Death of the Desktop

20 May 2010 - 5:58am
4 years ago
21 replies
864 reads
elvenmuse
2010

Do old school IxDers / dackers (designer + hacker) really thought that the user is that stupid that the only way for them to properly use a computer was to invent a metaphor... and use it EVERYWHERE.

I propose the death of the metaphor (that computing devices are "desktops") // they are information processing products and shoud be treated as such... the interface ("interaction" as concept can become trippy if you know kundalini yoga or buddhist jhåna meditation and call your "digital hub" desktop... and believe there's a high chance of an alien... "visit" ...and have watched Tool videos and Evangelion / including movies) shouldn't be called a "desktop". For Unix hackers: ~/Desktop ::is merged with:: ~/

So, there's the UI divided in SUI (formerly GUI) and TUI (formerly CLI... #includes TYPOGRAPHY. I retain full (tm) of the first design (including logos and icons) of this idea.

Comments

20 May 2010 - 5:28pm
nixkuroi
2010

The reason why the metaphors for desktops or dashboards hold up is that they're immediately relate-able to non-technical people who are often the users of the product.  It's not that users are stupid, most are just afraid of computers, getting lost, not knowing what to do, looking stupid or breaking something (after my mom deleted the Autoexec.bat in windows 95, it took her almost 10 years to feel comfortable with a computer again.).  Telling a user "This is your computer desktop where you'll find a notepad, a calendar, paint canvas and a magnifying glass for finding things" is a lot easier than saying

"This here is your Gui"
"My what?"
"Your Gui, where you.."
"My Gooey?  That sound -"
"Your Gui, G-U-I, Graphic User Interface."
"Oh, like Windows?"
"Yes, or Mac OSX's interface, or Linux has Gnome or KDE."
"Gnomes?"
"This is your desktop."

For the average user, the "desktop, launchpad, dashboard" is a gateway into other easy to relate to metaphors.  GUI (or SUI if you prefer) is an industry term for people interacting with the components of a system, not for users of the system who just want to get work done.  I even know some Yoga instructing Buddhists that can identify with the desktop concept despite some overlapping terminology.    I can't speak for people who have watched Evangelion and how that show might disconnect you from the desktop concept, but I suspect they've also seen a desk with a notepad, pens, etc.  

I definitely agree that the desktop concept is exceptionally dated and as fewer people actually have to work with a desk, they concept will spread out a bit.  Already people are familiar with the concept of spaces (My Space, Windows Live Spaces) and Books (Macbook, Facebook, the late great Windows Courier prototype takes it to the extreme), so I think your idea of changing the notion of our workspace is already shifting.  I don't however, think that introducing most users to industry terms like GUI, SUI, CLI, TUI, etc. is necessarily the right way to go :)  That you've informally trademarked it also potentially hinders its openness and adoption ;)

20 May 2010 - 7:05pm
Stefan_Wallin
2010

In my opinion, this immediate understanding of the desktop metaphor you talk about is not universally true. Having worked as a tech support guy I use these metaphors quite richly since some users know it only by those names. However, there exist a substantial amount of users who actually start looking towards their piles of paper on their wooden desktops when they are on the phone with my on a computer issue and I ask them to find the "My computer" icon on their desktop.

I think that these users however are of diminishing numbers and will soon be a minor minority, what I think can be said about them is indeed that they are very afraid of feeling stupid and breaking stuff that they don't know how to fix. This in turn I think means that you could've thrown any metaphor at them and they wouldn't have been the wiser since it's all "magic" that happens on the screen.

On Fri, May 21, 2010 at 1:12 AM, nixkuroi <nixkuroi@gmail.com> wrote:

The reason why the metaphors for desktops or dashboards hold up is that they're immediately relate-able to non-technical people who are often the users of the product.  It's not that users are stupid, most are just afraid of computers, getting lost, not knowing what to do, looking stupid or breaking something (after my mom deleted the Autoexec.bat in windows 95, it took her almost 10 years to feel comfortable with a computer again.).  Telling a user "This is your computer desktop where you'll find a notepad, a calendar, paint canvas and a magnifying glass for finding things" is a lot easier than saying

"This here is your Gui"
"My what?"
"Your Gui, where you.."
"My Gooey?  That sound -"
"Your Gui, G-U-I, Graphic User Interface."
"Oh, like Windows?"
"Yes, or Mac OSX's interface, or Linux has Gnome or KDE."
"Gnomes?"
"This is your desktop."

For the average user, the "desktop, launchpad, dashboard" is a gateway into other easy to relate to metaphors.  GUI (or SUI if you prefer) is an industry term for people interacting with the components of a system, not for users of the system who just want to get work done.  I even know some Yoga instructing Buddhists that can identify with the desktop concept despite some overlapping terminology.    I can't speak for people who have watched Evangelion and how that show might disconnect you from the desktop concept, but I suspect they've also seen a desk with a notepad, pens, etc.  

I definitely agree that the desktop concept is exceptionally dated and as fewer people actually have to work with a desk, they concept will spread out a bit.  Already people are familiar with the concept of spaces (My Space, Windows Live Spaces) and Books (Macbook, Facebook, the late great Windows Courier prototype takes it to the extreme), so I think your idea of changing the notion of our workspace is already shifting.  I don't however, think that introducing most users to industry terms like GUI, SUI, CLI, TUI, etc. is necessarily the right way to go :)  That you've informally trademarked it also potentially hinders its openness and adoption ;)

(((Please le
21 May 2010 - 5:03pm
elvenmuse
2010

Macintosh has a tradition of being truly easy to use. Users aren't stupid, sometimes the so-called "hackers" are the stupid ones. Macintosh has being merged with Unix, this merge was called Mac OS X... I will gladly work at Apple (with those salaries and such a challenging and creative environment who wouldn't?) to Design and Develop Mac OS //

Case 1: the "diskette" icon... is too stupid to be simpleSmile

21 May 2010 - 4:57pm
elvenmuse
2010

nixkuroi, excelent post!

first 2 paragraphs reply:

I still hold the opinion, the desktop metaphor is too dated and has created a stagnation in the conception of humanity towards technology. It is better to simply say:

"this is an information-processing device; you will be working with information in the form of either text or graphics... this is a grid in which apps will help you make anything you want"

SUI is a technical term, of the "Unix: Live Free, Or Die" tradition; an enhancement of Unix (in the Interface Design "department"...EN SUI (from Enso, search in en.wikipedia/buddhist_articles)... practically a lifetime project; which will be my (and company) first implementation of a SUI. The SVN server for the project is currently being requested at the University of Costa Rica; with approval of at least 1 Computer Science professor and many students that can collaborate... even another professor that will be an alpha-tester.

This project will be trademarked and incorporated ("going public"), so that either Apple buys elvenmuse.inc or is forced to compete with serious software libre (running on Apple or Sun's Niagara hardware...)

21 May 2010 - 12:34am
nixkuroi
2010

Stefan,

I completely agree with you.  I did phone tech support for five years myself and there are some people who don't know the metaphor.  However, my point was that when introduced to a metaphor, most people can much more easily relate to the idea of a desktop with its associated tools than to industry shorthand like GUI, TUI, or SUI.

I'm not defending the desktop metaphor and in my post I mentioned that we were slowly finding new ones...but relate-able metaphors help novice users engage and understand, so I don't see them being banished until the mean technical understanding of the average user is high enough to be comfortable with design level techno-jargon.  

It'll happen...most people these days know what a domain name is and can distinguish a forward from a backslash - a step ahead from 10 years ago. As UI customization becomes more prevalent, and computing becomes more mobile, more gesture driven and more virtual, I definitely expect to see a departure from "the desktop".   I've been waiting for the metaverse for a long time now :)

 

21 May 2010 - 5:05pm
elvenmuse
2010

The meta-verse? he, I've being thinking also in the networked part of the SUI... but that is an industrial secretWink

22 May 2010 - 3:05am
mprove
2004

At 1:29 Uhr -0500 21.05.2010, nixkuroi wrote: >...most people these days know what a domain name is and can distinguish a forward from a backslash - a step ahead from 10 years ago.

Hi, Regarding / and , I suppose this is a case where technology won. Why does it matter (read: why should the user care and waste time) if the system requires a slash or backslash, and misbehaves if the other character is used? I also doubt that the semantics of URLs is well understood by the majority of users. They simply use the web and do not care on the details -- which is good BTW. The same is true for the desktop metaphor. There is an important difference if you are simply using a well designed system that has been designed with certain principles in mind to stimulate certain expectations and make the system friendly, familiar and predictable. And on the other hand, reasoning about the system on a conscious meta level: "Ah, I've seen this little square icon before. It used to be a device to store my documents. It has nothing to do with the desktop metaphor, but I will click it anyway because I need to save the content of the window to the storage device, because the system designers fail for more than 25 years to make the management of documents user friendly."

cheers, Matthias

User Experience and Interaction Design http://www.mprove.de :: http://ixdahh.mixxt.org

22 May 2010 - 4:30am
nixkuroi
2010

Matthias,

I'm not sure I would make the correlation between understanding the back/forward slash and the universal Save icon.   One is [a component of] an address, the other is a visual metaphor.  With an address I think it does matter,  regardless of how you present it, that you understand the structure of its relative position to other things.  Whether you look at it as a folder structure or a sub-menu or something else entirely, you have to know how it relates to other things for it to work.  In the case of a file system, the slash represents the basic  logical division of virtual "locations" for files.  In the case of a URL, it can be that, the separation of functional areas, the separation of different points in a data hierarchy, physical or virtual file locations, etc.  Basically, the formatting matters and whether it's a forward or backslash matters (especially if you're a windows user) because there is an inherent difference on whether the context is local network, or internet.  With the Save icon, it's just an [admittedly broken] visual metaphor.

To me (and maybe this is subjective because I'm not analyzing the design of the http or windows networking protocols), it's like comparing the necessity of knowing the proper elements of a street address (number, name, "block correlation", N/S/E/W indicator)  vs whether or not you should use an image of a loaf of bread, or a croissant on a bakery sign on that street.  

I think the point I was trying to make was that as the mean technical comfort level rises, the need for dated metaphors lessens.  It may have been a crude/flippant way of putting it, so I apologize for the misunderstanding. :)  I also think that your leanings toward the idea user not having to understand the semantics of the underlying technology for it to be usable make perfect sense, and I (and my entire argument here) might be an example of when having too much technical understanding becomes a barrier to simple usability.   Some users still expect to see a save button, even though one isn't really needed in an era where auto-save is a common feature.  Old school users like to be re-assured with that grayed out floppy disc that their data has been saved.  New users won't have that problem :)  Will the dated metaphor of even file locations disappear?  For the time being, users will still a have to remember where their documents are located, but with search and smarter systems, you may be right - even that may become less and less important.

22 May 2010 - 7:52am
elvenmuse
2010

mprove, / is the winner because of URL's, Unix won... or will won the "OS battles"; just wait for the n'th battle of OS's.

Unix quote "we have installed Unix succesfully in 9 computers and are confident that it can be installed in more" Laughing

22 May 2010 - 7:35am
fj
2010
Basically, the formatting matters and whether it's a forward or backslash matters (especially if you're a windows user) because there is an inherent difference on whether the context is local network, or internet.

The fact that the basic location, and thus availability, of a file is obliquely indicated by a character with no visible relationship to the meaning, is why computing is such a frickin pain for most humans. And as UX practitioners we really shouldn't celebrate or encourage these kind of oblique practices.

22 May 2010 - 8:13am
elvenmuse
2010

industrial standards must be defined. LONG LIVE Unix!

/TLD/Domain/Subdomain/Container1/ContainerN

or

::TLD::Domain::Subdomain::Container1::ContainerN

29 May 2010 - 11:05am
elvenmuse
2010

I concur... although I use the / for anything (local and network); because I prefer Unix. This doesn't mean that the symbol used means anything by itself.

>>Basically, the formatting matters and whether it's a forward or >>backslash matters (especially if you're a windows user) because there is >>an inherent difference on whether the context is local network, or >>internet. > The fact that the basic location, and thus availability, of a file is > obliquely indicated by a character with no visible relationship to the > meaning, is why computing is such a frickin pain for most humans. And as > UX > practitioners we really shouldn't celebrate or encourage these kind of > oblique practices. > >

22 May 2010 - 11:40am
nixkuroi
2010

(Ok,...I'll defend the comment about *slashes again despite having already conceded that the original quip was ill stated)

@fj  Fairenoughbutbythatjustificationweshouldgetridofthecommaandtheperiodorallpunctuationforthatmattershouldntwe

(that was me making a point)

The fact that the end of a sentence, pause in a sentence, interrogative tense or  delineation between words are represented by other obliquely indicated dots, squiggles or spaces aren't really needed  in order to read, doesn't mean that they're unnecessary for clarity. The rules of punctuation can be a frickin pain for most users as well ( I'm talking to YOU semi-colon).  Are you implying that we shouldn't use punctuation because the characters have no visible relationship to the meaning? 

But ok, I'll bite.  How would you make a URL (Universal Resource Locator) more usable? Let's not start with the obvious removal of http:// or https:// because that's been done to death (and has already been dealt with by most major browsers - despite the fact that it leads to less secure browsing by default).  After that, how would you improve it so that both users, and other computer programs could consistently and easily understand the location, protocols, and/or data structure of a given chunk of information on the web?  If we're not encouraging or celebrating the standard, why tolerate it at all?  How can we make it better?  

22 May 2010 - 12:09pm
elvenmuse
2010

(Ok,...I'll defend the comment about *slashes again despite having already conceded that the original quip was ill stated)

@fj  Fairenoughbutbythatjustificationweshouldgetridofthecommaandtheperiodorallpunctuationforthatmattershouldntwe

(that was me making a point)

Sanskrit uses 2 punctuation marks, romanized as: / and //

24 May 2010 - 5:05pm
Pamela Ciccantelli
2008

Unsubscribe Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

-----Original Message----- From: nixkuroi Date: Sat, 22 May 2010 13:12:53 To: Subject: Re: [IxDA] Death of the Desktop

(Ok,...I'll defend the comment about *slashes again despite having already
conceded that the original quip was ill stated)

@fj
 Fairenoughbutbythatjustificationweshouldgetridofthecommaandtheperiodorallpunctuationforthatmattershouldntwe

(that was me making a point)

The fact that the end of a sentence, pause in a
sentence, interrogative tense or  delineation between words are
represented by other obliquely indicated dots, squiggles or spaces aren't
really needed  in order to read, doesn't mean that they're unnecessary for
clarity. The rules of punctuation can be a frickin pain for most users as
well ( I'm talking to YOU semi-colon).  Are you implying that we shouldn't
use punctuation because the characters have no visible relationship to the
meaning? 

But ok, I'll bite.  How would you make a URL (Universal Resource Locator)
more usable? Let's not start with the obvious removal of http:// or https://
because that's been done to death (and has already been dealt with by most
major browsers - despite the fact that it leads to less secure browsing by
default).  After that, how would you improve it so that both users, and
other computer programs could consistently and easily understand the
location, protocols, and/or data structure of a given chunk of information on
the web?  If we're not encouraging or celebrating the standard, why tolerate
it at all?  How can we make it better?  

(((Please lea

25 May 2010 - 9:05am
elvenmuse
2010

unsubscribe from what? do you think this is twitter?

> Unsubscribe > Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry > > -----Original Message----- > From: nixkuroi > Date: Sat, 22 May 2010 13:12:53 > To: > Subject: Re: [IxDA] Death of the Desktop > > (Ok,...I'll defend the comment about *slashes again despite having already > conceded that the original quip was ill stated) > > @fj >  Fairenoughbutbythatjustificationweshouldgetridofthecommaandtheperiodorallpunctuationforthatmattershouldntwe > > (that was me making a point) > > The fact that the end of a sentence, pause in a > sentence, interrogative tense or  delineation between words are > represented by other obliquely indicated dots, squiggles or spaces aren't > really needed  in order to read, doesn't mean that they're unnecessary > for > clarity. The rules of punctuation can be a frickin pain for most users as > well ( I'm talking to YOU semi-colon).  Are you implying that we > shouldn't > use punctuation because the characters have no visible relationship to the > meaning?  > > But ok, I'll bite.  How would you make a URL (Universal Resource Locator) > more usable? Let's not start with the obvious removal of http:// or > https:// > because that's been done to death (and has already been dealt with by most > major browsers - despite the fact that it leads to less secure browsing by > default).  After that, how would you improve it so that both users, and > other computer programs could consistently and easily understand the > location, protocols, and/or data structure of a given chunk of information > on > the web?  If we're not encouraging or celebrating the standard, why > tolerate > it at all?  How can we make it better?   > > (((Please lea > > (((Please leave all conten

26 May 2010 - 4:06am
elvenmuse
2010

the URL is not part of the desktop metaphor, representing a container of pointers to ranges of memory on an information processing device as "carpet" is. The URL doesn't need to change.

> (Ok,...I'll defend the comment about *slashes again despite having already > conceded that the original quip was ill stated) > > @fj >  Fairenoughbutbythatjustificationweshouldgetridofthecommaandtheperiodorallpunctuationforthatmattershouldntwe > > (that was me making a point) > > The fact that the end of a sentence, pause in a > sentence, interrogative tense or  delineation between words are > represented by other obliquely indicated dots, squiggles or spaces aren't > really needed  in order to read, doesn't mean that they're unnecessary > for > clarity. The rules of punctuation can be a frickin pain for most users as > well ( I'm talking to YOU semi-colon).  Are you implying that we > shouldn't > use punctuation because the characters have no visible relationship to the > meaning?  > > But ok, I'll bite.  How would you make a URL (Universal Resource Locator) > more usable? Let's not start with the obvious removal of http:// or > https:// > because that's been done to death (and has already been dealt with by most > major browsers - despite the fact that it leads to less secure browsing by > default).  After that, how would you improve it so that both users, and > other computer programs could consistently and easily understand the > location, protocols, and/or data structure of a given chunk of information > on > the web?  If we're not encouraging or celebrating the standard, why > tolerate > it at all?  How can we make it better?   > > (((Please leave all conten

24 May 2010 - 6:02am
alfajaz
2010

I've worked for many years (over 20 years – gulp – am I that old) in the area of nascent web technologies, multimedia and consumer oriented software, so I have experience of creating s/w for both desktop machines as well as devices that support (allegedly) ubiquitous computing.

I readily admit that in the past I have been guilty of producing software that was deemed by my technical colleagues as “cool” but in retrospect I now realize that in the real world it was very unusable.

I'm relatively new to the discipline/art of IxD and have been ploughing through copious books on the subject to get a handle of what is good, bad and downright ugly. And I have been pleasantly surprised at how pragmatic my learning experience has been so far.

Going back to the original post on this thread re: desktop metaphor.

I think the desktop metaphor in its time afforded non-technical users a reasonable mapping between what a computer can do (functionally) and what the user wants to do in terms of tasks. I agree that it is now looking a little tired and worn and that something that is more “natural” should replace it.

However there are many factors to consider. There are millions of users (read non-technical) that understand the metaphor and use it day-in day-out. Conversely due to the proliferation of technology into objects used on a daily basis, people are subconsciously  becoming more proficient with technology as a whole (mobile phones, TVs, PVRs etc) that do not use this metaphor.

As one of the previous responses have already mentioned there are alternative already emerging. The various social networking sites offer UIs to access information in ways that a lot of people find easy, the Web offers a diverse UI experience and as such companies such as Google are promoting web based front ends e.g. slew of current Cloud based applications.

I think the way forward is not to just drop the desktop metaphor but allow it to incorporate a diverse set of interaction metaphors/idioms that are appropriate for the goals a user is trying to achieve. I guess a more evolutionary process is required which allows people to learn new interactions but still have the comfort of a known (be it flawed) navigation system. I think that there will be a tipping point in the future where the desktop metaphor (as we know it now) will slip into obscurity or be changed to something we would no longer recognize as a desktop of 2010.

24 May 2010 - 8:05am
elvenmuse
2010

cool = flash usable = html5 / CSS / ...

> I've worked for many years (over 20 years – gulp – am I that old) in > the > area of nascent web technologies, multimedia and consumer oriented > software, > so I have experience of creating s/w for both desktop machines as well as > devices that support (allegedly) ubiquitous computing. > > I readily admit that in the past I have been guilty of producing software > that was deemed by my technical colleagues as “cool” but in retrospect > I > now realize that in the real world it was very unusable.

The Desktop was dated circa '05 ...it now is an undead horse.

> I'm relatively new to the discipline/art of IxD and have been ploughing > through copious books on the subject to get a handle of what is good, bad > and > downright ugly. And I have been pleasantly surprised at how pragmatic my > learning experience has been so far. > > Going back to the original post on this thread re: desktop metaphor. > > I think the desktop metaphor in its time afforded non-technical users a > reasonable mapping between what a computer can do (functionally) and what > the > user wants to do in terms of tasks. I agree that it is now looking a > little > tired and worn and that something that is more “natural” should > replace > it.

The Desktop can be faded out gradually, first the floppy icon laughs, changing the name of "carpets" to anything else (like containers, even boxes).

Subconsciously? I disagree, users are becoming more proficient with technology as a whole because DESIGNERS are making a better work, getting paid well and are being respected more by "white beard hackers".

> However there are many factors to consider. There are millions of users > (read > non-technical) that understand the metaphor and use it day-in day-out. > Conversely due to the proliferation of technology into objects used on a > daily basis, people are subconsciously  becoming more proficient with > technology as a whole (mobile phones, TVs, PVRs etc) that do not use this > metaphor.

Social networking sites are not operating systems; I'm proposing an experimental interface for *Unix... for Windows; n more pandemics will kill it. As student of computer science (informatica) I'm already developing the alpha version of a new malware that will be called "drow spider"... but it will be retained in a lab with the highest possible security measures; if it goes out in the wild I don't have to have any type of responsability. Either way, I can defend (and attack) using legal means.

Google is evil. I don't trust "the cloud" for all my information.

> As one of the previous responses have already mentioned there are > alternative > already emerging. The various social networking sites offer UIs to access > information in ways that a lot of people find easy, the Web offers a > diverse > UI experience and as such companies such as Google are promoting web based > front ends e.g. slew of current Cloud based applications.

just kill it (the desktop metaphor) already!

> I think the way forward is not to just drop the desktop metaphor but allow > it > to incorporate a diverse set of interaction metaphors/idioms that are > appropriate for the goals a user is trying to achieve. I guess a more > evolutionary process is required which allows people to learn new > interactions but still have the comfort of a known (be it flawed) > navigation > system. I think that there will be a tipping point in the future where the > desktop metaphor (as we know it now) will slip into obscurity or be > changed > to something we would no longer recognize as a desktop of 2010.

sure =)

// license for .THIS post: CC by-sa

> (((Please leave all

25 May 2010 - 9:28am
Dave Malouf
2005

hopefully on a more serious note, to dismiss a 40 year legacy paradigm I think is a bit rash. The basics of Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointers (or is it programs?) which makes up the "desktop" is as alive as ever, except the pointer is biologically attached in many systems.

I have yet to see any OS that is not predicated on WIMP that has had any success. Even webtop interfaces like chrome are still using WIMP. The legacy patterns are strong because they been shown to be effective over long term exposure (i.e. learnability). 

In general everything about computers is a metaphor and whether it is a desk or something else the semiotics have to be mitigated in some way by analogies like metaphors. I think what is happening in the mobile space is interesting is that the metaphors are floating to the unconscious side of things. As we get closer to just unabstracted direct manipulation of the GUI the need for verbalizing the metaphors is less and less. You never hear someone say "select the menu" in an iPhone app. It's a list. A much less metaphorical reference. Windows are never spoken about except by designers and developers.  

But even w/ the lack of spoken metaphor, if I were to describe it all, it is still WIMP at its core.

-- dave

30 May 2010 - 9:42am
elvenmuse
2010

On a more serious note? 40 years is ages in the tech-world!

That's the idea being designing a SUI; making one interface that works and doesn't use the desktop metaphor (note that many actions will still be similar, it will just be called in a different way... but, the desktop metaphor will be dead and we can move on - to greener pastures).

More than abstract, it is becoming either techno jargon or a hybrid of many metaphors (usually combining hardware-inspired ones with software-defined ones). And this is a discussion of "the desktop" not WIMP... but that should also die.

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