Ever since Minority Report, dreams of a computer interface that could be controlled by waving your hands around has been in the minds of geeks everywhere. But, it has been eight years since Minority Report came out, and where have we gotten since then?
Computers are still controlled by the archaic mouse and cursor, just like they were in the 80′s.
“There is no evidence that people want to use these things.” -John C. Dvorak
Then why, if the keyboard and mouse system is so flawed, do we continue to use it? Because changing a system that is so completely engrained in the industry is, quite simply, difficult. Once computers started using the window-based GUI there was no stopping it. The same thing happened with the QWERTY keyboard layout: Since it was so widespread, there was never any hope of the faster Dvorak layout becoming mainstream.
You may ask, ”What’s wrong with windows?” The fact is that they are incredibly inefficient, and sorting through a pile of opened applications is no different than trying to play 52-card pickup. Remember back in the Internet Explorer days, when web browsers didn’t have tabs? Having to find your way through a maze of open windows was maddening. Could you imagine having to relive that? Well, if you haven’t noticed, that is precisely what every operating system is currently doing. You have a dock or bar at the bottom of the screen with all your running applications, which roam free on your monitor like a herd of kittens. It kills any sort of productivity, and while we have managed so far, couldn’t there be a better option?
On Linux, tiling window managers can be used to force applications to use a certain quadrant of the screen, and not get buried under other windows. You can apply tags to windows, and use hotkeys to toggle windows of that type. This system works decently, but can get cramped quickly and isn’t suitable for large or graphic intensive programs.
Apple’s Expose does a good job at providing an overview of opened windows, but doesn’t help with the issue of management. What if you want your browser opened next to your Twitter client, without covering each other up? You could resize the windows to fit perfectly, but what if you need to switch to a different app, or make one window bigger to accommodate larger content? You’ll have to once again waste time resizing the window manually.
Mobile operating systems like iOS, Android, and WebOS gave developers a chance to start fresh from scratch, and have resulted in a much more user-friendly interface. Out of these three, the WebOS GUI has the most potential to work in a desktop operating system because of the intuitive window switching design. Instead of having to constantly resize and move windows, you just swipe to see an overview of the open apps, and flick to quit the app when you are done with it. This method completely focuses your attention on what you are currently doing and what you want to do, unlike desktop UIs which have a madhouse of windows opened on the screen at any given time. The WebOS interface could scale to fit a large screen well, and allow you to have multiple “panes” in a tiled view, each one designated to its reserved portion of the screen. Take a look at the 10/GUI video below for a concept on how this could potentially work.
Apple’s new Multitouch Trackpad could make browsing an interface like this simple. Let’s face it, waving your hands in the air like Tom Cruise would get rather tiring, and a physical device would be much easier to use. MIT’s Sixth Sense is the closest anyone has come to Minority Report, but the implementation is still extremely awkward, and will continue to be until there are some major breakthroughs in technology.
Apple seems to be heading in the right direction with the iPad and iOS, but these devices still make switching from one window to the next rather laborious, and have no way of letting two programs run side-by-side. It works on a small screen, where more than one windows would be unusable, but translating this system to a large monitor would require a fair bit of tweaking.
The mouse and floating window system has already been replaced in the mobile world, but an alternate method for managing windows on desktop computers hasn’t really been created yet. Mice require you to sit down at a desk, and stay there. If the past few years have been any guide, then the future of technology is highly mobile and much less restrictive than it is currently. Interfaces need to become much more intuitive, simpler, and quicker to navigate. Of course, certain applications that require precision are better suited to a mouse than a trackpad, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other solutions.