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20070609 Saturday June 09, 2007

Disappearance of the Desktop Interface

I was sick of various computer OS desktop metaphors 10-12 years ago. At the time, I thought virtual reality technologies were gonna take over (anybody else remember VRML?). I remember the Windows 95/98 releases, lauded by Microsoft as such great advancements, striking me as just laughable in their utter lack of imagination (even if they were big upgrades from the Windows 3.x mess). When that "innovation" made it to Windows XP, I realized that Microsoft was hopelessly lost as far as OS interface design.

Since then, I've seen a lot of technology changes that I view as the harbingers of the desktop metaphor's demise. Graphics card technology that was once only found on $15-50k SGI pizza boxes workstations are now cheap as pizza. Jeff Han's demonstration of high resolution multi-touch applications at eTech and TED last year was fantastic. At TED again this year, the photosynth demonstration got a big round of "oohs" and "aahs" from a rapt audience (you must see the detail zooming, also check out this photosynth demo reel).

So when are we gonna see these technologies in our everyday lives? Apparently, soon. It's funny how different Apple and Microsoft's foray into this is. In a few weeks, Apple is coming out with a $500 phone (the multi-touch usage is demonstrated at 3:55 into this MacWorld TV report from last January). By the end of the year, we will reportedly see Microsoft's $10k coffee table appearing in hotel lobbies. Can't wait? Fishing in your pocket for an extra $10k? Into starcraft? There are some folks working on a multi-touch DIY kit (Microsoft: 0, Hackers: 1).

Putting on my futurist hat: Five years from now, Intel's 80-cores-on-a-fingernail chip, voice recognition audio inputs and multi-touch screens on commodity devices will make the desktop metaphor seem like a quaint joke. Kids born today will shake their heads in disbelief that desktops we're productive tools. I've yet to explain a command line interface to my kids, who are grade school age; as familiar and comfortable as those interfaces are to me, the youngins look at me typing in a shell window with puzzlement. In their youthful eyes, I may as well be composing vulcan legal tracts (the reality is probably more frightful, it might really be perl). Computing interfaces will fade away into our intuition.

I just wish the iPhone was coming out in time for father's day (yes, honey, that's a hint). In the meantime, I'm still putting up with Apple and Microsoft's OS interfaces, wincing at the trash cans, recycle bins, folder icons, etc. It'll be good riddance.


( Jun 09 2007, 10:23:46 AM PDT ) Permalink


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