing As Microsoft Have Done. We put menus at the top. Close buttons in the top right. You right click for context menus. From these rules we draw our interpretation of what the software is doing.

Only, when you think about it – what does a game of FIFA 2010 have in common with a news website? And what does a news website have in common with a photography website? There are so many things out there now that doesn’t the idea of a single heterogeneous interface strike you as…. daft?

The problem with the comparison of the iPhone interface to the desktop metaphor is that the iPhone is a completely different type of device to the PC. If the PC was as flexible in its user interface as an iPhone, he'd have a point. But the fact of the matter is that when all you have to hand is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. And with the relatively inflexible UI offered by screen, keyboard and mouse, the last fucking thing you want is to have to try and guess how the fuck the application wants to be molested.

Another thing is that, Carpsio and his one-handed web-surfing habits notwithstanding, most PC's are still ostensibly used for work-related stuff, and can you imagine what a complete pain in the cunt it would be if your email client opened, navigated and closed in a completely different way to your calendar? Etc.

So, yes, the desktop metaphor is dated, and there are better ways of doing stuff if you can get the seriously clever and flexible UI bits ... but first you have to get the seriously clever and flexible UI bits!

And that, I think, is still a long way away.


Carpsio said...

Haha! You're right - what I want is something that I can use properly while wanking. And a keyboard and mouse just isn't it.

Anyway I think we're on the same page. It'll be ace, but it's years off. So... back to my sticky keyboard it is...

captainff said...

Have you seen this yet? Is that the step forward you are looking for?

bayard said...

These things tend to stay around, once they get established. Otherwise why are we still using a keyboard layout designed to stop the keys in a mechanical typewriter hitting each other?