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BumpTop, Pushing the Desktop Metaphor 213

Alranor writes "BumpTop is a new way of manipulating your GUI desktop with a graphics pen. Documents can be moved and piled (among other actions) as if they were real pieces of paper on a physical desktop. Simulated real physical interactions, such as documents pushing others out of the way as you move them around, are intended to increase the intuitiveness of the layout tool. Given the messiness of my desks at work and home, I'm not so sure this will work for me, but it's an interesting idea."
There's a neat video demo linked from the site (and a "hip-hop overview") if you want to see BumpTop in action; unfortunately for Linux users, BumpTop seems to be Windows-only. As reader idangazit describes it, this is "not just another "me-too" alternative UI; a lot of effort and polish has been put into the (pen-based) interaction, resulting in a very natural way of interacting with collections of information. Less sci-fi than Minority Report, but far more likely to hit a desktop near you in the next few years."

Update: 06/22 16:55 GMT by T : As zdzichu reader points out in the comments below, a visually similar project called lowfat, with an equally impressive video demo, is being developed — with enough sponsorship, lowfat will go open source.
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BumpTop, Pushing the Desktop Metaphor

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  • by ilovegeorgebush ( 923173 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @08:23AM (#15581504) Homepage
    It does look very cool, but I can't help thinking if it would actually be practical or usable.
    Features such as the LassoMenu look awesome, but in all honesty, I can't see how I could apply it enough to be proactive.

    Of course, developement of such technologies is always a good thing, and its good eye-candy if only that :)
  • by gasmonso ( 929871 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @08:25AM (#15581509) Homepage

    The whole point of having a computer is to free yourself from paper. So why would you take a step back and try to digitally emulate a system that is antiquated? A computer offers endless opportunities for organizing and storing data, I see this as a step back. []
  • The trouble is... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Orange Goblin ( 945041 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @08:26AM (#15581513)'ll spend all your time playing with the physics engine, and none of it doing any actual work.
  • Dual Screen (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cabazorro ( 601004 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @08:45AM (#15581588) Journal
    To understand the power of a simpler human-computer interface one can see as an example the Nintendo DS. I have handed the gadget to people that never in their lives have use one or a computer for that matter (brain-age game). And by using the stylus and the touch-screen they get to play with it almost immediately.
    The mouse needs to be replaced by a touch screen with a stylus.
  • Re:Star Trek 42 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gulthek ( 12570 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @08:52AM (#15581611) Homepage Journal
    It is better, it can be arbitrarily large!

    Imagine it! Documents and photos and games and toys stretching out for virtual miles! You'll have to code a flight sim just to see all your data!

    Then might as well add topography to represent groups of data. A gleaming ivory tower for academic research. A giant drive-in for movies and tv files. A dystopian city structure for work related folders. A dark ocean for the internet, full of dangers and terrors and fun. A huge cave would lead into the purgatory of your "recycle bin" files, where they wait to be reborn or fed to the maw of no return.
  • by ZackStone ( 729714 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @08:54AM (#15581622) Homepage
    Because,as you can see from the video, the amount of information that is conveyed in a pile of papers is much larger than you could ever achieve on a desktop. Then what about folders, directories, or labels? Well, so far none of these could communicate, for example, your workload at a glance. How many times have you filed something away so neatly that you can't find it hirearchically (is that even a word?) and have to resort to searching!? --ZS
  • by netsavior ( 627338 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @09:00AM (#15581653)
    I guess you have never met my users.

    They print out an excel document with 3 cells so they can "read" it. No joke one time the 1st VP printed out an email I sent him that had a 6 digit order count, and no other text... he read it out loud, then threw it in the recycling. They keep giant boxes of paper docs that are printed off from our document management system, and are easily retrievable. We have a 100% paperless system, and at any given time the users have 10-20 sheets of paper on their desks, all of them digitally accessable.

    I don't have any paper on my desk, haven't since the early 1990s, but this advancement is not intended for me. It is for "Joe Paper-Lover"
  • by TheSkepticalOptimist ( 898384 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @09:01AM (#15581655)
    Honestly, most of the software managers/bosses I have worked for can't think abstractly. They need to SEE prototypes, need to USE test software, or at least see pictures and text about how its supposed to work. Start describing software to them without visual aids and their eyes just gloss over.

    Same goes for when managers start using a computer, I mean, the O.N./O.F.F. switch escapes them sometimes, and higher level concepts such as organizing files in folders is just too far beyond their capabilities.

    So, an OS desktop that lets you see all your files and folders looking like pieces of paper and folders (I bet they even have email looking like envelopes too!) on a desktop that allows you to pile them up and look like stacks of paper and folders and envelops, what a concept!!!!

    I guess ICONS that look like paper and folders that you can place anywhere on your desktop isn't good enough. It requires too much thought to associate an icon with a file or a folder. A picture of a piece of paper on a square is too hard to rationalize as being a document.

    This is a revolutionary GUI concept and I can't wait for OS X or Windows to implement this idea as using computers today, with those pesky abstract icons, is just too darn hard, at least for managers.
  • by Deep Fried Geekboy ( 807607 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @09:01AM (#15581657)
    I really like BumpTop but others might not. Evidently what we really need is a universal file management etc API so that third parties can write interfaces which are independent of the underlying platform. I can then write a Finder replacement for OS X which will also run on Linux or Vista, and developers can market interfaces as they do any other app.

    The interface is just another app. Once we get that, we'll be rockin'.
  • Balance (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Bombula ( 670389 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @09:04AM (#15581667)
    There has to be some sort of balance between making the interface intuitive and making it efficient. All GUIs fall somewhere along the spectrum. The thing to remember is where intuitive comes from: abstraction is intuitive when it closely resembles the structure of our real (physical) world experiences. This is true for lots of things besides just computer interfaces - things like language that are built upon abstract relationships between symbols, and their structures are inherently built on our evolved framework of physical and behavioral structures (Chomsky et al).

    So here's the deal: an ideal inferface will basically have a structure (i.e.: a logical framework of relationships) closely resembling the real world, but will operate at a speed unhindered by real-world mechanics like intertia, momentum, and spatial constraints. The existing folder+desktop system has been a natural, maybe even unconcscious, evolution towards precisely such a model.

    Personally, I think as long as we're missing a dimension - if we're in 2D instead of 3D - then we're not going to have a completely intuitive interface. The problem, though, is that true 3D still isn't really available. We just have 2D emulation of 3D on computer monitors.

    So these kinds of fancy 3D interfaces that have physics engines, collision detection, and all that stuff are sort of wasted in my mind until we have a really immersive 3D display system. I feel exactly the same way about FPS games. I'm a gamer, but I'm crushed that VR never took off. There's just no true feeling of immersion if you're stuck staring at your zillion-polygon virtual world through a tiny 19" porthole.

  • by simon_hibbs2 ( 792812 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @09:04AM (#15581669)
    The first thing that popped into my head while watching this was that it could make even ten-thumbed fumblers like me into class-act poker dealers. That has obvious gaming connotations, but realy this would be a very nice interface for games where you're manipulating simulatioons of real-world object or resources. RTS games user interfaces are all about multiply-selecting different categories of objects and issuing commands, and the gestures displayed here would be ideal for that kind of game. I wonder if the Nintendo DS, with it's pen input, would be up to an interface like this? Probably not, as it's not realy designed for physics.

  • by lcde ( 575627 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @09:06AM (#15581672) Homepage
    I could definately see it being used in the tablet market. I don't think shifting through file systems with a pen would be much fun.

    On a more 'futuristic' note: Wouldn't it be cool to have a desk like in The Island [] where the doctor brought up their files ON his desk. Now image a big desk with a touch panel as its face. This technology would be pretty cool. Pile up your documents, open them and a virtual keyboard/mouse appears.
  • by wmwilson01 ( 912533 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @09:07AM (#15581675) Homepage
    It's a very cool demo, but if you were going to avoid doing the really hard work of coming up with a new way to look at how to organize our computer workspaces, why wouldn't you at least settle for a bookshelf metaphor instead of a desktop... again? I mean, wouldn't that be a better match for the use than just a desktop? My desk doesn't have anything on it but my phone and computer. My bookshelf, however, has all of the references, software, and even pictures. The only folks I know that really do have stuff on their physical desktop are mostly untidy and need some help with organization anyways.
  • by MikeyTheK ( 873329 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @09:14AM (#15581720)
    I understand the whole real-world-metaphor drawback. I think that we're missing the point - that this is an excellent transitional tool to a paperless work area.

    Part of what we all are failing to consider here is that we need desktop managers because the desktops on our copmputers are comparatively small to the desktops we actually work at in the real world, due to screen resolution restrictions vs. our ability to see things that are small. Face it. We are taking a 48" x 30-36" desk and trying to compress it onto a 17", 19", 21", 30" monitor IN MOST CASES. I know that most of us as geeks probably have two or three monitors on our desks, but if you compare that screen space relative to your real desk, it's like trying to run your office life off an end-table in your living room.

    The problem isn't that computers can't replace paper, the problem is that we don't have the number of pixels for the average user to make that proposition appetizing to the average user. Everything we can do to improve that situation makes the dream of going paperless more reachable.
  • Re:Problems (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mabhatter654 ( 561290 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @09:18AM (#15581751)
    but people are spacial creatures... the flat, 1-D world of bits doesn't work very well for most people. A real desk holds a lot of information just by "being" a desk that a desktop computer doesn't hold. People remember that that stack in the corner was from last thursday, that the extra thick document with two staples is the TPS report the boss required after-hours, that they hate the bottom drawer because it sticks.. so they remember perfectly what's in it. Most of the greatest minds of the 20th century were incredibely disorganized...yet they could find important work from 3 years ago, blindfolded in messy offices filled with books and papers. Our brains are wired to work in 3 dimension and time, computers will always be far too "flat" for ordinary people without some kind of "crutch"
  • by fermion ( 181285 ) * on Thursday June 22, 2006 @09:49AM (#15581974) Homepage Journal
    This is a product that pops up every once in a while. The pile metaphor, while interesting, requires some underlying technology to make it work. I am not just talkig about the eye candy, which is, as you say, interesting in itself and could lead to some interesting things, but the file structure.

    This is why I think 'the pile' has never taken off. To really work it requires a robust data driven file system. For instance, we now use a folder metaphor to represent related catagories to materials. We have nested folder for deeper level of heirachacal organization. This system does not work with the pile, as scanning a directory with 1000 files is not reasonable.

    The piles on desks work with people who have good sense on 3d visualazation. I know where things are by thier reletive 3d location. For such people, this metaphor will work well, and I think it is why we see implemetations of it. Many designers have good 3d visulations, so doesn't everyone? It seems to me that what past implementations have missing is the data driven aceess, which is implicit in the file model, but not moved to the pile model.

    I suppose the good news is tha we are slowly moving to data driven file systems. Mac OS has sherlock, and MS Windows Vista will have something similiar, though it will not have the full database system that would be perfect for the pile. Here is how it would work. You have piles on your desk, piles on the floor, piles in drawers. On could succesively search different piles, and the candidate objects would fly out, or zoom, or whatever. I question if we have the horsepower for this yet, but it is coming. This is the type of GUI that could be considered a Humane Interface.

  • by grumbel ( 592662 ) <> on Thursday June 22, 2006 @09:54AM (#15582017) Homepage
    Its a nifty demo, but sadly that type of interface is like 95% pure toying around, it doesn't make navitagion easier, it doesn't give you a better overview, it doesn't even try to provide a fulltext search, instead you can now move the same unintuitive icons around with physics engine... yeah, great... The first thing I would expect from any 'new' kind of interface is that makes icons go away, completly, and while at it, throw the applications out of the windows as well. I mean where is the use in having a dozen equally looking pdf icons? Why don't do the really intuitive thing instead and present the document itself instead of an icon to abstract it? The demo also shows that shortly, however it isn't able to handle that well, since there seems to be a completle lack of zooming, thus you only get very few documents visible on screen, which really isn't so much better of what we have today. Now simply adding zoom on the other side wouldn't be enough either, since you don't only want to zoom into a thumbnail, but you want to zoom into the document itself, so you don't get to launch an app, but instead just zoom into the document since it is large enough to read it. Now this has some problems itself, like where do you pack the menu and toolbars or how to handle multiple documents at once or how to actually zoom (press a button or use mousewheel or some completly new control device (Wiimote)?), but the demo doesn't even try to solve those problems, instead we simply get old icons rendered in 3d with physics engine, which is nifty to look at for a minute, but doesn't really help much at all.

    To those interesting in new interface ideas I recomment to read The Humane Interface by Jef Raskins, who really does propose a new style of interface that is both a lot more intuitive then what we have today as well as a lot more efficient, instead of just adding bell and whistles like most other 'new' interfaces do.
  • by zootm ( 850416 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @10:36AM (#15582364)

    From what I can tell, it's a more sensible way of ordering documents. What I'd like to see is an approach where the documents are represented by thumbnails rather than just icons.

    Although it looks overly-complex, bear in mind that this is research. They're trying out all the possibilities to see which ones "fit". I reckon a refined version of this interface could be very good indeed.

  • MS Bob, is that you? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tmack ( 593755 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @11:05AM (#15582606) Homepage Journal
    Before I wtfv (watched...vid) thats the first image that poped into my head, Microsofts' BOB desktop. The more "realistic" look of a real office/desk to work on etc, etc. Though after wtfv, I realized this is not even in the same league as that steaming pile of DOS based poo. Its definately interesting, and the eye-candy factor is really high, which is enough for alot of people to pick it up at least for a try. The whole piles thing reminds me of the gui to the mainframe in "Hackers" to an extent. While Im not sure it would be the best desktop to use, I could definately see it used for a file manager with a few alterations: add boxes for directories, each box acts like another document, but can be opened and the pile of files/directories inside examined like all the others, and add a live preview or some other way to distinguish the files (like they did with the pictures) to the icons.


  • by Peganthyrus ( 713645 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @11:28AM (#15582782) Homepage
    I ditched my mouse years ago (I was starting to feel advance twinges of RSI in my clicking finger) and use a smallish Wacom for everything. Including filesystem navigation. Works great.
  • by LordMyren ( 15499 ) on Thursday June 22, 2006 @12:41PM (#15583342) Homepage
    Havent we abused the desktop metaphor long enough? I dont think anyone thinks of the computer as an actual desktop, and I'm highly suspect that making a computer closer resemble a desktop will not aid anyone.

    Its time to start inventing new metaphors.


System checkpoint complete.