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GUIs Get a Makeover 540

jcatcw writes "From Xerox PARC to Apple to Microsoft, the GUI has been evolving over the years, and the increased complexity of current systems means it will continue to change. For example, Microsoft is switching from dropdown menus to contextual ribbons. Mobile computing creates new demands for efficient presentation while the desktop GUI doesn't scale to larger screens. Dual-mode user interfaces may show up first on PDA phones but then migrate to laptops and desktops. Which of today's innovations will become tomorrow's gaffs?"
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GUIs Get a Makeover

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  • GUI? Bah! (Score:4, Funny)

    by rrohbeck ( 944847 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @07:39PM (#16193291)
    You only need them to open mutiple xterm/CMD windows, so who cares?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by benplaut ( 993145 )
      With GNU/Screen, you don't even need that!
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Chops ( 168851 )
      Agreed. Here's my recipe for working environment goodness:
      1. Vertical montor. Look at all the delicous, delicious code [].
      2. Blackbox [].
      3. A menu shortcut for opening 4 xterms, three on the left and one tall one on the right, filling all the space on the screen. I should have one for an emacs and three xterms (like in the above screenshot), but I don't.
      4. Nine virtual desktops, each one accessible via Ctrl + Shift + one of the letters in the 3x3 block at the left edge of the keyboard (QWE / ASD / ZXC). I think of them
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by alcmaeon ( 684971 )

      A 5 page story about GUI's and not a single picture.

      Some people, you just can't reach.

  • I dont agree (Score:5, Insightful)

    by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @07:40PM (#16193299) Homepage Journal
    i think they have been slowly DEvolving over the years, becoming more bloated and complex. They are starting to outreach the average joe.

    We have had simple and effective GUI's in teh past, like Atari's GEM, and Apple's Newton. Simple and effecitve. but they were tossed aside for much larger and complex systems, requiring more hardware and brain power.
    • Re:I dont agree (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Scoth ( 879800 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @07:46PM (#16193371)
      I'd say gaining complexity is perhaps the definition of evolution, perhaps even including bloat and complexity (even biological systems aren't immune. Lots of complex animals have useless bits left over weighing them down. Appendix, etc).

      I think the argument is better made that GUIs have evolved too much for their own good. I wonder what would happen if you launched NT 4's explorer.exe in WinXP.... I think i'm gonna go try it...
      • by QuantumG ( 50515 ) <> on Monday September 25, 2006 @07:56PM (#16193479) Homepage Journal
        evolved too much for their own good

        Yes, cause that's an apt analogy.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) *

        I'd say gaining complexity is perhaps the definition of evolution

        I'd say the opposite. When systems are overly complex, it's a sign that they're in need of simplification. OS X shows what such a system looks like. Users have an easier time working with the system, while programmers have an easier time maintaining it.

        Windows Vista shows what happens when you keep trying to complicate an overly complicated system. The system eventually extends beyond the control of the developers, making each change more and

        • Re:I dont agree (Score:5, Interesting)

          by GeffDE ( 712146 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:11PM (#16194111)
          Methinks you either slept through your college biology lecture, or just decided it wasn't worth going to. This is a diagram [] of one facet of a cell's existence, eating. Just that one thing, and there are hundreds of little dots, each of which stand for an enzyme. Then, in multicellular organisms, you have all the signaling pathways (which are multistage...think the 7 layers of the TCP/IP protocol) that is necessary for cells to interact, as well as the massive transport system with THREE different types of transport vesicles...

          Then, if you think about the code for "evolved" eukaryotes, there are not only long sequences of DNA inserted from viruses ages ago, there are copies of genes that just don't work because they're mutated. Talk about junk code. But those sequences are dutifully preserved inside your very cells. It's a nightmare that even Microsoft would hate to dream.
          • Re:I dont agree (Score:5, Interesting)

            by AKAImBatman ( 238306 ) * <akaimbatman&gmail,com> on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:59PM (#16194443) Homepage Journal
            I said that they're NOT GETTING MORE complex, not that they aren't complex already. While extra codes are swapped in and out, the general length stays approximately the same between generations of the overall organism. So individually, cells do not grow in complexity. However, a multicelled organism is more complex than a single-celled organism by way of a modular yet cohesive system. A bit like well-designed components in an Operating System.

            Back on the subject of software, the more the complexity is packaged into simpler modules, the more the system above it can be simplified. The end goal is to have modules of a stable complexity (like TCP/IP) forming together to create a simpler OS. The problems occur when there's a monolithic structure that exposes lower-level complexity at a higher level.
      • Re:I dont agree (Score:5, Interesting)

        by fyngyrz ( 762201 ) * on Monday September 25, 2006 @08:55PM (#16193987) Homepage Journal
        I'd say gaining complexity is perhaps the definition of evolution

        My product an image manipulation system, has had contextual, ribbon-based selection of tools since 1990. We use a chapter/verse metaphor (click on one level of the toolbar to select the chapter, such as filters or geometric tramsforms, the next level slides into view which contains individual tools such as sharpness and feature removal, or ripples and rotations.)

        This layout, like MS's "new contextual ribbon" puts what you need in front of you, and buries everything else until you need it. Our chapters function exactly like MS's "tabs" and our verses function as accessors for sets of tools -- basically, there are three levels to the GUI. We don't put the third level in the toolbar, because there are far too many controls for some tools (as many as 70 sliders, buttons, drop-downs) and it is (we think) a poor decision to always take large amounts of vertical space in an image-processing application. Dialogs let you move all that tool-consuming real-estate around. They aren't modal, though, so you can keep working.

        This really is a better and more evolved way to work, and I commend MS on finally getting the point (although I note with some humor that they certainly didn't invent this methodology.) Of course I'm partial to it, having been building and using such an interface for well over a decade now.

        The thing that seems to stick in user's craws isn't the difficulty (or "increase in complexity, as you put it) of such a layout, because there isn't any, really... but simply that it is "different." Change is a force for user discomfort, especially UI change. I'm not saying that UI's can't get more complex, they certainly can, but contextual ribbons are a simplifying factor, count on it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by buswolley ( 591500 )
        The evolution of organisms on earth do have a trend toward complexity. However, complexity is not a goal of evolution. Complexity is not required for evolution. The analogy is false, because its premise is false.
        • by thegnu ( 557446 ) <thegnu AT gmail DOT com> on Monday September 25, 2006 @10:48PM (#16194739) Journal
          The analogy is false, because its premise is false.
          Rather, if Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must acquit. I think that a function of evolution is that as traits emerge, a species starts to diversify, and the complexity of the system by which the trait is favored becomes more complex, until it flat out wins, then there is a return to simplicity.

          It's sort of that way with scientific theory. Someone will have a quantam leap (no pun intended) forward in a model that describes the universe, and it's something really short and sweet, like E=mc^2. And then science says, "Oh, except when you're in a crowded elevator!" and, "Well, not really for very large values of 2!" and wonderful stuff like that, until someone realizes that, duh, the universe is really simple. And so on.

          I want to also say that when I say the universe is really simple, I don't mean we can comprehend it. I just mean it's simple. If Chewbacca lives on Endor, you must mod me +5 Insightful.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by AoT ( 107216 )
            I want to also say that when I say the universe is really simple, I don't mean we can comprehend it. I just mean it's simple.

            I often wonder why people continually make this assumption. There is no evidence for this point of view, at least none that I've seen.

            Sounds like wishful thinking to me.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by FudRucker ( 866063 )
      i have to agree, i miss the old KDE-2.2 && Gnome-1.4 and Win95 GUI for its simplicity, nowdays both Windows & Linux are suffering from the bloat of feature creap, but i doubt we will be heard, lets hope xfce stays simple, there is always EDE or ICEwm, then there are lots of light and simple window managers & file managers for Linux, good thing linux offers a choice and the Windows users wont get...
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by newt0311 ( 973957 )
        Yeah. I have to use FVWM2 with a minimalistic config file to get the setup I want. no gnome or kde for me. just too much junk in there. what use do I have to title bars, window borders, start menus etc... when I primarily just use the keyboard. I wish there was a good way to do mouseless browsing but I haven't found anything good.
        • by nxtw ( 866177 )
          Tried Opera? It worked a lot better than Firefox did, back when I tried to use a laptop without a touchpad or pointing stick.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by dosius ( 230542 )
      GEM wasn't just for the Atari, and the original sources have continued to evolve and continue to run fine on a stock PC. 16-bit though.

  • by SimHacker ( 180785 ) * on Monday September 25, 2006 @07:41PM (#16193315) Homepage Journal

    I've been developing touch screen talking pie menus [] on handheld devices, like the Pocket PC. Pie menus work very well with touch screens, but of course the way they track and display and give feedback has to be adapted to the quirks of small touch screens. Talking pie menus give you audio feedback with a speech synthesizer, so they don't require a lot of visual attention and hand-eye coordination.

    Talking pie menus make it possible to use an application without looking at the screen! That's important for mobile applications like GPS navigation systems, which people use while driving (despite all the warnings again it).


    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by zboog1 ( 704154 )
      You really ought to look at the marking menus in Autodesk's Maya, which have been around since before Maya existed back when it was called Alias Power Animator. These marking menus are also hiararchical, and allow for moving up and down the hiararchy easily (which yours don't). Someone even developed it further as a script to include icons ( Xumi []) Also, there have been a number of pie-based gesture extensions for Firefox for as long as there have been extensions for Firefox, Firebird, etc... One such ext
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by SimHacker ( 180785 ) *

        Of course I'm familiar with Maya's marking menus and Gordon Kurtenbach's work [], which are based on the ideas from (and refer to) the paper, "An Empirical Comparison of Pie vs. Linear Menus []", that we (Jack Callahan, Don Hopkins, Ben Shneiderman, Mark Weiser) published in 1988.

        The first publication that described the basic idea of pie menus was "PIXIE: A New Approach to Graphical Man-Machine Communications"; by Wiseman, N. E., Lemke, H. U., and Hiles, J. O.; Proceedings of 1969 CAD Conference Southhampton,

  • by Quaoar ( 614366 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @07:41PM (#16193317)
    ...well, at least for websites: Spreading the fricken article over several pages, e.g., this article...
  • by Daniel Zappala ( 15756 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @07:44PM (#16193345)
    Gotta love an article on graphical user interfaces with no ... graphics ... of the user interface.
  • Ribbons (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Modeski ( 1002388 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @07:45PM (#16193361) Homepage
    The Ribbon bar concept frustrates me no end. There's a reason that in Windows I switch everything to "Classic" mode. Having grown up with DOS from 3.2, then to DOSSHELL, 3.1,9x and now XP, I like that the fundamental concepts haven't changed. Instead of floating icons that are "intelligently" moved around by the software, I would like to always have the ability to strip back the bells and whistles.

    You'll take my File/Edit/View from my cold, dead hands.

    • by twofidyKidd ( 615722 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @07:56PM (#16193475)
      Ribbons : MS Products :: Ribbons : Bicycles

      They don't aid in the functionality, they only appear to make things look faster, and after all is said and done, you look like a big sissy bitch for using them.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Blakey Rat ( 99501 )
      So you don't hate ribbons, you hate change at all. That's fine, but don't pretend that it's some specific change you hate when you haven't even given it a chance.
  • by Bones3D_mac ( 324952 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @07:46PM (#16193377)
    So long as we're still using the mouse/keyboard as a primary interface for our computers, the current GUI model will likely stay pretty much the same for at least a good ten years or so. Once something better comes along, such as AI-assisted video/object recognition, it may open options similar to what was in Minority Report. Until then though, using a cursor for interaction will remain more effective than cursing at our machines directly.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward []

      I saw the multi-touch display wall at this year's SIGGRAPH. Playing with it is, obviously, worth more than looking at pictures, but you really have to watch the multi-touch interaction demo real.
    • by 7Prime ( 871679 )
      Voice recognition is getting so good nowdays, as a result of handheld devices (I no longer dial numbers on my cellphone anymore, I just say the name of the person I'm calling), I think we'll start to see voice recognition GUIs here within the next few years, at least on handhelds. The keyboard may then eventually go the way of the dinosaur as an unneccessary paripheral. We'll always see new little GUI gadgets, some of them good (Expose), and some of them bad (Clippy), I don't mind having new options for how
    • by bunions ( 970377 )
      Total agreement. Your input devices are going to define they interface far more than anything else. We're stuck in a rut with GUIs because people are used to them, and a control people are used to is worth two in the bush, so to speak. Witness everyone here kvetching about the ribbons in Vista. There's nothing particularly wrong with them, in situ, it's just that they're new. Which is awful.

      IMHO, the next big innovation in UI design will be touchscreens, hopefully of the multitouch variety. I just don
  • "As [displays] get bigger and bigger, you can get more information to the user," says Mary Czerwinski, principal researcher at Microsoft Research. But the current desktop GUI, which simply extends the same desktop across multiple screens, doesn't scale well. With more screen real estate available, computers will begin monitoring and presenting more information to the user.

    This seems incredibly divorced from reality. Lots of people use multiple screens, and extending the same desktop across those screens wo

    • by drsmithy ( 35869 ) <drsmithy@gm a i l .com> on Monday September 25, 2006 @08:11PM (#16193619)
      This seems incredibly divorced from reality. Lots of people use multiple screens, and extending the same desktop across those screens works really well to manage the available space.

      Well, they _work_, but I wouldn't say they work *well*. Some examples:

      * OS X only has a single menu bar for all applications and all screens. So if your active application window isn't on the primary screen and you want to access the menu, you need to track all the way back to whichever screen is the primary to access it. Ditto for the Dock. Why can't there be a Menubar and Dock on each monitor ?

      (Personally I've always found it rather ironic that MacOS was the early bringing of good multimonitor support, but its UI really doesn't handle them well).

      * Windows has a similar problem with only one Taskbar and only one Start Menu. Why not a Taskbar for each monitor and/or, even better, the ability to pop the Start Menu up directly under the cursor ?

      * Mouse tracking across multiple, big displays is slow or inaccurate unless you've got the twitch muscles of a fifteen year old first-person gamer. I want trackers on top of each screen that can monitor where I'm looking and move the mouse cursor to that spot.

      * There's (typically) no "maximise across all screens" button.

      So we should just take that extra screen and fill it up with pretty desklets? And this will make me a more productive person?

      This seems to be the model most people think of when talking about multiple screens. For example, the typical multimonitor Mac user wants one screen for their Photoshop (or whatever) window and the other for all the palettes, toolbars and feedback windows is spawns.

      • Dude, you're overlooking the obvious. On Windows machines, just let each monitor be another instance of Terminal Services. You can run 50 different desktops under the same user, if you want.
        • by drsmithy ( 35869 )
          Dude, you're overlooking the obvious. On Windows machines, just let each monitor be another instance of Terminal Services. You can run 50 different desktops under the same user, if you want.

          I'm not a TS expert, but I'm thinking that's not going to work too well with moving windows between screens.

      • * Mouse tracking across multiple, big displays is slow or inaccurate unless you've got the twitch muscles of a fifteen year old first-person gamer. I want trackers on top of each screen that can monitor where I'm looking and move the mouse cursor to that spot.

        Yes people have been looking at that, but it'll no doubt take quite some time yet to make it into any mainstream products. (As with Mary Czerwinski's research -- even Microsoft's own research lab have a tough time persuading the product designers to i

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 25, 2006 @07:51PM (#16193435)
    While I understand that GNOME has its admirers, and it can't be classified as a failure, it sure hasn't lived up to the hype of the early days.

    GNOME was touted as being a real competitor to KDE, before the days of Qt being dually-licensed under the GPL. There was some initial progress, but since about 2000 it seems that KDE has been the leader. Ever since Miguel became more focused on Mono, the quality of GNOME really decreased.

    One notable incident was the terrible GNOME file chooser. You can see it here: oser.png []

    The many usability problems are well known, and were much discussed. One major flaw was the inability to enter in a pathname or filename manually. The lack of path separators made the top breadcrumb trail difficult to follow at times. The 'Places' pane wasted a lot of space when it listed few items. The file list didn't show enough detail about each file. It wasn't possible to view only certain file types.

    Frankly, it was a rather massive mistake to include that dialog. When compared to the dialogs of KDE, Mac OS X, and Microsoft Windows, it was the black sheep. What was worse, on some platforms non-GNOME applications like Mozilla Firefox made use of that dialog, in turn making their usability a nightmare. While things have gotten better, and the newer dialog is a slight improvement, the mistake was still very costly.

    I personally know about six people who used GNOME, and swore that they'd never touch it again after seeing that monstrosity. One went back to Windows, to the best of my knowledge. The rest switched to KDE, and have been quite pleased, as far as I know.

    I think that the GNOME file chooser disaster is one incident that all GUI developers should learn from. At least then it wasn't a total waste.

    • by Malc ( 1751 )
      Their dialogs have made me refuse to use apps under Windows that use the toolkit. Things like GIMP. When on Windows, why don't they delegate to the common controls provided by the platform instead of their own dreadful implementations?
    • One notable incident was the terrible GNOME file chooser

      For some reason, this is actually a UNIX trait. You should have seen the file selection dialogs in Motif, Athena and various earlier X toolkits. It was as if programmers decided they hated their users. Many applications even wrote their own choosers. Oh boy did they suck. The Gnome chooser is way better than the bad old days, but as you rightly point out it isn't something to be proud off. (Try selecting a file or directory starting with a dot

    • by fabs64 ( 657132 ) <beaufabry+slashdot,org&gmail,com> on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:21PM (#16194171)
      Congrats on picking my pet effing hate, our university servers seem to have that DAMNED gnome filechooser as their only installed one, and as a result both eclipse and firefox use them for everything.
      Here's a fun one, setting an external application as the default action for filetypes in eclipse, can't just type the command, can't use the $PATH var, have to browse around all the bin directories looking for the app you want with that horrible chooser.
      grrr, the eclipse guys do a really good job, but when choosing a "run" application, there should ALWAYS be the option to just type the command if you intend for your product to be used on a *nix variant.
    • New file chooser (Score:4, Informative)

      by massysett ( 910130 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:22PM (#16194177) Homepage
      Agreed, the old GTK file chooser is an absolute monstrosity. Looks like relief is finally on the way with the new GNOME 2.16 html []
    • by DoubleRing ( 908390 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:51PM (#16194389)
      Let me start off with a disclaimer: I hate KDE. (Now, now, it's not the time for a flame way! :P)

      Personally, I don't mind that interface. Besides, if that's your only problem with GNOME, then we must have it pretty good! I "strongly dislike" KDE's browsing system (one arrow left, one arrow right, one arrow up, one arrow is a crazy swirl, all so close together and so similar in appearance that it really gets frustrating at times.) And why the default is set to open folders with one click is beyond me. I have one program (Noteedit) that uses the KDE interface, and because of that, I didn't bother downloading all of the customization crap, so I'm stuck with it (if someone has a solution, tell me please!). Also, the taskbar/menu at the bottom always looks too cluttered to me. And the clock is just ugly. And why do they stack the window list in two rows? I came over from the Windows world, and was introduced to GNOME and KDE at the same time (I was playing around with SUSE and Fedora). I liked both the same and eventually my final decision came down to the GUI. KDE just hurt my eyes to use. It's a little hard to explain. All of the icons were so...BIG, and pixilated. And despite the fact that KDE looked a lot like XP's UI, I went to GNOME.

      From what I can tell, people are about evenly divided on this issue. It's just whatever appeals to you. No, GNOME is not paradise incarnate, but to me, it's better. Besides, I sure you can customize that path chooser ;)

      But isn't that the beauty of FOSS? The fact that you can actually choose? Sort of like democracy, it's all the arguments that actually let you know it's working.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Error27 ( 100234 )
      You linked to an older version of the file dialogue. There are really only 2 major problems with the gnome file menu 1) It's dog slow when you type paths. Not just slow but Shocking Slow. Absolutely Astounding Slow. 2) There is no way to view hidden menus. There should be a "Show Hidden Files" button. It should be a button not a pull down or anything else.

      There are sometimes when the file dialogue really pisses me off. I hate that little one that firefox and btdownload use. They always point to the
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      One major flaw was the inability to enter in a pathname or filename manually.

      If you just start typing, it accepts a path. At least on my machine (I tested it before posting this).
  • It's very true that the fixed menu doesn't scale... This is probably the biggest reason that I use Fluxbox. It allows me to right click anywhere on the desktop and pull up an application menu. Contrast this with my XP machine which I'm using now: It has two widescreen displays but the Start Menu only shows up on the left screen. If I'm on the non-Menu screen, I need to scroll across two desktops to click the Start button and then select. There are workarounds but some keyboards don't have the Windows key,
    • by B5_geek ( 638928 )
      You sir have hit the nail on the head. This is exactly the same reason I use Flux too. I have never given much thought, but the agony of using a different OS/DE and not having my application list NOW and close to my point of of focus drives me batty.

      As I type this I think that is the answer. Point-of-Focus, (I should (tm) that now and get ready to sue.) is the MOST user-friendly way accessing data. Your eyes are there, your focus is there, and more importantly your thoughts are there. Not needing to m
    • by Malc ( 1751 )
      I often use keyboard navigation anyway with the Start menu. You can use the first letter of menu items to jump to them.

      If you don't have a Windows keyboard, Ctrl+Esc brings up the Start Menu (didn't this use to be a key combo for task switching under Win 3.1?), and Shift+F10 brings up the context menu (is that what you're calling the applicaton menu?). Good look getting the latter working with apps that refuse to follow Windows UI guidelines, like Trillian. Why are some programmers so ignorant?

      More keys
  • Is a desktop GUI that is based on the menu system style of MythTV [] instead of "START". This would make it SO easy to navigate for novices, I mean, after all, what's wrong with a GUI for a computer that was made to be easy enough to navigate for people who watch TV?
  • by inKubus ( 199753 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @07:56PM (#16193477) Homepage Journal
    Ideally the computer should just know what you want to do and do it for you. The problem is telling the computer what to do. I'm surprised that voice-recognition hasn't progressed further. The Apple OSX voice stuff is pretty cool but not responsive enough to be useable. And all it does is integrate into the window manager. Why would I want to ask the computer to open a window if I just want to ask a question? For instance, say I want to know what time it is. I can't just ask the computer, "Computer, what time is it?" Instead, I have to say, "Computer, open clock" and then read the time. Maybe some feedback would make it better. Communication requires feedback. Maybe the computer could respond, like the XO of a ship responds to the captain: "Make turns for 30 knots" XO: "30 knots, aye"

    I think a big problem is the mouse. The mouse is so great for so much, yet it falls short. I know they have mice that have practically a whole keyboard on them. I'd like to see that idea extended beyond the window manager also.

    One thing that has really excited me recently is the Optimus dynamic keyboard [] over at Thinking more about adapting the interface around the user and the software is important. A lot of that will be workflow analysis, such as "User A always saves before printing, so if they save, make the print icon easier to find and click." will be necessary.

    A lot of what needs to be done the computer can do for us. The hidden options in MS Word are a good example of this. Although it was a support nightmare when it first came out, it really helps speed up the work when you are doing common repetitive tasks. This could be expanded to allow different hidden options depending on what you're working on. For instance, if you're writing a letter, addresses and envelope stuff should magically appear, but it should not show up if you're writing a scientific paper.

    One thing that the MS monoculture has brought us is a somewhat standard UI experience for most users. That would be impossible with 100 competing OS's. The web does not offer that opportunity except maybe through some toolkits like Swing (which sucks), or Ruby on rails with the prototype.js. The monoculture has stifled innovation, however, so I hope in the future there will be more people thinking about design when they make their interface and MS being open enough with this Aero stuff to allow designers freedom to make something new. I seriously doubt that will happen, however.

    • by Pfhorrest ( 545131 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @08:17PM (#16193655) Homepage Journal
      And all it does is integrate into the window manager. Why would I want to ask the computer to open a window if I just want to ask a question? For instance, say I want to know what time it is. I can't just ask the computer, "Computer, what time is it?" Instead, I have to say, "Computer, open clock" and then read the time.

      I don't know much about the present speech systems in OS X, but the older one in classic Mac OS had a "speakable items" folder that was mostly filled with AppleScripts. Speaking the name of any item in that folder would launch that item; if it was an AppleScript, it would do various thing. The system shipped with a number of useful scripts already built in: one of them was called "What time is it?", and all it did was speak (via TTS aka MacInTalk): "It's [current time]", e.g. "It's five oh four pee em." (Then again, I don't find this very useful because I've got a menubar clock, as all Macs have by default for ages, so it's quicker just to glance up there).

      There was one really impressive script in that that would tell a number of interactive knock-knock jokes, called "Tell me a joke". So you'd say "Tell me a joke", and it would speak (via TTS) "Knock knock". A response of "Who's there?" would prompt it to select from a number of responses, and it would then listen for "[previous response] who?" after which it would deliver the appropriate punchline.

      I just looked, and there is a Speakable Items folder and it has all this same functionality still. Runs a lot faster than it used to, too. Sweet.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by iceburn ( 137875 )

      The Apple OSX voice stuff is pretty cool but not responsive enough to be useable. And all it does is integrate into the window manager.

      Actually, in OS X you can ask it the time, and it will speak it. You can also ask the date, tell it to start the screensaver, and a whole bunch of other crap. It's certainly not perfect, but it can do a lot more than just open/close windows.

    • by proxima ( 165692 )

      Ideally the computer should just know what you want to do and do it for you. The problem is telling the computer what to do. I'm surprised that voice-recognition hasn't progressed further. The Apple OSX voice stuff is pretty cool but not responsive enough to be useable. And all it does is integrate into the window manager. Why would I want to ask the computer to open a window if I just want to ask a question? For instance, say I want to know what time it is. I can't just ask the computer, "Computer, what ti

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by 7Prime ( 871679 )

      The problem is telling the computer what to do. I'm surprised that voice-recognition hasn't progressed further.

      I was just writing about this above. Actually, voice-recognition has progressed considerably in the last few years, due to handhelds. Cellphone voice recognition is practically standard, now days. There's a few problems with bridging the gap over to desktop computers (less with laptops, though), the main one being that most people don't have a mic built into their system. Companies have TRIED wit

  • ...but I like and love what kde developers have done with KDE4.0. Just have a look: - plasma-2.png [] ql.jpg []

    Once this is out, is will impress lots of folks including myself. That will be its time. I know that for others, some found on slashdot, KDE will always be a non starter.

    On a side note, the Morris Minor had its time too. Here it is: morris3.jpg []


    • by Shados ( 741919 )
      Wow thats some nice stuff. I might have to dust off my Linux harddrive (I have a dual boot, but didnt boot in Linux in forever) once this is out.

      One thing that I've learnt doing web apps for high profile customers lately (though its an obvious thing): GUI sells, period. Yes it has to improve productivity. However, the fact remains, many people have that darn screen in their faces 8 hours a day. It then becomes important that the GUI is interesting and attractive.

      So all these seemingly useless bells an
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by oddfox ( 685475 )

      I say this as a KDE enthusiast who has a background with being in love with GNOME: How come no mockups like the ones you linked and the ones found on many many other places online have not been adopted yet into KDE4? Matter of fact, why is it that KDE4 and QT4 itself chugging along at such a slow pace? I guess I should be grateful that KDE3 is still seeing so much attention to detail, because it's only recently been able to woo me away from my GNOME desktop.

      Also, I have to respectfully disagree with the u

  • Well... I don't really mind having bubbly/shiny gui, IF it works correctly. And by that, I mean that it is implimented effeciently and ideally rendered in hardware. However, with Microsoft it never seems to work that way. Instead it's a big graphic slapped ontop of something written in VB, which is running ontop of a heavily-object-oriented high-level super-ineffecient program. I don't mean to sound like a Mac fanboy, but in OSX, the animations and interface don't gum up the works, because they're bu
  • What about (Microsoft's) Bob?
  • Xerox PARC? (Score:3, Informative)

    by dubbreak ( 623656 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @08:15PM (#16193641)
    Shouldn't that be from Stanford Research Institute to xerox to...

    SRI is where Engelbart and crew started (he later ended up at Xerox PARC). What the doremouse said [] has a good review of the beginings of the PC.
  • by ArcherB ( 796902 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @08:18PM (#16193665) Journal
    From TFA:
    By the end of the decade, computers may also incorporate secondary, lower-resolution e-paper displays that can maintain an image even when a laptop or desktop computer is turned off.

    We already have that with CRT monitors... it's called burn-in
  • Dhumb! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jacoby ( 3149 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @08:19PM (#16193677) Homepage Journal
    I find it interesting that the examples of bad GUIs are 3/4 Microsoft. While those three are bad (Clippy? Bob? Ew. I get adaptive menues, though. The idea is valid, to a point.)

    The Apple example, handwriting recognition on the Newton, is a good gaff. Which is to say it isn't something that any rational person would look out and say "That's dumb. Don't do that." It isn't Clippy. It isn't Bob. It's trying to get the computer to adapt to the person rather than getting the person to adapt to the computer. The big win for Palm was that Grafitti forced the user to adapt to the computer. Our handwriting is the way it is (hopefully) so that other people can read it to. Typewriting is not a natural thing, even though some of use geeks reach WPM speeds that make it seem like it is.

    When we're talking about verbal user interface gaffs, we'll find similarly goofy things, and we'll find things that made sense intellectually but didn't work in reality. That's what we call research, kids.
  • Fishing? (Score:4, Funny)

    by MeanMF ( 631837 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @08:27PM (#16193747) Homepage
    Unless we're talking about GUIs that can catch fish, shouldn't it be "gaffe"?
  • Change is bad (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DrVomact ( 726065 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @08:37PM (#16193833) Journal

    I firmly believe that when it comes to GUIs, change is almost always for the worse. One reason for this is that once a set of GUI conventions has become established, change is disconcerting--you now have to accustom yourself to the new "look" or to the new way that the GUI works. That inconvenience is rarely repaid by the alleged advantages of the change.

    As an example, consider the difference between the Windows 2000 and XP desk tops. Just how is the XP desktop better than the older one? I sure couldn't see any advantage to it. Yet, if you were to use the darn thing (and not switch to the "classic" view), you'd have to figure out again how to do a bunch of stuff you already knew how to do before the interface changed. This is progress? Even at the detail level, the changes are silly and unhelpful. Look at those three-dimensional window title bars. Why is that bulgy look better than the less obtrusive flat title bar of the old Win 2K interface? What convenience or information is added by the 3D bulge? Or how about the XP icon for video options--it's a screen with a flat paintbrush on it instead of the 2K screen with a round paintbrush and ruler in front of it. The two look different enough that it takes me a couple of extra seconds to find that icon in the Control Panel whenever I'm forced to use the default XP interface. It's not that the new icon is better or worse than the old one--but why ever change a familiar, easy to recognize icon? It's done to create the illusion of progress, of course.

    Making icons look "cooler" in successive iterations of software is one of my particular pet peeves. Whenever someone releases a new version of their software, they think that people won't believe they got their money's worth if the GUI looks the same--so they jazz up the icons. Usually, this means adding more detail, even though this violates the basic principle of the icon: that it should be simple and easy to recognize. In other words...icons should be iconic.

    That brings me to another reason why software publishers change GUIs. From the article:

    The increased complexity of today's computer systems is forcing change upon the GUI. As the number of features has exploded, users have been overwhelmed with layer after layer of icons, tool bars and menu options.

    Excuse me, but if you've got "exploded" features, then you do not have a problem that can be solved by a revamped GUI--you have bloatware. Clean up the mess, and start over.

    I haven't seen these new "ribbons" MS is talking about for LongVista, but even the name is dumb. Look, the people at Xerox Park gave us the foundation of a great GUI, and there's no reason to change that basic set of visual metaphors until there's a fundamental change in the mechanics of the computer/human interface. The requirements for a good GUI are well-understood: it should be as simple as possible, it should be consistent between applications, it should use easily recognized familiar symbols and conventions. It most definitely should not change from one moment to the next according to the notions of some guy in Redmond who thinks he can anticipate what I want to do.

  • back to DOS word? (Score:2, Informative)

    by wardk ( 3037 )
    ribbon menu sounds like Word 1.0 on DOS' menu

    hopefully file saves can go back to this intuitive nirvana...

    Transfer -> Disk

  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @08:57PM (#16194001) Homepage
    ...absolutely all we need is halfway thoughtful, somewhat intelligent application of the paradigms we already have.

    If software developers just spent an extra hour to watch an untrained user play with their software... and their managers gave them a couple of extra weeks to incorporate what they learned by watching... that would have more effect on software usability than the introduction of new techniques.

    The problem today is that so much software leaves you gasping with amazement at the seeming perversity of their design. It's been observed since the day Windows 95 was introduced that it is stupid to turn off your computer from a button labelled "Start." Microsoft has had over a decade and one, two, three, four, five major software releases to do something about it, and they haven't. If they don't get it yet, all the pie menus and gestures and voice recognition isn't going to help them.

    You may cry foul because this isn't strictly speaking, a software problem, but will you take a gander at the button layout on this portable DVD player? [] In case you don't get it--it's so mind-boggling it took me a while to get it--the northeast button moves you east, the southeast button moves you south, and so forth. That's why every button has a little printed arrow next to it.

    An awful lot of modern software design seems to me to be be putting little printed arrows next to utterly misplaced buttons.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by aaronl ( 43811 )
      In Vista, you apparently are supposed to click on the small Windows logo, click on an unlabelled right arrow, and then click Shut Down to turn off the computer. You have to love progress...
  • by MasterC ( 70492 ) <cmlburnett@gm[ ].com ['ail' in gap]> on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:06PM (#16194083) Homepage
    Voice recognition is a common thing I read here, but I whole-heartedly disagree. I already think office noise chatter is too high. I don't wnat to imagine when everyone is talking to their computer to tell it what to do.

    What most replies here lack the understanding in is that an input method has its purposes and its uses. See the whole CLI vs. GUI argument here. Voice is just another input. It's great for GPS navigation or a mobile phone in your car, but for an office suite? Definitely not: ugh! How about in a library? How about at a LAN party? Anywhere where there are many people.

    Voice recognition isn't the "killer app" of input devices. I think a combination of keyboard, mouse, stylus, joy stick, voice recognition, and touch screen would be a good start. Voice recognition for dictation, keyboard for editing, stylus for graphics drawing, mouse for web browsing (fine grain arbitrary clicking), touch screen for fast navigation of larger buttons (coarse grain arbitrary clicking), etc.

    Why must we be confined to the keyboard and mouse?
  • by sentientbrendan ( 316150 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @09:52PM (#16194405)
    I think that by convention every function available in an application should be accessible either directly or indirectly from the main menu.

    This used to be more or less a design standard (I think apple published it in their human interface guidelines?). For the most part, people use keyboard combos, toolbar buttons, or context menus; however, the main menu serves as a kind of index of all of the functionality that is available in the application. On macintosh it is also a place to quickly look up the the keyboard shortcut binding for a function.

    Unfortunately, some developers have gotten lazy recently and made functionality available through only one source, instead of the usual triplet of main menu, context menu, and keyboard bindings. This is annoying when someone makes functionality that is only accessible by context menu, but it is crippling when functionality is only accessible from a keystroke. Worse, sometimes there is no documentation as to what keystroke is needed, and the functionality becomes less of a feature and more of an easter egg for whoever stumbles upon it.

    Sadly, Linux software is the main offender here. Unfortunately many developers are totally unaware of the importance and difficulty of good UI design, and writing a GUI becomes an afterthought. In large companies this is rectified because people who specialize in UI design are hired, and on macintosh and windows, apple and microsoft publish UI standards that all applications should meet, but no one seems to be providing this service for Linux.

    One other deadly sin of software design is writing software that is only configurable through a text file. Having a human readable text file to configure the application is a feature, but *not* having a preferences GUI in you application that wraps all supported features in the config file is just downright lazy.

    Worse are applications that use a scripting language to configure themselves instead of a regular record format (i.e. xml properties files like apple uses, or .ini files like on windows, or the registry, etc). Using a scripting language to configure the application makes the file more difficult to edit for novice users, makes syntax errors more likely because the syntax is necessarily more complex, and makes parsing by third party applications more difficult because, again, the syntax is necessarily more complex. Additionally, a scripting language is just stupid overkill for a configuration file that needs to turn on and off options and specify a path. By definition, a configuration file shouldn't be doing anything *conditionally*. If something like that is in a .conf file, than you put it in the wrong place. Sadly, many linux daemans are guilty of this (especially apache, which is otherwise a nice and powerful web server).
  • My prediction (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Brandybuck ( 704397 ) on Monday September 25, 2006 @11:13PM (#16194941) Homepage Journal
    Which of today's innovations will become tomorrow's gaffs?

    My prediction is one mentioned in the blurb: the contextual ribbon. It sucked in XP and it looks like it will get worse in Vista. It's an interface designed around the assumption that users cannot learn. It's great for a newbie, but it blows chunks for intermediate and advanced users. It's a usability issue. When menus reorder items the user is unable to learn where they are. Half locations I click on in Windows menus are those stupid down arrows to see the REST of the freaking menu!

    If you have too many menu items that you need to start hiding them, start rethinking if you need all those items. Think of <gasp> submenus. Think about other forms of command. Don't throw out the entire menu concept, because it ain't broke!
  • by tygerstripes ( 832644 ) on Tuesday September 26, 2006 @06:07AM (#16196977)
    A quote regarding Clippy:
    "People like controllable, predictable, comprehensible and consistent user interfaces, not adaptive, anthropomorphic and agent-based [ones],"
    I have to wonder what particular string of expletives the [ones] replaces...

Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing. -- Wernher von Braun