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Programming IT Technology

Let's Kill the Hard Disk Icon 613

Kellym writes "The desktop metaphor is under attack these days. Usability experts and computer scientists like Don Norman, David Gelernter and George Robertson have declared the metaphor "dead." The complexities blamed on the desktop metaphor are not the fault of the metaphor itself, but of its implementation in mainstream systems. The default hard disk icon is part of the desktop metaphor. And the icon is the cause of the complexity created by the desktop"
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Let's Kill the Hard Disk Icon

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  • by Gogl ( 125883 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:07AM (#2718875) Journal
    Yes, they are correct in saying that having the hard drive being somehow subservient to the desktop is confusing and well, wrong.

    However, in the end it doesn't really matter. Why? Because there are either people who understand why this is wrong and therefore it doesn't matter to them, or there are people whose understanding of a computer is one that it would require more then changing the hard drive icon to make them undestand.

    That, and I'm willing to bet that neither of these sorts of people really care one way or the other.

    Well, it's just my opinion I suppose, and you have the right to disagree. But I've always thought the recursiveness of the desktop didn't really matter.
  • Yah right... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TZA14a ( 9984 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:09AM (#2718880) Homepage
    The vague space of the hard disk should not exist for you.
    Call me old fashioned, but I for one am _not_ baffled by the vast regions of "vague space" that my file systems offer me. I don't want hundreds of stacked desktops for everything I do. This might be nice for Joe Random Luser, but if you intend to do _LOTS_ of things with your computer, and interconnect them, having the power of a file system at your disposal helps a lot.

    It is possible to build labyrinths of internal directories that eventually become too deep to navigate via the mouse.

    Yeah, that's the way it goes - the same "usability experts" who have brought us the "tree control for everything" metaphor that totally sucks in large directory trees now want to oversimplify even more. Perhaps, if the mouse is incapable of filling your needs, you should consider alternatives... such as the keyboard and a sensible autocompletion. Every time I see someone use a keyboard based navigation tool (Windows Commander comes to my mind, or bash completion), they're about ten times faster than click-move-click-move sequences.

    • Re:Yah right... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by fixion ( 38352 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:23AM (#2718920)
      Keyboard-based navigation tools -- e.g. a command-line interface -- are ten times faster if
      • the user has already learned the interface. (The learning curve for command-line interfaces is steeper than for GUIs, especially if the user has first experience with a GUI. With a blank slate computer user, the learning curve is about the same...but how many blank slates who've never used Windows -- or a video game controller -- do you find?

      • the user doesn't have to re-learn the commands.The problem with most command line interfaces is that they are unique to a particular application. The keyboard shortcuts are unique, the modifier codes are unique, etc. That means learning a new interface for each application. Innefficient!
      • Re:Yah right... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TZA14a ( 9984 )
        You are right in both your claims, I think, but...

        Keyboard-based navigation tools -- e.g. a command-line interface -- are ten times faster if

        • the user has already learned the interface .

        Okay, totally valid point. It _is_ of course non-obvious how to use vi for text editing or bash for file manipulation. Still, most people who use computers for work use them for hours a day - and mostly using the same applications. So, being able to use them is IMO much preferrable to being "simple".

        • the user doesn't have to re-learn the commands.

        That, of course is an implementation problem - if you take a look at GNU software, there's the Readline library [cwru.edu] that controls how you enter text (and a few more things :)) in almost any application. So you set your preferences once, and they work in your mail client, on the shell prompt and in your web browser, just the same (of course, with configurable exceptions and all the candy you'd expect from a solution for smart people). Trouble with readline is only that it's GPL licensed, and therefore never found adaptation in any non-free (or non-GPL, for that matter) software...

      • Re:Yah right... (Score:2, Interesting)

        So you are saying you'll trade a lifdetime of innefficiency for 10minutes spent learning an interface?

        LOVE your logic!
        • Re:Yah right... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by crawling_chaos ( 23007 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @09:35AM (#2719284) Homepage
          This is starting to sound like the arguments my car freak friends have about standard versus automatic transmissions. What they don't seem to get is that drivers like me don't care about optimum performance, we just want to get from point A to point B. In fact, I gave up my car and started using public transportation because I hated dealing with car maintenance and I happen to be fortunate enough to live in an area where I can get away without one.

          The average computer user wants to do his job, which often has very little to do with the computer. That 10 minutes you refer to is better spent doing something else. You and I may find that ridiculous, but we're in the minority.

          These studies are based on how average users (not your average Slashdot reader) use their computer systems. We can rail all we want to about "dumbing down" the interface, but in the end we don't really count. We'll learn the new way far more readily than the average folks will learn our way.

          • Re:Yah right... (Score:3, Interesting)

            by melatonin ( 443194 )
            This is starting to sound like the arguments my car freak friends have about standard versus automatic transmissions. What they don't seem to get is that drivers like me don't care about optimum performance

            Disclaimer, I'm a sports car geek, and I drive a 6-speed.

            The one argument that can be said, and this applies to computers, is that people turn their brains off too often. Manual transmission gives you better performance because it gives you direct control over the engine- it's all up to you. Driving is an active activity, but most people in North America (well, every region of NA has its habits,) take driving as 'I'm sitting in this lane until my exit shows up, and I'll ignore everything around me.' North America has the worst trained drivers...

            These people also like to install in-dash DVD-Video players, because they find the act of driving... boring or something. They'd rather watch a movie while they drive--turning their brains off.

            To relate this to computers, a computer is not like using a TV or a toaster. It's a tool and needs to be used like a tool- with an active brain. I remember back in the day when computers were rare, and I'd do vector artwork on computers, people thought it was cheating. "But the computer does everything for you!" Maybe there were thinking of Print Shop, but that's the reputation computers have. It does stuff for you.

            It takes learning to use computers, and most people are very afraid to learn outside of their 'domain' (there domain being their profession). And this is one of the biggest problems I've had with Microsoft guis. "Let's show the user everything, let's make everything one click away. We'll make enough toolbars that can fill up the screen. Is there a task to do? We'll try an do it for them!" That really kills a user's need to explore, and people won't become better computer users that way. Most people don't even know what Style Sheets in Word are, and they're arguably the only good reason to use Word (once you turn off all that automatic formatting crap).

            Not that our way (um, Unix) is better in that people should learn it. Raw Unix just wasn't designed for users. This article was about mainstream guis... that points to Microsoft :) Mac users are known for becoming experts with their computers, whereas Windows users are always asking me to fix their computers... free up hard drive space... "do I need more memory?"

            My mother understands Adobe Illustrator much better than she understands Word, and Illustrator is a far more complicated program. She gets pretty clueless about some of the aspects in Word sometimes. She's often able to figure out Illustrator on her own.

            Back to the article, the hard disk icon is bad. People don't want to manage files. They don't even want to think about filing. A more ideal solution would be a database like storage system where the user could always find what they wanted easily, and saving was transparent. Then you'd need 'undo' and 'drafts' to make up for that, which is something that people understand easily. This is trading efficiency for usefulness. What else are we going to do with our 1 GHz machines?

            But this desktop idea is just stupid. How many people do you know have cluttered real desktops and digital desktops?

      • The user has already learned the interface. (The learning curve for command-line interfaces is steeper than for GUIs, especially if the user has first experience with a GUI. With a blank slate computer user, the learning curve is about the same...but how many blank slates who've never used Windows -- or a video game controller -- do you find?

        Actually, I think the poster of the parent comment was talking about OFMs [softpanorama.org]. These actually don't have a steep learning curve because A) they're usually at least quasi-GUI, and B) they all use the same keystrokes, so once you've learned one OFM, the others are all pretty much the same (F5 for copy, F6 for move, F7 for mkdir, F8 for delete, yada yada) (this contradicts your second point)
      • by cduffy ( 652 ) <charles+slashdot@dyfis.net> on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:31PM (#2722990)
        Played with GTK's open widget? I think it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. Why? It incorporates the best of the mouse-based paradigm that users are used to and additionally adds the keyboard-based commands that power users crave.

        Have some (well-written) GTK apps installed? (Some apps written by less-clued folks try to implement their own open boxes... ugh!). Open such an application and go to file/open (alt+f o). Now, type part of a filename and press . If possible, the filename will be completed for you; if several options are available, the windowed listing will be reduced to them. If the only option is a directory, you'll instantly see the contents of that directory (and if it has only one subdirectory, you'll be instantly inside that too). There are lots of other goodies it's capable of as well (some globbing capabilities, &c).

        The point of this is that it's possible to write an interface which is intuitive for first-time users but also insanely powerful for power users. It also demonstrates how a good set of underlying libraries can provide applications with really nifty functionality without the programmer even having to be aware that it's available.
    • Yup (Score:5, Insightful)

      by KarmaBlackballed ( 222917 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @08:19AM (#2719146) Homepage Journal
      if the mouse is incapable of filling your needs, you should consider alternatives

      Exactly. Everything you ever needed to know you did not learn in kindergarten, but for some reason some people don't beleive that. Sometimes, as is the case with general purpose computers, the interface will require some training because there are new concepts.

      An apt analogy is language. There are too many words in English. We should simplify it. Perhaps we only need 500 words. ... Of course, if we "simplify" we reduce the efficiency and power of it for those that have mastered it.

      Teach people about disks, don't take the icon away.
    • by Orycterope ( 67067 ) <joel DOT rainville AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @09:47AM (#2719333) Homepage
      Call me old fashioned, but I for one am _not_ baffled by the vast regions of "vague space" that my file systems offer me.

      Same thing here. The hard disk is the physical place where my files reside. Simple enough.

      Then, when I click File-Open in Word, the little man inside my computer takes the bus on Data Road to go get my report.doc file. I get it, no problem with that.

      But before buying tickets, he checks in its drawer, and if a small part of the file happens to be there, he hands it to me before getting on the bus and bringing me back the whole thing. Efficient and fast, I get that.

      But, the files aren't always accessible by bus. Sometimes, the little man has to ask his daughter Ether to get on her bike and go fetch my report.doc from the neighborhood. But she's been warned : she can't take the road until there's no more car in sight. If she ever get slammed on her way back, she must drop everything, get back to the little man's house and try again. I know, it's weird, but that's the way it works.

      Thanks to my company's 3 hours intensive training, I know the ins and outs of my computer. I don't need no stinkin' abstraction. Let's deal with the real things.

      - There, Ether. Take that to Slashdot.
    • by rho ( 6063 )

      Since *I* don't have any problem with a complex machine, *EVERYBODY* else should find it easy as well. If they don't, they're just Lusers who need to get a life. Basically, they suck. I'm superior to them.

      See, when I was in high school, I got teased and beat up a lot, and now that I'm in control of the machines that those lusers have to use everyday, I work *hard* to make them complex and unusable for their work (so I can make fun of how stupid they are and get back at them for those terrible years in high school), while I make it good for me and the things that I do.

      This is classic nerd thinking. Alan Cooper wrote a whole book [amazon.com] about how letting computer nerds design computer programs is wrong and stupid. The parent comment lends a lot of weight to his argument.

      • Re:That's right (Score:4, Interesting)

        by edunbar93 ( 141167 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @12:14PM (#2720034)
        Alan Cooper wrote a whole book [amazon.com] about how letting computer nerds design computer programs is wrong and stupid.

        That is until you realize that, like designing a house, if you don't know what you're doing the whole thing is going to fall apart the instant you look at it funny.

        The really interesting thing is that computer programs are quite often designed by People Who Aren't Computer nerds. They're called "customers." Often, these "customers" come by to meddle with the design during its building phase. If this were done during the construction of a house, you would have spaghetti for plumbing, electrical wiring that wouldn't pass inspection, and it would probably float in the air by magic. And this is often exactly what happens to software when you go through a few "design changes" as you make attempts to show the customer what you're spending his hard-earned (or maybe not-so-hard-earned in the case of some companies) cash on during the coding phase of the software. And what they believe to be "minor interface adjustments" typically turn out to be major overhauls that require an almost total rewrite because of how it was originally programmed. The problem is that it needs to be finished in a week, because that was "the last of the changes." If you've ever wondered why programmers don't sleep in that last week of development, that's why.

        Don't fool yourself. You wouldn't let a bridge be designed by Joe Average, now would you? Coding's at least as complex.
        • Re:That's right (Score:5, Interesting)

          by rho ( 6063 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @12:42PM (#2720280) Homepage Journal
          If this were done during the construction of a house, you would have spaghetti for plumbing, electrical wiring that wouldn't pass inspection, and it would probably float in the air by magic

          Don't compare programming to construction. They are so similar, yet implemented so differently it's a shame. There are long lists of rules and codes by which construction has to do things. Are some of these things the "best" way? Probably not, but it is the accepted way and is therefore ubiquitous. Due to this, advances in construction techniques happen slowly, and usually come about through improved tools rather than new rules or codes.

          However, in the programming world, nothing is standardized. There are approximately 8 bajillion ways to encode the alphabet. There are a dozen different libraries to display a bitmap image. There are 18 different widget sets in X to accomplish the same thing, and two major toolkits for writing software for Unix.

          Advances happen often and create whole new directions to take programming, but these advances happen in the basic rules and codes while the programmer use the same old vi,gcc,gdb from the 19th century.

          Computer nerds are poor designers, because they have a skewed outlook of what a computer can and should do. A nerd looks at a computer and sees a box filled with limitations. A nerd sees a computer as a natural extension of his hands and head. A user is 180 out of phase: they see a computer as a magick box with an obtuse and difficult operating mechanism.

          Don't fool yourself. You wouldn't let a bridge be designed by Joe Average, now would you? Coding's at least as complex

          I wouldn't let a programmer build a bridge either: they'd invent a new method of smelting ore and an entirely new branch of mathematics to build it, it would cost 3 times as much as was estimated, and would be 10 years late in construction. And, after it was built, it would fall into the river and the programmers would blame Microsoft.

          I know how complex programming is. I also know that "but it's so haaaard!" is a pretty lame excuse for not doing it right. Programmers, by and large, do not do it right when it comes to design. They are great implementers, but poor designers, because they end up solving the wrong problems.

          Perhaps I'm unclear when I say "design"--I don't mean how the inner workings of a computer program passes bits around. That's not design. Designing comes long before fingers touch keyboards. It's where real designers decide what problem the program should solve and how the user will interact with the program. After this has been designed, then the programmers implement this set of specifications. I'm not talking about those designers who put a pretty picture on a CD-player program: I'm talking about real designers that work just as hard as programmers do to design, test, lather, repeat as neccessary to create a good, usable program.

        • That is until you realize that, like designing a house, if you don't know what you're doing the whole thing is going to fall apart the instant you look at it funny.

          Consider the folliwing:
          When we planned the addition on our house, we engaged the services of an architect. He took us through the design, starting with extracting our requirements/needs/wants (my list also had to go through the wife filter, but that's a separate story) and sketched out a couple of proposed designs on the spot. We spent a fair amount of time just suggesting random things/improvements/modifications to his design, and eventually he went away with a big pile of notes.

          The architect came back with a proposed design, and took us through it, including explaining relevant building codes and material issues, as well as adding a certain amount of value just from his knowledge. After a couple of iterations of this, we approved the plan, and got quotes from contractors to build it.

          At various points during the construction, issues came up and we worked with the contractor to resolve them (usually by writing a bigger check). And we got a nice addition which looked very much like the one we wanted!

          So why does it work so well in the real world, and less well in the software world?

          Communication. We had a clearly defined specification, produced by the architect and approved by us. At various times during construction, we were told about issues and given choices. We were given the cost of each.

          Visibility. We were able to see the work progressing, so (when they brought the wrong window and tried to install it) we were able to say "Hang on, that's not what we agreed to.

          Accountability (1). Waving the big stick (check for completion) gave us a lot of leverage with the contractor if he was going in the wrong direction.

          Accountability (2). Conversely, we were told that the contractor could do anything we wanted, but it would cost time and money, especially money. Any work done over and above the original contract was documented and signed off on.

          So can you do this in software? Yes, but you need a couple of (rare) things:

          A Manager/Project Leader (of either gender) with Big Brass Balls who can stand up to various people and say "Here's the impact of doing that".

          Agreed-on goals/requirements, with key people accountable for both ensuring that they are met and for communicating them to the key players.

          Communication amongst the developers and between the developers and the other stakeholders.

          Something of a sense that the end-customer isn't a "luser"

          Of course, that's my opinion -- I could be wrong.

      • Re:That's right (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dangermouse ( 2242 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @12:23PM (#2720089) Homepage
        This is going to ramble a bit, because I'm already going to be late for work...

        You know, nobody who actually develops software thinks like this. The problem is simply that people who develop software tend to be very comfortable with a lot of interface ideas, and therefore tend to pick whichever one works the best for a given piece of their application, without so much realizing that in the overall scheme of things they might be better off simplifying it a bit.

        Believe me, we want to make it easy for the user. The easier the software is to use, the happier people will be with it, the better it will sell, the less you'll have to go back and rework interface elements.

        Sometimes, if the target audience has a bit more experience or you're working on a technically specialized application, you tend to make things easier for your target users by using interface ideas that would make it harder for someone who just walked in off the street and decided to play with your software. That's generally as it should be... if I'm working on a handy little Unix utility, I generally shouldn't bother to slap a GUI around it and design a nice icon; what my users are going to want is a solid set of (long and short) commandline options, a useful configuration file, and the ability to pass in data on stdin.

        At any rate, accusing your post's parent of elitism seems entirely uncalled-for... he's right: The concept of a big empty desktop behind your windows never confused anybody. The big expanding tree structure does suck hard when you apply it to a large directory structure. People who learn the keyboard shortcuts for their apps do generally have far better performance.

        And someone else brought up an interesting point, which is that most people spend most of their time in a few applications... only so much time and effort should be spent trying to unify the interfaces of all applications, and it really shouldn't be done at the expense of optimizing for each application.

        The flipside is that advanced users tend to recommend applications that have very powerful interfaces, which newer users tend to have trouble with because they're so highly optimized: vim, emacs, Excel, Photoshop, ksh... And they're right, if you learn to use those programs, you will discover that they're very powerful. If you can't be bothered to learn their interfaces, well, you'll just be relegated to using less powerful generically-interfaced software. This is not elitism, it's just a matter of optimization.

    • Re:Yah right... (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tswinzig ( 210999 )
      Every time I see someone use a keyboard based navigation tool (Windows Commander comes to my mind, or bash completion), they're about ten times faster than click-move-click-move sequences.

      This is absurd. Perhaps if they are navigating a tree of folders they are intimately familiar with, but I can navigate a tree or set of folders much quicker with a mouse then a CL and autocomplete. Especially if the folder names are unknown to me.
  • glorified directory (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hyrdra ( 260687 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:10AM (#2718882) Homepage Journal
    Well I have to say I don't agree with this article. By it's own admissions, a desktop is a limiting space. It is true that for novice users a desktop metaphor is a comforting feeling and most do not leave it, but navigating the complex structure of an entire computer via desktops would be silly. It does make some sense to organize a hard-disk, but this is what the filesystem is for. If I read the article correctly, it implies scraping the tradional rooted filesystem in place of one in which is organized into several main points of interaction via a desktop metaphor.

    We would then have a different desktop for different parts of the system -- e.g. an operating system desktop which would expose internal controls, configuration files, utility programs and other settings, several program desktops, etc.
    In pratice it sounds good but I don't think anyone will take to it very well or it will be that different. In fact, most desktops are just glorified directories anyway that are always open and at the lowest level. So what's the point of difference, because I fail to see one.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:11AM (#2718886)
    About the time I got to him describing Linux GUIs as "simpler and are easier to use and manage" I was starting to realize that while the author starts off with an appeal to authority "X, Y, Z say I'm right!" the article was mostly just a few ill-explained conjectures interspersed with a bunch of filler.

    Where's some real data on desktop usability? Surely if the desktop is considered so wretched, there'd be a score of empirical HCI studies that:

    1) Proposed an alternative
    2) Actually went out and prototyped the alternative
    3) Showed that the alternative was more efficient than the desktop

    But I'm not seeing anything coming out that would seem to indicate that the desktop was dead.
    • by Graspee_Leemoor ( 302316 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @11:59AM (#2719942) Homepage Journal
      What you don't seem to realize is that HCI studies are all a complete load of bollocks; HCI is the "social policy" of Computer Science. (Thinking in degree terms).

      I nearly murdered the lecturers who tried to teach me on the HCI part of my degree course. While it's true that programmers usually design bad GUIs, the same is true of HCI researchers, except the other way round:

      While a programmer will implement a bad gui because he just makes it so it can access the functions he wants, and figures that because he knows how to operate it- that's good enough, the HCI researchers will draw little diagrams, write up "task lists" and waffle on about the importance of various colours and auditary cues, being careful to cite some vaguelly relevant psychology papers and spend far too long being politically correct and work out how e.g. dead people will be able to use the menu on the mobile phone.

      Finally they will "play test" their proposed user-interface on a random group of people who will swear blind in exchange for money that they have either a) never used a computer before or b) it was a mac. The play test might even consist of a paper-based simulation- leading to hilarious role-playing games:

      luser: So next I think I would click on this here
      HCI scum: With the left or the right mouse button?
      luser: the middle one
      HCI scum: ohhhh. interesting. roll a d20. Oh, the orc takes you by surprise.
      luser: WTF?
      HCI: exactly
      luser: I kick the orc!
      HCI: with the left or the right leg?
      luser: the middle one.

      The "play tests" of the gui (ignoring, as you should the above surreality) never yield interesting data because the researchers pay far too much attention to how individual users expected things to behave, even when they had no computer experience. The point is that computers that allow you to do more than a few simple things will always be semi-complicated by nature unless you dumb them down to the level of mobile phone/pvr menus- and then, as we all know it becomes frustrating to use them when you want to do something quickly, and impossible to do something complex or not envisioned by the manufacturer.

      I mean, take for example that whole generation of people who refused to learn/couldn't set their vcrs to record one simple program. True- vcrs didn't need to be that complex- we now have electronic on-screen guides to programmes that make recording a doddle, but at that time the complexity was needed to keep the costs of the machine down and also technology was not as advanced.

      However, there will always be some piece of kit that requires that same level of expertise that setting a vcr did, perhaps more, especially given that computers tend to be able to be used in a non-linear manner when compared to the simplistic menus of consumer multimedia devices.

      People who can't accept the idiosynchrasies of the computer interface and learn to phase it out (exactly such things as a hard drive icon) will never be any good. Such people tend to learn a set way of doing things on the computer, so if you fuck with their desktop and move the icons about for example they end up madly clicking on an empty piece of desktop and sobbing uncontrolably when they realize nothing is happening.

      The point is that if the hard drive icon needs to be changed because it's a confusing representation of how things are, then the users for whom this would be a problem have already lost.

      I *DO* agree that we could do with another layer of abstraction though. For example, a user might have some mp3s he downloaded in the My Documents folder where IE defaulted to saving them- other mp3s in My Downloads, where X random download manager put them- and yet more in another directory from when he ripped a cd with some other app. It would of course be nice to be able to easilf list all mp3s on the computer, no matter where they are, as in this case, and indeed many others it is not relevant to the user where the files are- only to the programs and the os. (If you would normally create a "bad rips" directory to put certain mp3s in you now instead tag them with the meta data that they are bad rips...) Now, I know you can just use a file search to find all mp3s on the hard drive, but say you want to find all the mp3s longer than 5 minutes, or ones of just hip hop- some meta-data is needed to help you fine-tune your search criteria.

      While it is true that some programs now, like Windows Media Player can "catalog" your files for you it is nowhere near as good as having a meta-filesystem built into the os.

      The same meta-tags would be in all the files on the whole internet (tm) too- would make finding stuff a lot easier. I think TBL was going on about having more meta-tags for web pages and some clever system for stopping the obvious abuse of the system by vendors of unscrupulous pr0n.

      Sorry for rambling on like some insane karma slut, and for the spelling, which is well below my normally fantastic level, but I am sitting here really tired, waiting for FFX to be released...

  • Huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by johnburton ( 21870 ) <johnb@jbmail.com> on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:11AM (#2718887) Homepage
    That article is just daft. It seeems to be saying that a hard disk directory structure is much better than a desktop because you can have unilimed space and organise it by directories, and then goes on to say it should be abolished and replaced by multiple desktops.

    Maybe I missed the point. I hope so, then the article would make sense.

    In my opinion the whole desktop metaphore is flawed. The screen should just be a view of the hard disk, but each user should have their own namespace on the disk and not be able to even see others files, or there system files without running special tools.

    The problem with windows is that sometimes "My Computer" is a subdirectory of the disk and sometimes the disk is a sub-item of My Computer. It confuses me and I'm supposed to know what I'm doing!
    • Re:Huh? (Score:2, Insightful)

      by kormoc ( 122955 )
      I think he ment that the desktop should be the root of the drive, and everything moves out from there.

      No more My Computer, but:
      Program Files
      My Documents

      I think is would get very full very fast and kill any +s it would add.
    • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by MadAhab ( 40080 )
      I think you misread the article, because it makes nearly the same case you do; a "desktop" should be a logical work area. Just extend what you said to include shared work areas and you've got what they're getting at. Recourse to other filesystem tools should only be for administrative work, and applications should be designed to conform to this expectation.

      Consider the number of users who can't find files after they've downloaded them and you'll see how right they are. Consider what "My Documents" tries to do and you'll see that half-assed efforts have been made to address a fundamental usability issue.

      If you've ever gotten really used to multiple desktops for organizing your open applications - if you are one of those people like me who has about 25 windows open at any given time - you'd see what a strong point they have beyond the filesystem notion; it makes more sense to put similar tasks and data in groups together, to have a fairly flat set of groups, and to be able to switch between these contexts.

  • by LegendLength ( 231553 ) <legendlength@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:12AM (#2718889)
    The vague space of the hard disk should not exist for you. Ideally, your machine should be a collection of desktops that you have created and named, that are easy to track via a menu or toggle button, and are each understandable because they follow the same rules and offer the same limitations.
    Yes, yes...you could even store those named desktops in a tree-like structure. Brilliant.

    • "The vague space of the hard disk should not exist for you. Ideally, your machine should be a collection of desktops that you have created and named, that are easy to track via a menu or toggle button, and are each understandable because they follow the same rules and offer the same limitations."

      "Yes, yes...you could even store those named desktops in a tree-like structure. Brilliant."

      This is got to be the best response this this article yet. Instead of starting a new thread I must say here that this guy is jumping ahead of the game.

      The desktop isn't fixed yet! It's not close to done. It isn't smart enough. I think that eventually we will need/want/have desktops that are smarted and more interactive. But there needs to be work done between the users, the kernel writers [of all OS/platforms], the userland writers all of it.

      As computers get 'better' and faster some of us will stray from the bland picture frame desktop. Maybe this guy's idea would work better as his 'desktops' as tiles on The Desktop?

      I've already responded saying that this is a silly idea all together.But now I see it as a way to change the way I see my system and I don't like it.

      I want to know where my files are, I may want to just look through them. Sorry if that bothers you.
  • by Cally ( 10873 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:15AM (#2718897) Homepage
    Pardon me, I don't mean to flame these well-meaning researchers, but... anyone who finds the drool-proof Fisher-price desktop interfaces of "modern" commercial OSes "complex", after 15-20 years for the concepts to sink into the culture, and umpty-zillion dollars in usability testing, HCI factors researchers, Xerox, MIT MediaLab, Apple, XP, blah blah blah... probably shouldn't be left on their own with a box of matches, ya-know-what-i-mean?
    • Re:/complexity/ ?? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Twylite ( 234238 ) <twylite@cr[ ].co.za ['ypt' in gap]> on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:51AM (#2719083) Homepage

      ...and despite all this time, effort and money, most people still find computers complex to use.

      My SO can pick up a remote control, figure it our without the manual, and operate the TV, VCR, and Hi-Fi. So can my parents. They are happy to set the message on their answering machine, program numbers into their phones, do combo-cooking with the microwave and generally use your average household technology without instruction ... but not a computer.

      First you have to know about the idea of clicking with the mouse. The whole left-click / right-click thing which we take for granted and do 20000 times a day is NOT easy to catch onto for a new user. Once they have the idea, they still do know what to do.

      "Start button? But its already started, why do I want to start it again?". How about the little icons on the taskbar? Any idea what they mean if you haven't been told? There's a deskpad with a notebook and pencil on it [looks like a writing application, but its the desktop]. Then a big blue "e" [here is South Africa we have a TV channel called "e" with a very similar logo]. Then a clock inside a square [that would be outlook].

      When there IS a window open, there's three funny looking icons at the top right. Ask a new user if they can guess what they mean.

      With the exception of international standard symbols (like the power symbol), most people can't guess the meaning of icons. Your average Word user goes on a 3 day course to learn the basics of clicking on the correct toolbar icon, when they could select a perfectly meaningful English word from the menu system.

      The whole idea that GUIs are easy to use is a myth, as is the idea that icons are somehow more meaningful to users. These ideas have been forced down our throats by marketing droids and the odd technical writer who things (s)he knows his/her stuff.

      • Re:/complexity/ ?? (Score:5, Informative)

        by gfxguy ( 98788 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @08:35AM (#2719172)
        My SO can pick up a remote control, figure it our without the manual, and operate the TV, VCR, and Hi-Fi. So can my parents. They are happy to set the message on their answering machine, program numbers into their phones, do combo-cooking with the microwave and generally use your average household technology without instruction ... but not a computer.
        Aahh...but my parents had a horrible time when we got our first VCR (I was about 15 back then). Of course, I could read the manual and figure it out, but it was all too complicated for them.

        20 years later, where the "interface" for VCRs really hasn't changed, my parents to just fine, and can pretty much use any VCR.

        The problem with computer GUI's is they haven't settled for 20 years - and people like these guys who come along and keep wanting to "create a new paradigm" (mark that off on your buzz-word bingo) are screwing things up - if it doesn't stay consistent for any length of time, no one will get accustomed to it.

        I agree about the pictures on the buttons, though. We had an application from some developers that had a horrible interface. When we were asked for suggestions, I suggested they improve the interface, and suggested they looked at that particular OS's interface guide. Not only did they not look at the guide, but we ended up with a real pretty GUI where the pictures had virtually nothing to do with the functions - unless you were the programmer. We might have lived with it if they had tool-tips, but if you need to rely on tool-tips, maybe the icon isn't so good - why don't you just label the button with the tool tip?

        • Re:/complexity/ ?? (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Trekologer ( 86619 )
          The problem with computer GUI's is they haven't settled for 20 years - and people like these guys who come along and keep wanting to "create a new paradigm" (mark that off on your buzz-word bingo) are screwing things up - if it doesn't stay consistent for any length of time, no one will get accustomed to it.


          You hit the nail right on the head. Why are computers so damned hard for a new user to use? Because a Windows PC works differently then a Macintosh PC which works differently than a Linux PC which works differently than... (ad naseum)

          The GUIs of all those systems try to mimic the tools on an actual desk but each with enough subtle differences as to make the novice unable to move from one to another. And each new version changes everything COMPLETELY (although Apple had the same GUI from 1984 until 2000 with no "major" changes).

          Calculators all look totally different. But anyone can look at one and know that it is a calculator. And when you know how to use one, you can use almost any other calculator. When it comes to icons on the GUI desktop, that isn't so easy. The icon for Microsoft Word is a green W. What is this W? Does this wash my comptuer for me? The Excel icon is an X. What is this X? Is this a computer xylophone?

          GUIs and software publishers are very self-promoting. They use their own meaningless logos and marketing-drone generated names to identify their programs. And then they go nuts if you try an copy their "look and feel". That's all fine and dandy if you know how to use a computer and/or what you want to do with the computer. But for someone who never used a computer or that particular computer , they haven't got a clue.

          All those fancy GUIs are supposed to make using computers easier. But they don't.

          Here's how to design a computer that will truly be easy to use: Take someone who never has used a computer before. Sit them down in front of the computer. Don't tell them how to use the computer. Give them some tasks to do with the computer (ie, write a letter). If they can complete those tasks without needing help, you've designed an easy to use computer.
      • by CausticPuppy ( 82139 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @10:16AM (#2719438) Homepage
        Some devices are easy to figure out because they have very limited purpose. Computers are harder because they do a nearly infinite number of tasks (if you don't mind "nearly infinite" as a concept).

        So people have to learn how to use computers in the same way they have to learn how to drive a car.

        Have you ever thought about how intuitive an automobile is?

        Let's see... there are 3 pedals, but I only have two feet. I'm confused! I have to push the left one in while turning the key at the same time to start it. But then when it's running, in order to make it go, I have to push the right pedal down while slowly letting up on the left pedal? WTF?? Yet to stop again, I have to push the center pedal in this time, while at the same time pushing the left one back down again. Oh yeah and I have to move the little knob thingy back into the "1" position if I come to a complete stop, but only the "2" position if I'm at a rolling stop. But it makes a horrible grinding noise every time I move it.... oh wait, I have to push the left pedal down every time I move the knob thingy?? Who the hell designed this kludgy interface anyway? I just want to go to the friggin' grocery store, why do I have to do this crazy dancing shit with the 3 goofy foot pedals! And what's with the idiotic round wheel up near my chest? And the thing that says "Hi-Lo-Intermittent..." WTF is that supposed to mean. Set, coast, accel, resume.... Screw this, I'm hiring the neighbor's kid to drive me everywhere! He knows all this crap better than me.

        So you see, we can't demand an "intuitive" interface for everything. There are some things in life that people should just be expected to learn how to do, like operate cars and computers (regardless of the computer's OS). That also requires learning traffic laws, and similar "laws of the net."
        If we had a Fisher-Price any-idiot-can-drive interface in cars, imagine how dangerous the roads would be! Even more so than they already are, considering that most idiots already know how to drive today, despite the "complex" interface in automobiles (even with automatic transmissions!) Yet they can't copy files around on their own computer.
        • Some devices are easy to figure out because they have very limited purpose. Computers are harder because they do a nearly infinite number of tasks

          Very good point and it explains why a computer UI will always be more complex than a car or VCR. BUT, the fact the computers perform a "nearly infinite" number of tasks makes it all the more important that the UI *attempts* as much as possible to be intuitive. A car can use a "counterintuitive" interface precisely because it's function and thus it's interface elements are so limited. There are only three pedals, a wheel and a stick - or even two pedals and a wheel. The UI of a car is NOT complex! On the other hand it IS consistant. No matter which make or model I buy a car from the pedals and the steering wheel all do the same thing and are in the same spot. It's not like Ford puts the clutch on one side and Chrysler puts it on the other - or a Taurus uses a steering wheel, Saturn uses a joystick and Yugo's use a rudder to steer the thing.

          By contrast a computer, as you pointed out, can perform a nearly infinite number of tasks and so requires a just as nearly infinite number of UI elements. If those elements are arbitrary, inconsistant and counterintiutive it will take a nearly infinite amount of knowledge to master them to use the computer. If those UI elements are thoughtfully designed to be as intuitive and consistent as possible the user can get the computer to perform those nearly infinite tasks without himself having to expend nearly infinite time and mental energy learning the interface.

          There are some things in life that people should just be expected to learn how to do, like operate cars and computers (regardless of the computer's OS).

          True, one thing that programmers should be expected to learn (or should hire those that have learned) is good UI design. The people expected to learn the use of computers should themselves expect thought to be put into the UI of those things by the people who design them. Unlike cars too many computer programs and operating system UI's are poorly thought out, needlessly complex, inconsistent, and needlessly constantly changing.
  • by SomethingOrOther ( 521702 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:15AM (#2718898) Homepage

    My motorbike has an oil light on it.
    It comes on when the bike is running out of oil so I know when to put more in. To run a motorbike I mush know how to do this and (basicly) how the engine works. (Unless I want to be totaly reliant on a mechanic)

    A computer is exactly the same.
    To use it, you must know basicly how it works.....such as what a hard disk is! You cant oversimplify!

  • Why not.... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Mister Transistor ( 259842 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:16AM (#2718900) Journal
    Since were killing off all the "evil icons" these days, i.e. Joe Camel, Barney, Usama Bin Laden, etc, go ahead - whack the evil hard disk icon too. Next on the chopping block - Ronald McDonald and that annoying whiny PrimeCo pink alien guy!
  • huh??? why? (Score:2, Insightful)

    I don't see the disk icon as a problem at all, I prefer that to cluttering my desktop with lots of folder icons. Maybe it's just me and my warped mind, but I find teh hierarchical anture of the disk's contents very easy to navigate and explore, I use it constantly.

    As to the limitations of the desktop - isn't the desktop contents just a directory on the drive anyway?

    The mouse can't leae the desktop? sure it can - if you have virtual desktops - I just hover my mouse at one of the screen edges and it flips to the next panel. I use virtual desktops to access the multitude of application windows I have open, not to organize my filing system and have it cluttered with a zillion icons - I'd never be able to find anything!

    As another poster here said, power users who understand the file system on their machines don't have a problem with it.

  • by Mike Connell ( 81274 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:17AM (#2718908) Homepage
    I'm all for the sentiment behind "The vague space of the hard disk should not exist for you.", but that's just a bad bad bad idea until computers are rock solid. No I don't mean Windows 2000 solid, or even debian Potato solid, I mean solid like my old 286 machine that hasn't had a software update for eons.

    At the moment my other half knows what a floppy disk is (it looks like a floppy disk, and you can put files on it). She knows that the "hard disk" is a "big floppy disk inside the computer", and that she should copy from the later to the former whenever she needs to keep a safe copy. This is a good thing, because she knows where her stuff is, and so do I (as sys admin). As soon as you start blurring the lines, it makes it harder for people to control their own files.

    I think it's right to be pushing the state of the art in the interface. However, I have this conservative feeling that the current status quo matches well to the actual reality of buggy software and hw/sw failures. Once we cross over into "you dont need to know that" space, we better be sure that we actually don't need to know it, otherwise we'll be SOL.
  • Their thesis is that giving users access to the file system is bad, because they fill their directories with crap.

    So, since people don't fill their desktops with quite as much crap simply because it has an visual limit. I can get about 100 icons on mine.

    So, since 100 files isn't enough for my data needs, they suggest I have multiple desktops.

    I get a feeling that this will over-complex things.

    Also, the standard "file manager" type view is a staple of e-mail systems. How do the authors suggest replacing this?

    Hmmm. I dunno. Won't it add extra complexity as you have to distinguish between persistant icons that are on every desktop, and the transient ones that are just on one. Since everything the user sees is a shortcut, you also have to distinguish between deleting the shortcut and deleting the file. (delete once the last link is gone? maybe)

    Anyhow, easy enough to test their theory, since you can configure both Linux and XP to work exactly like thay describe.
  • Mac was the first? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ImaLamer ( 260199 ) <john.lamarNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:19AM (#2718912) Homepage Journal
    The first time I saw an Apple machine other than an IIe I was very confused by the fact that the actual drive wasn't the 'root' of the system. Even though this is only in idea - it killed me, I was confused. Even Windows (3.1) used C:\!

    Now KDE, Windows 9x, and many other use the 'Desktop' as the 'root' of the system. You'll notice that this trick is only performed by the 'userland' and not the actual system. This is because it's common sense. Your computer doesn't want to look for things starting from a folder/directory/area that is actually buried deep within the system!

    I say, banish the 'Desktop'! It confuses users. Teach the file tree! Standardize the file tree!

    No more systems where programs store themselves anywhere! No more systems that show the drive under the Desktop! No more systems that show other things on the same level as the drive!

    Why confuse users? Teach them;
    "This is /, it is the root of the system."
    "This is /etc where your configuration data is stored!"
    "This is /usr - you'll find the actual programs and more there!"
    "But this is your Home/My Documents/Desktop. There are others similar to yours, but this one is yours."
    "However, it doesn't sit on top of the rest of the system!"

    Maybe I don't get it. I thought it would be easier to teach new users things they already understand.
    "This is the desktop, it's the top level, well kinda, it's actually in /home/username/.kde/desktop [or c:\windows\desktop or even c:\windows\profiles\username\desktop\ ], but it's the top of your system. Under that is your hard drive... that is where the desktop is kept."
    • Confused user (Score:2, Insightful)

      by robinjo ( 15698 )
      "This is /, it is the root of the system."

      Root of the system? What do you mean?

      "This is /etc where your configuration data is stored!"

      Why is it called etc?

      "This is /usr - you'll find the actual programs and more there!"

      Why is it called usr? Are there more programs in proc?

      "But this is your Home/My Documents/Desktop. There are others similar to yours, but this one is yours."

      Why do I have a desktop inside my documents? Sholdn't the documents be on the desktop? And so many of them? This is so complicated.

      "However, it doesn't sit on top of the rest of the system!"

      What top? What was the root again?

      • Re:Confused user (Score:2, Interesting)

        by belterone ( 176605 )
        That's not insightful. Did you play stupid when someone told you what a "steering wheel" was?
        Maybe you didn't have a hard time learning because the term was already in common use. I bet it wasn't always that way. Now fast forward 10 years... I wonder if "desktop" and "hard-drive" will be in common use. I know people 60 years old who now know these terms, and they have nothing to do with the field... Just like you don't really have anything to do with the automotive industry.

        Sorry for the extremely overworked computer as car metaphor, but here it actually fits. You can actually substitute *any* new technology with its corresponding terminology.
        -Greg ---
        • Considering that the average computer user uses the word memory when (s)he really means disk space , it shouldn't be surprising that a hard disk icon is confusing. Joe Schmoe probably doesn't want to know what a hard disk is or even what a file is. He wants to think in terms of papers and letters and pictures and songs, not in terms of files and bits and bytes. He only cares that there is enough space in his computer to hold them, not about how the computer stores them. He probably doesn't know what a hard disk looks like since he probably bought his computer from Best Buy and has never opened the case. And that's fine, because for him and for most people the computer is just a tool for writing papers, surfing the web, and playing music.

          Not everyone needs to understand how or why their tools work. Should I hold you responsible for understanding quantum field theory since that's really why computers work?
    • I think what many people (including the author of the original article) fail to realise is that the hard drive icon is NOT part of the desktop, or even related to the desktop. It is the computer visualisation for getting up, walking away from your desktop and opening your file cabinet.

      The two are very different, and both required. You cannot organise yourself effeciently with even a thousand desks - you need a filing cabinet. Conversely you can't work from a filing cabinet at all times - you need to take out a file, strew some pages around your desktop, and get on with stuff.

    • In a multi-user system, end users (i.e. people who don't maintain the system but just use it to get work done) typically don't need to know all the details of the underlying system, and in general, I think trying to explain the hierarchy of /, /bin, /etc, /usr, etc. would just create additional confusion for most users. Furthermore, I can't imagine any reason you would want normal users to muck around with /bin or /etc on a multi-user Unix system. Most users just need to be able to run programs and manage their own documents and settings.

      Thus Unix treats /home/<user> as the center of userland and retags it ~. (Okay, so ~ isn't exactly intuitive, but it is short and consistent with the Unix philosophy of brevity that brought us ls and cp) The typical Unix user experience involves logging into the system, running programs by name, and manipulating data stored in one's home directory. Power users can customize application settings via dotfiles in their home directory and/or install personal applications in their home directory (sysadmin permitting). In any case, users are protected from the naked glory of the filesystem unless they really want to see it, and sysadmins can protect themselves from user error.

      Windows 2000 stores all user-specific settings and documents in C:\Documents and Settings\<user> but introduces a further hierarchy of Application Data, Desktop, My Documents, etc. Since a Windows user spends most of their time interacting with a desktop-metaphor GUI, the Windows user experience revolves around Desktop. Programs are accessed via shortcuts on the desktop, documents are stored in the My Documents folder that is accessible via a desktop shortcut, and settings are handled by applications (and stored in Application Data, but most users aren't concerned with this as long as their settings are preserved). Intrepid users can see the organization of the computer into disks and directories via the My Computer icon, but are under no obligation to do so, and again, sysadmins can protect the system from user error.

      I'm not going to say that one of these philosophies is better than the other, but surely either is preferable to confused users running amok in /bin or /etc...
  • by (void*) ( 113680 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:21AM (#2718915)
    The article points out an interesting insight. There is only a finite space on the desktop - that users can use visual clutter to estimate complexity. This is insightful. The harddisk, however, does not follow this metaphor. Thus, it is argued that by making everything into one thing, a whole sequence of desktops, discarding the tree-like multitudes of files in the harddisk, the user experience is simplified.

    This idea sounds cool, but the argument is weak.

    The whole point of the tree-like structure of the harddisk is managed-complexity. Hierarchial structures allow the user to ascend the descend the hierachy, performing operations that are similar in execution, but differing in context.

    What happens when you have 1 million odd bits of stuff to manage? How would such a user switch between desktops, looking for the right window to do his stuff on?

    You need some kind of tree, not a linear sequence of desktops! Say maybe one for administrative configuration. Let's call that etc. And one for executables, let's call that bin. And then how about some tmporary space to play around in. On wait ...

  • by Cynikal ( 513328 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:23AM (#2718918) Homepage
    Part of my job is to teach computer basics and gui navigation skills to newbies. with that said, imagine knowing nothing about a computer, and trying to navigate through it without having a point of refrence. Its like being in a new country, but having no "home" or place to stay where you start from every morning.

    I reccomend to new users to save files they dont want to lose on their desktop just because its so much easier to remember where it is. eventually it WILL get cluttered, but its a good temp solution until they're more at ease with the hard drive, and finding their way through it. I can just imagine how lost some people would feel without their desktop and most used files staring back at them when they turn on their computers.

    I can accept that there are some people who feel the desktop and hard drive icon metaphor are out dated, but i fail to see how their preference should override other peoples prefs.. instead of "killing" something you don't aggree with, how about encouraging an implamentation to have it or not, depending on your settings?

    i dunno, to me its like saying "oh i can ride a bike now, so training wheels should be abolished, they only get in the way now".
    its short sighted and biased, and only makes things harder for those who are just starting out.
  • One thing that can be more comfy than your own desktop is your own home. So, why don't turn a computer in a home?

    Think of it : directories could be bookshelves, and generic files books. Music files could be records. You could browse the web looking out of the window. And so on.

    You could have different rooms, equivalent of today workspaces: one could organize one room for play, one for office, etc ... You can decorate floor, ceiling and walls as you like, and put in them bookshelves (symlink to directories) or appliances (applications or applets with a look that recalls their function).To make system administration, you go to the basement :-). [Currently missing a clean metaphor for removable media, though]. Application installers could even create their own rooms, in the same way they create folders now.

    This environment should be 3d : not the full 3d stuff, since you don't need to loose time walking from one place to another. But enough 3d to look real. And to benefit of spacial arrangement as a way to priopritize symbols : the more important icons are close and big; others are more distant and smaller. A single mouse click could move you in another position, changing the perspective.

    When running a today 2d app, you get a full screen 2d view (90% of non technical users I have seen rarely uses more than a window per time). Iconising the window, or clicking on a navig bar button, you are back in your 3d homey environment.

    • Re:Computer Home (Score:2, Informative)

      by Johnny00 ( 213878 )
      Reminds me of something [telecommander.com] Microsoft once did.
      • It bombed! In fact it bombed bad! Unfortunately such metaphors are very difficult to implement beyond a basic subset of functionality. Where in your house do you look for (for instance) your Seti@home program, or perhaps your astronomy program, where is your IRC chat program?

        OK - so one *can* find a metaphor for each of those, but as you add more and more functions to your metaphor, it becomes harder and harder to remember where the less obvious items are.

        The answer is either that the user is offered a very basic computing environment with little control over where thinsg are and what can be integrated with it, or the metaphor breaks and becomes clumsy to use.
  • by metis ( 181789 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:29AM (#2718925) Homepage
    In many GUI systems ( KDE , OS/2) a desktop is a directory. The article argues basically for representing the information in the computer as a flat list of directories with depth = 1. It is the same as having a disk in which all directories are top level. Another way to think about it is that everything the user accesses is addressed by two idnexes exactly ( item[ desktop, name ] )

    Once you see it that way you realize immediately that this is very limited. Directory depth is there for a reason. Searching is easier, both for the computer and for human mind, once a certain number of elements is exceeded ( for the human mind that number is about five to eight)

    If all the information the user needs can be stored in six to eight directories in a logical way, eliminating death may help useability. For users with more complex needs, this is a very bad idea.

  • by wickidpisa ( 41827 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:30AM (#2718930) Homepage
    Do people really use desktops for storing files? I know I see lots of half computer literate users with tons of stuff on the desktop, but anyone that understands computers rarely uses it for more than launching programs and maybe a few very important directories. Many of the linux window managers don't even allow you to store files on the dsktop, in fact, only the ones that tend to be emulating MS Windows do let you put things there. I use WindowMaker and I have never once wished I could place any files on the desktop.
    This article is calling for the redesigning of basic filesystem operations because of an overly misused feature that a few GUI systems have. The "everything is a desktop" idea woudl be impossible to implement on anything that relys on non GUI systems. It would also mean that practically every application on earth would have to be redesigned to accomidate this filesystem method.
    Rather than change everything to accomidate better understanding of this overly used feature, why not get rid of it? Teach people about the way computers really work with files, rather than keeping them in the dark about whats going on.
    Give a NeXT style GUI system a chance, try WindowMaker or Blackbox, or if you are on Windows install Litestep. Give it some time and you will realize how poinless having files on the desktop really is.
  • by fixion ( 38352 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:34AM (#2718933)
    The author is against the heirarchical tree structure of directories for organizing content but mistakenly identifies this with the "hard disk icon" (which is, in fact, just a doorway into the heirarchical structure).

    In it's place he would do away with the hierarchical directories and replace it with multiple "desktops" (e.g. flat, non-heirarchical, visually-managed workspaces).

    The glaring problem with this is that most professional computer users (ie. discounting grandma who sends email three times a month and opened Word once) have so many files/applications on their computers that they would need dozens (or hundreds!) of these desktop workspaces to manage all of the files & applications.

    True, some Linux desktop environments have multiple desktops, but check and see how many users have more than six or eight desktops configured. Very few. There's a usablility threshold where if setting up more "categories" (in this case more desktops) actually decreases usability, whereas setting up "sub-categories" within the top-level categories will increase usability. Hence: heirarchy.

    The entire field of taxonomy is dedicated to this principle.

    As a previous poster said: This article is daft. (And poorly written.)
  • This kind of research is valuable in that it will help some people get closer to their computers. However, there will never be an 'ultimate' interface, any more than there will be a single way to learn, to love, to create, or to be happy.

    No matter how much we condense ourselves down into bell curves and types, we will always be infinitely diverse, and how we interact with each other and our tools will always be a very personal thing.

    That being said, I'd like to do some research into teaching people enough science and art to begin with so that whatever interface they come across will quickly become easy for them. This is already the case with most geeks, and I don't accept the idea that we are somehow gifted, or that the so-called average joe must be provided with a toy interface if they ever hope to get anything out of computers.

    I wager that as long as we assume users are stupid, they will continue to be.
  • The traditional desktop is not dead. Period. Why? Because everybody and their relatives use it. Essentially for the same reason we are using qwerty keyboards and not dvorak.

    Now, the idea of multiple desktops isn't a bad idea, but it would be nice to find a program that isn't a bloated piece of crap that does it (hydravision from ati comes to mind, but since bundled software always sucks . . .)

    What the authors say is true, you tend to have a bunch of crap on your desktop that you will eventually sort through and put into directories / delete. Pretty much the stuff on there is unusable. Yes, you can have apps and stuff on your desktop, but for the most part, most people organize that into the gnome/kde/apple/start menu (or quicklaunch).

    I don't know how many of you have fooled around with litestep (I think it's dead now, I'm not sure) - the skins, by and large are a pain in the ass to use (albeit cool as hell to look at). I suppose things would be different if you made your own "gui overlay", it would make sense. It seems that pretty much any alternative is essentially hierarchically based - i.e. press a button and get a series of options. (click on the foot, apple/? get a list of options) - essentially the "multiple desktop system" is a start menu, albeit with more eye candy.

    Anyways . . .
    • Litestep is alive and well. It's been a few months since the last stable was released, but development continues.

      If customization were a little simpler, one could almost say it was ready for lusers. Heck my mom can install litestep, using a standard skin anyway, and she's a /social worker/.

      Speaking of litestep, I think what the article really wants is a good wharf, they just don't know enough to have heard of one. Multiple desktops my ass. Might as well just put everything in C:\ or / and screw the namespace.

      The only other metaphor/interface I could see possibly improving usability is a literal tree system with spacial, visual, and relational cues to allow easy vgrepping for the mentally-so-so.

      Instead of the of having each level of directories equivalent, allow relative visual positioning. Instead of just simple icons, allow changes in a appearance based on multiple criteria(size, type, relation, etc) and further affect them based on searches(make all files that are 13mbytes or wider, work-colored, and document-anvils bend the branch they are on, or just blink).

      But that what just be eyecandy for most people, sense they wouldn't bother to do the necessary filemanagement anymore than people do with their current system, or the proposed "infinite desktops". A sampling of users will probably show a desktop that is already cluttered because they don't bother to use the existing system(shriek, learning curve!) or come up with their own internally-logical system(effort!)
  • by Katchina'404 ( 85738 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:38AM (#2718942) Homepage

    Next time some random user needs "more room to store my stuff in the computer" he/she goes out and gets him/herself a larger monitor rather than a larger hard disk !!!
  • by Warvi ( 544623 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:41AM (#2718945) Homepage
    The desktop and window interface as we know it was developed in Xerox Palo Alto laboratories.

    Why we still 20-30 yrs later have no good new metaphors is because there is no fundamental development dedicated to that effort.

    The machines today come, thanks to ID and other game companies, equipped with graphics chips more than able to create an immersive 3D environment. This capability is totally unused in daily usage.

    Trash the disk metaphor like it has been trashed in UNIX file hierarchy: you can still know everything about your disks, but they have become irrelevant in the directory structure.

    A good 3D environment should trash the desktops as well and use spaces instead. Yes you can have your 2D windows for text terminals and whatever current applications, but you can as well do your 3D CAD/CGI design/rendering in space provided by a 3D GUI. Imagine being able to "turn around" with mouse or similar (headmounted?) device in order to look around; to be able to "zoom" into and past separate windows and work areas (workspaces) with mouse wheel or cursor keys.

    Imagine being able to link to each other related files/items in a 3D-space instead of 2D. What would that do to your DB schemes. Or to zoom into a software package's source icon to see its design, zoom into a class to see its components, and zoom into a method to see its source.


    This would require trial-and-error, examining, playing around. Where is the team that is being paid for this development?

    Any hints would be greatly appreciated. I could even be interested in such work myself.
    • Imagine being able to "turn around" with mouse or similar (headmounted?) device in order to look around; to be able to "zoom" into and past separate windows and work areas (workspaces) with mouse wheel or cursor keys.

      Imagine getting nauseated and throwing up from trying to find some file you stored "somewhere near - I'm sure that document is somewhere near here!"

      3D doesn't work for everyone - virtual reality, real nausea.

    • White collar workers generally don't do much that necessitates the third dimension. You don't need a field of depth to read a memo on a 8.5x11 piece of paper. Spreadsheets? Users have enough time figuring out a x by y grid, lets not add z and test their spatial abilities.

    • Where is the team that is being paid for this development?

      Check Google. I'm sure you can find quite a few teams that are working on this.

      So far, none of these teams' efforts have been successfull. I'd wager that is because the actual viewing area is 2D. Maybe if we start to use VR-glasses, 3D workspaces would be convenient, but since that isn't the case a 2D desktop is far less clunky than a (badly) projected 3D one.

      my 2cts, anyway..
    • This comes up every single time there's an interface discussion... frankly, I just don't understand it.

      What would be the advantage? Extra space? We have multiple desktops and three or four methods of window minimization and hiding. Easier navigation? Since when can't you map a tree into 2D perfectly adequately, and simply? We have a few ways of doing that, too. More intuitive interface? Sorry, but there's nothing intuitive about having to look around in multiple dimensions (mapped, incidentally, to two dimensions on your monitor) to find a window or icon or whatever you've misplaced.

      As long as our data is primarily text-based and our displays are physically two-dimensional, 3D interfaces are going to both be pointless and suck. And you'd be hard put to convince me that a physical 3D interface would be practical for most applications.

      Sorry, but the gee-whiz-neato-"imagine all the pretty polyhedrons" just doesn't translate into "good idea".

  • That is indeed what should actually be done. Rather than looking at computer UIs in terms of being a metaphor for something else, why can't the computer's interface simply exist?

    As an analogy that someone else suggested once (iirc on /. or kuro5hin), we don't drive a car using a metaphor for something else, we simply use the car's controls themselves, having learned.
  • by Mike Gleason ( 86683 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:48AM (#2718956) Homepage
    You should be able to add or remove hard drives at will. When you add RAM, you simply plug it in and the OS knows to use it; why not hard drives?

    The user should not need to understand the notion of a filesystem. "Advanced" users should only need to know that they can plug in a hard drive and know that the OS will automatically format and integrate it into the system. Need more disk space to store MP3s? Simply add a disk, reboot, and have your space automatically split across the second drive.

    Users should only have the concept of a Home folder (let's not call it a directory). The user can place all of her data in this folder. Advanced users can create subfolders if they so choose, but the UI should be able to automatically group files in a single folder by type if the user doesn't create one.

    Users should not be concerned with OS files, the actual files used to store .EXE and Application files, etc.

    Mac OS X is the closest to this. Your home directory contains all your data and application preference files. I recently lost a hard drive, but had a nightly backup of my home directory. I simply reinstalled OS X and the applications I use, and *voila* everything is back to normal -- no importing bookmarks, restoring my e-mail client configuration, etc. Users of KDE/GNOME are enjoying similar benefits.

    Windows has a ways to go, but for starters it can get rid of the idiotic "drive letter" concept. At least with UNIX you can mount a separate disk drive into the global filesystem. Windows 2000 provides this equivalent feature finally, but only if you use NTFS. I doubt Windows XP Home encourages end users to use one "C:" drive and mount other disks as a folder, but it should.

    Naturally, power users, system administrators, programmers, etc., still would benefit from the concept of a filesystem. But the millions of end-users needn't be bothered with it.

  • by erlando ( 88533 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @06:50AM (#2718959) Homepage
    If what the author of this article suggests is implemented, my life would be turning into a living hell. Multiple stacked desktops for file-navigation..? Desktops for file-navigation?

    At this time of writing I have a grand total of 4(four) icons on my desktop. Only one of these is a shortcut. I have 12 more shortcuts on my taskbar (so, I use Windows. Sue me. ;o) ). One of the more used icons on my desktop is the one opening the dazzling labyrinth that is my file-system.

    I've never really caught on to the desktop-concept. Maybe it's just me.. The desktop is the background for the windows opened by the applications I run. The harddisk on the other hand is the storage for my files (filing-cabinet anyone..?).

    The desktop is a metaphor for a physical thing. And a bad one at that. As a lot of UI-design books will tell you one should be very careful when trying to use metaphors. Have a look at Interface Hall of Shame [iarchitect.com] for some examples.

    Why do the author of the above article seem to think that multiplying an already bad interface will make it better? And even if the metaphor was a good one I've yet to see office-workers with e.g. a desk per client..

    The problem with finding the next great interface is that the fundamentals in a computer-system is not about to change. We will have (and need) a lot of files (information split into little logical parts) for a long time to come. There is no way around this. Abstracting the storage-space and placing the files on seperate desktops instead of having them in folders accessible from anywhere does not change this fact.

    • Desktop uses (Score:3, Interesting)

      by athmanb ( 100367 )
      I don't know what the original UI designers at Xerox had in their mind for the desktop, but today's use is simple:
      The desktop stores links to other resources.

      This applies to applications and to directories. The author of the original article is fundamentally wrong to say that the desktop contains the hard disk. Instead, it just contains a link to the directories "c:\" or "/home/$USER" or whatever.

      This makes perfect sense if you want quick access to your folders, exactly as most people want quick access to their favorite applications.

      However, he's right that the desktop has its limitations. It's especially stupid if you have to minimize all your windows just for the 5 second job of locating an icon and clicking on it. The taskbar of Windows 98 and the extended start menu of Windows XP do it much better...
    • by Bazzargh ( 39195 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @09:33AM (#2719276)
      Personally I use 0 (zero) icons on my desktop.

      They are BEHIND these damn window things - WTF use are they there?????

      All my shortcuts go on the menu. Where I can get them, without hiding the current app.

      Desktops are useful, in real life, when they are large enough to sit *around* your work. You can reach out and grab pens and such. Desktops, on PCs, have never yet been big enough for me to feel comfortable with more than a couple of (non-overlapping) windows up at a time. (Don't get me started on overlapping windows... grrr...)

      And I NEVER store files on the desktop. Why? Because, sonny, this is Win2K with a roaming profile. Everything you write there is synched with the server (which, half the time, is in a different city from me). T r y l o g g i n g o n t o d a.... oh feck it can I log on as you today?

      - Cantankerous Old Git
  • What I want is to know what, where and how and then be able to do something about it.

    It is all too common these days to have strange software, always in state of change and instability, to steal ("embed") other software to show some things ("Documents", "directories", "files", "web pages", ...) inside them. It only makes the confusion magnitudes worse, as it mixes applications, data, physical and logical storage and networking into one incomprehensible mess. There is nothing stable to stick to, no understandable logic to anything. It is only the mess where something resides somewhere doing something to something else while being dependent on yet something else..

    All the computing should return back into the days when the only way to manage computers was simple physical files and directories and independent applications. Even "Joe Luser" could understand that. You have a ".whatever" file, you can "open" it with "whatever" application. That's simple enough. You can see files with "file manager", you can write documents with "Typewriter", you can blowse the remote net with "Browser" throught the connection "network".. For more advanced users that would still leave the power to control everything, have options for "linking and embedding" as necessary and appropriate.

    This nut talk about desktops, blurred storage concepts and leased software is pure crap. Sure it might confuse Average Joes enough to pay even more for nothing in the short sight, but it just doesn't work for everything. Not everybody uses the computer for the same purposes in the same way. There really isn't any sense to restricting usage of a general purpose machine with artificial limits (desktops), buggy sw/hw (display adapters, drivers), physical devices (monitor/flat panels) and messed up concepts about data and applications.

    Aren't the GUIs there for communicating with users? Isn't the OS there as a base platform to run stuff on? Shouldn't somebody write a "Joe Really Dumb" application to act as a GUI for those confused with logical storage and general computing concepts? They could then limit themselves with that application to two icons and a power button if anything more is too complicated.

    Oh well, maybe I missed the point completely, or this confuse-and-conquer is just a business plan for somebody.. Whatever, it sounds like crap anyway.
  • He's wrong (Score:5, Interesting)

    by scott1853 ( 194884 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:02AM (#2718972)
    The complexities blamed on the desktop metaphor are not the fault of the metaphor itself, but of its implementation in mainstream systems. The default hard disk icon is part of the desktop metaphor. And the icon is the cause of the complexity created by the desktop.

    If the desktop metaphor is perfect, yet the "hard drive" icon is part of the metaphor, the how can he claim that the metaphor is perfect and it's the implementation that's wrong?

    Ignoring the fact that they contradict themselves in the first paragraph, there's plenty of other glaring holes in the argument.

    "The extension of the "rules of the desktop" to cover the entire capacity of the hard disk is the main reason why systems that support multiple desktops seem simpler and are easier to use and manage."

    Who says it's simpler? You still need to initially setup that desktop, which involved setting up shortcuts to locations in the file system. Try doing that without delving into the hard drive while still maintaining a super simplistic environment (i.e. no command line either). Besides, maybe I have a lot of data and need 20 desktops to organize it correctly. So instead of setting the default "open" path in the application of my choice, I would have to switch desktops to open a file. What if I want several things of different types open at once?

    "It is possible to build labyrinths of internal directories that eventually become too deep to navigate via the mouse. The feeling of such spiral filing systems is of endless depth, requiring great effort to retrieve a piece of information. It is difficult to create the same spiral feeling on the desktop."

    So sub-folders are a bad thing I guess. Yes, it's terribly confusing to have a tree like "documents/company/forms/standard contracts". That would be too confusing to navigate. But if you had someway of setting a "view" on the desktop that would be simpler. And this "view" menu would be incredibly simplistic to use and would be able to differentiate between Forms and Letters in a DOC or PDF file? Gee, that sounds like more work when I create the document too.

    "To reap the benefits of the desktop metaphor, we have to design computer systems that leave the user clearly anchored in the desktop metaphor at all times. But in the multiple desktop, you are always on a desktop and can't ever get lost inside the computer."

    Ok, but you could get lost in all the desktops you'd need to setup.

    The desktop was designed to give users quick access to common programs. You don't need every file you ever need to use, sitting on your desktop, or even some virtual desktop somewhere. Because if you only use it once every six months, you're going to forget what desktop it's on anyways. Intelligent directory trees and default "file-open" locations are the way to do it. The methods outlined in this article would require a lot of extra setup the user would have to do, and doesn't address new files being added by another user on a network.

    I guess I was really bored this morning, I didn't intend to comment that much on an opinion piece on some other site. Which makes me wonder, why are we linking to use opinions on other sites? Maybe the author is somebody I know, but isn't this like linking to a slashdot users comments?
  • by bildstorm ( 129924 ) <peter.buchy@ s h h . fi> on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:30AM (#2719026) Homepage Journal

    I get what the pundit is saying, but the idea of multiple desktops to do everything is awkward. Calling for that as a matter of usability is to fail to realise the general cluttered state most people leave their desktops.

    Yeah, getting rid of the icon is probably a good idea. It is a "box" elsewhere and it's frustrating. Most of the newbies I see go through three stages:

    1. Desktop - It all goes on the desktop until the desktop get's utterly cluttered.
    2. Menus - Once they realise they can build menus, they build menu after menu after menu.
    3. Directories - They realise that they don't need all that stuff all the time, and so, well, they learn to use directories and find it quick.

    I don't know about you, but having a directory system I can bring up on my "desktop" that lets me jump through is great. It all depends on how you use the system. But face it, as people becoem power users, the directory structure will come back again and again. Most people can't wait for tech support and thus will always migrate away from the dummy device.

  • "The default hard disk icon is part of the desktop metaphor."

    Funny, I always thought it was complementary to the desktop metaphor.

    If you're looking for ease of use for a limited set of functions, by all means put icons on the desktop, or group then into function-related folders on the desktop, or whatever. Have more than one desktop each with its own set of icons or folders for mutually exclusive functions? By all means. But do provide a reasonable way for system managers to easily organise the functions in a way that makes sense from the user's point of view. To some extent, this is already done when you (as end-user and system manager of your own personal Wintel box) install an intelligently-packaged new application and are asked whether you want an icon for it on the desktop, and where you want it to be integrated into the taskbar mechanism. Of course, some application vendors believe that their customers shouldn't have these choices, but that's another matter.

    But once you get beyond a certain number of functions, and a certain level of complexity, then direct access to the underlying hierarchical file system has a lot to recommend it.

    Just my 0.02 Euros

  • um, ok so we no longer view the data-space on the HDD as a unit to be dealt with - and we only focus on the File-space/system so as to make it less confusing....

    Some poster mentioned taht this article was refering to something along the lines of logical volumes... but what about redundancy and fault tolerance.

    regardless of what this article is suggesting (however confusing in and of itself) there will *ALWAYS* need to be the people who do look at the disk as a disk - and need to know where the shit is stored. The admins and architects of such systems.

    also - what does this mean:

    "Move the mouse beyond the boundaries of a directory"??? huh? am I missing something?

    and this:

    "But in the multiple desktop, you are always on a desktop and can't ever get lost inside the computer. " - um - but wouldnt the newbie user get lost amongst the multiple desktops? If this guy thinks that any newbie or even just a moderate user will be able to feel really comfortable in a CLI having to navigate some nebulous filesystem spread on who knows what HDDs... I think he is mistaken.

    "The use of "stacked desktops" as the overriding method of organizing " - ok so what he is saying here is that he doesnt want a bottom level "desktop" - and doesnt want some sort of "start" menu system - of file manager to navigate through and find the files/apps that he needs - he would rather have almost everything open in a window and just have to navigate through the many many things that are open...

    So I picture his desk at work just being covered in single 8x11 peices of paper and he is constantly shuffling through them - but thinks it all organized...

  • I am not sure if I misunderstood the article to say more than it did, or if most slashdot posters misunderstood it to say less. Anyway, the idea I read from the article was to combine the hierarchical structure of the directory tree with the visual clarity (for simple (L)users) of the desktop by showing every directory as a desktop, with proper icons for navigating around. Users would start with the desktop that correspond to /home/myself, but be able to move onto other desktops for specific projects (/home/myself/writing-my-book), have related files available there, and launch their applications on that desktop.

    That is not so far from how I use my 8 KDE desktops, one is always for mail, one for the web, one for VmWare (some customers still insist to pay me for coding Windows stuff), one for real programming (3 consoles: editor, compile, and misc/man/another edit/...) carefully laid out to fill the screen...

    The only problem is that with such a system the users would leave zillions of applications running everywhere. But that's why we keep getting faster computers...

  • by ZigMonty ( 524212 ) <slashdot@@@zigmonty...postinbox...com> on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @08:18AM (#2719144)
    I think the main problem with this article is that the authors have forgotten what the desktop metaphor represents. It represents a desktop (surprise!). On a real desktop, if you run out of space you start filling stuff away into folders. You DON'T buy a second desk and constantly switch between them. You certainly don't end up with dozens of desks. I have over 150,000 files. How many desktops would I need?

    Directories may not make sense to some. That's why Apple and others called them folders, as in a manila folder. You take a document off your desktop and file it away in a folder. Simple.

    Remember, the original Macs used floppy disks. You frequently had more than one inserted. They looked the same on screen as they did on your other desktop. You put stuff you didn't want anymore in the trash can. Very simple for office workers to learn.

    Getting back to the article, of course the desktop took up the whole screen. What do you want around it, the floor?! Walls?

    How does one get rid of the disk icon? I have two main internal hard drives (20GB and 30GB). How else do I tell them apart? What if I insert a zip or a CD? How do I tell them apart? Or an external FireWire or USB drive? This doesn't sound very well thought out! You *could* integrate permanent drives into one structure using mount points but how is that easier for the new comer? "Oh your second disk is mounted so that it is part of your first disk". "What?"

    Having said all this, I don't have a desktop. I use MacOSX. The only thing below the windows is a desktop picture. My hard drives are in the computer window. So, in a sense, Apple has partly phased out the desktop metaphor. It still has folders, but you can choose not to display a desktop. The new representation is a Computer with icons representing all your storage devices (similar to My Computer in Windows). This is closer to what the new, computer literate generation, mine, interprets it to be.

    In short, we don't need a metaphor anymore. You only need a metaphor when explaining to new people. Using the office as an analogy made sense when computers were new. How is an office analogy going to help a young child learn about computers?

    I'd like to see us go to a database-like idea with the ability to attach arbitrary attributes to files and replace folders with categories. A file could belong to more than one category. Related categories could have links between them. Instead of a tree you'd get more of a web. Don't know if it'd be any simpler though. For the time being the current idea works.

  • Abstractions (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Detritus ( 11846 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @08:26AM (#2719158) Homepage
    Why do we need hierarchal directories and long filenames? Starting cylinder number and track count is so much more efficient. If you can't remember where your files are, you are obviously too stupid to use a computer.

    I should be able to use a computer without knowing the details of inodes, free space bitmaps, disk partitioning, and the I/O channel configuration of the computer. It is the operating system's job to manage that stuff and hide it from the user. The user interface should present a suitable abstraction or abstractions that is not dependent on the implementation details of the computer's storage system.

  • I think a lot of people are missing the fact that the desktop does not represent a hard disk or a folder; it represents the _whole_ computer.

    The problems arise when operating systems adopting the desktop have to support parallel legacy concepts, such as Windows with it's multiple X:\ roots or Mac OS X with the Unix directory tree.

    The cleanest desktop implementation has always been the old MacOS (=9), where the desktop is consistently presented as the root of everything. Through it you can access hard disks and other storage quite naturally, and you never get lost.
  • Well, let's look at the original Macintosh, which really introduced this style. Apple took a simple operating system with DOS-like functionality (files, devices, etc.) and put a GUI on top of it that looked vaguely like what they had seen at Xerox. And the GUI even kind of represented correctly the objects that were important to the OS at the time; since the underlying OS was so simplistic, the GUI could afford to be simplistic as well.

    Fast forward to 2001 and you have an underlying OS with sophisticated name spaces, networking, hypertext, and access to gigabytes of data. Icons representing devices and a handful of files don't cut it anymore, if they ever did.

    This is, of course, also why trying to adopt the Apple GUI to UNIX machines has failed so miserably in the past. It wasn't that the Apple GUI was so super-sophisticated that nobody could copy it. Rather, UNIX has always been too complex for the Apple GUI to represent well.

    So, where does that leave us? Windows, Gnome, and KDE are slavishly trying to copy the original Apple paradigm, putting file icons and link icons everywhere, leading to a complex mess. Yes, this needs to go. Trouble is, while there are a bunch of better ideas, the one thing that users hate more than a bad UI is a UI that's different from what they are used to. So, all the good ideas that are out there (and have been out there for a couple of decades) have a really hard time in the market. It's not better ideas that's needed, what's needed is better ideas that are also palatable to existing users. And that, nobody has come up with yet.

  • It is possible to build labyrinths of internal directories that eventually become too deep to navigate via the mouse.

    So, it is possible that you might forget once in a while, where you put something? Big deal, same thing happens in the real world. There I have, next to my desktop, a closet. And a floor. And a briefcase. And a toolbox. And more. And that tiny jumper I need to put my harddisk in slave-mode might be in a box, or in a small plastic bag, or on the floor. And that bag might be in another bag, or in a box, or under a pile of papers. And that container might be in the toolbox, or on the floor, or on the desktop. Come to think of it, didn't I throw away that jumper a couple of weeks ago?

    A mouse (or cat) might traverse the mess around my real-life desktop, but it certainly is a labyrinth... Now, where did I put that harddisk? :-)

  • In Defense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Marcus Brody ( 320463 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @08:41AM (#2719180) Homepage
    Most posts I have just read are pretty critical of this guys suggestion. I have to agree with them. I dont see a great problem with the "filing cabinet/russian doll hybrid" paradigm of the filesystem. It seems pretty logical and inutuitive to me.

    However, I think I should have a go at arguing for this guys idea, as nobody else is!

    On my computer, I use multiple desktops. I have one for work stuff - star office, kpresenter etc. I have another desktop for multimedia - xmms, mplayer, realplayer etc, a 3rd desktop for gaming, and a 4th (spare!) desktop. Yes, I am a bit wierd and anal (see yesterdays discussion about autism!). Furthermore, I usually organise my linux consoles in a similar way - tty1-2 for root access, the rest for userland stuff, another one for tailing logs and a vt100 open at the end (comes in usefull on occasion).

    I find this logical division of "desktops" enables me to better organise myself. I dont see why MS Windows couldnt enable this for Harry Homeowner. Somewhere on the taskbar is a shortcut for desktops. It is trivial to change/add/remove desktops. When you install a game, it is "installed" to the game desktop. There is a shortcut on the desktop/start bar for that desktop. The working directory for that game is on the desktop. For many users, who just need Office, Explorer, winamp and a few games this might work.

    However, I can think of a number of problems that would need to be overcome. What about generic applications, which you may need on a number of desktops? What about applications which dont fit into any desktop category? What happens when the desktop starts getting to cluttered? What happens if you want to open Word and that RPG on the same desktop (i.e. so you could copy and paste the final text into word, to prove you had completed the game to an equally sad friend)? I'm sure most of these problems are trivial to overcome, but you will surely encounter further difficulties.

    Finally, I dont think you can ever get rid of the Hard Drive icon. Yeah, just hide it away, so Harry doesnt get confused by it. But it still needs to be there for power users.
  • Looking for the perfect desktop may be a good idea... but I think that if I'm quite happy with my Desktop now, it's because many years of tries. First I started with Windows 3.11, adding PCTools was a great enhancement because I could begin to make some changes.

    MSWindows have added some interestings changes, like a "real" top level desktop, a taskbar, a quicklanch bar, a start menu, a trash... And now that I'm using Debian with Ice, I choose to reuse some os these ideas, suppress some, to obtain MY perfect desktop.

    And it's the same for the user community: God created the taskbar, everybody used it, some linux GUI used it too, so God saw that it was good.

    It's a kind of natural evolution...

  • The Good Ol' Days (Score:5, Interesting)

    by robbway ( 200983 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @09:27AM (#2719254) Journal
    The article is simply nostalgia wrapped in a thesis. I think the argument for killing the hard drive icon is very valid, but the rest of the paper devolves into the meanderings about desktops.

    Multiple desktops are simply windows. Call them whatever you want, but the authors want a windowing motif without a base window to throw junk onto.

    The other problem is the incredible naivetee of this statement from the article: Add unlimited files without fear of clutter. (You can change views in a directory.) The first time you used a Disk Operating System, you had a tendancy to throw all of your files into one directory. That's my definition of clutter, and it is no different than the desktop paradigm where junk files reside.

    I think the authors are forgetting history and the reasons why we don't use bare-bones DOS to operate our applications. They're also forgetting that with a computer monitor, if you remove all of your desktops, what's left? there has to be some basic background, even if it has no functionality.
  • by Junta ( 36770 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @09:42AM (#2719317)
    They never present real world experiences that collaborate their claims that the desktop metaphor, as is, is "dead". As the author said himself, Apple was going to use a NeXT like filebrowser, but decided against it with a "chorus of protest from the users". Users are *not*, for the most part having difficulty with the current paradigm, it works well. Experts spend all the time complaining that the users have it too hard, and users are simply wishing that companies leave well enough alone.

    His proposal of imposing artificial, view based limits on the organazation of files is ludicrous. He spends his time complaining that while their is a screen with a Desktop, it's not consistant with directory structure, not like we have it in real life. Last time I checked, people working on stuff on their desks pull them out of a file cabinet and put them back when finished, more like the computer paradigm. It makes sense to store your information differently from the way we work on a desktop. A strategy like he suggests would impose a huge penalty in terms of time to organize and retrieve data that is not currently on the Desktop, and greatly limits the amount of data that can be in one space, even if the relationships demand that they *should* be together, regardless of "icon clutter".

    All these self-proclaimed experts need to be hit a few times with a clue stick. Users like the paradigm the way it is, it is not too complicated.
  • by ACK!! ( 10229 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @09:43AM (#2719322) Journal
    In the next generation of file managers the hard disk icon concept should go away.

    Whether I am in KDE or Ximian Gnome, I always make my home dir my desktop. The place where I keep file IS my desktop and the problems with these concepts are thrown away. This is not a big issue.

    Under Nautilus with my home dir designated as my desktop, I can right click and mount volumes that are not essentially part of my essential OS environment (removable media for example) keeping these things seperate makes sense.

    One of the filesystem concepts I loved when I first got into the *Nixes was the idea that everything extends from root. If I have an NFS mounted file system from a system two buildings away it appeared to the end user as just another directory in their tree (No C:\ drives and D:\ drives etc...).

    The man makes good points and these points are being addressed by people like the folks working on KDE and Gnome that give you the flexibility of NOT creating some extra space called the desktop that does not correspond with the rest of your file structure.

    The idea of your home directory as your desktop (as the place where you keep your files) is one that works suprisingly well in a visual GUI format.

    My wife with no big *Nix experience loves the idea because she does not have to go hunting for files she dragged to the desktop to organize them in her folders off the home dir or she can pick them right up off her desktop if she needs them.

    This is an idea that is good for experienced and novice users.
  • by spike666 ( 170947 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @09:57AM (#2719369) Journal
    like everyone else who tried reading the article, i was struck by how disjointed it was.
    at first you arent sure what metaphor he is whinging about, but then you realize that he does have a point.

    we need a new metaphor. its true. we do. and its not really us who need new metaphors, its the typical user community. the ones who we usually bitch about - the AOL users of the world. and since we're all such ass-kick programmers (l33t c0d3 h4>but what i would really really like is to have the desktop not be a file metaphor, but a notes metaphor - in other words, kill the desktop and make it a cube wall metaphor. one where i can stick up notes and reminders and post its. where i can "hang" my clock, my calendar, or maybe where i can hang a shelf to put books and manuals at.

    I've always found the "Desktop" concept somewhat difficult. it doesnt feel like a dsektop, its standing up in front of me. why would i be looking down at it? (i know, i know, pre computers we used to write by looking down at the desktop, but i always focused on what i was doing, not on the things strewn about the 5 foot wide space...)
    actually, one metaphor that i did like was the old Magic Cap os from General Magic [generalmagic.com] it used a Desktop [emulation.net] metaphor and also a Hallway [emulation.net] metaphor. these actually work when you realize that people shouldnt have to think to use the computer, they should just be able to use it.

    Make computers easier to use, and we'll have more people using computers and doing more with them. To me, thats what makes a GUI good. Thats why i think people liked the mac originally. you didnt have to learn how to use it, it was all presented for you in a graphical and friendly manner - as opposed to a command line.
    The GUI has to evolve again. lets go for something even easier to use.
  • by Uttles ( 324447 ) <uttles@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @10:55AM (#2719609) Homepage Journal
    The vague space of the hard disk should not exist for you. Ideally, your machine should be a collection of desktops that you have created and named, that are easy to track via a menu or toggle button, and are each understandable because they follow the same rules and offer the same limitations.

    The hard disk icon was an error that should disappear from mainstream computer systems. Multiple desktops should be implemented across the board to simplify the life of casual users everywhere.

    What? I don't think this person has ever done anything useful with a computer. I have so much I want to say to rip this apart but I just can't organize it all in my head. I'll just say a few quick things:

    He's right about one thing: Most OS's don't implement the desktop idea correctly. What he's wrong about is his idea of a desktop. The whole concept, started by Mac OS, was that you have a desk, and the desk has drawers. You go into the folders within the drawers (directories within the hard drives) to get the files you want to use, and then you take them out and they are on your desktop. Macintosh still is the best at this. Their entire OS is extremely easy to grasp, even in OSX, only now it's much more powerful to the advanced user. Windows is just a cheap immitation. Linux is... well it's great, but it's desktop idea was meant for functionality and power, not casual use (at least in early distros.)

    Now we come to the suggested desktop idea. This is ridiculous. Having multiple desktops that you toggle to, having no directory structure at all? Do you all realize how ridiculously point and click that would be? No longer could you go in a directory tree browsing program and efficiently move things, you would have to slect them with the mouse on one desktop, do the copy command, tab over to the desktop you want, then do the paste command. That's right, no more "cp" for you linux people, it's all point and click... That's just not going to fly. It's not powerful enough. The other thing is, think about this metaphorically. Multiple layered desktops... what in the hell can you compare that to? Having like 10 desks in a circle and you spin around to see which one you'll use? Stacking 10 desks on top of each other? I just don't see how that's easier.

    Granted, I like the multiple desktops in Linux. I use them to have multiple full screen applications running at the same time. They have many other uses. On the other hand, I use the file tree browser, or the command line, to do all of my file management. It simply is the most convenient and powerful way, and if a user can't learn to browse a file tree... well... they need to pick up a new hobby/occupation.
  • by tarsi210 ( 70325 ) <nathanNO@SPAMnathanpralle.com> on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @11:41AM (#2719841) Homepage Journal
    From the: Well,-can't-you-handle-chewing-gum-and-dancing? dept.

    The idea behind this article is that there are too many spatial configurations in a operating system for a user to be able to cope and concentrate on information flowing from one to the other. The desktop represents one type of spatial configuration (limited movement, space, etc.) while the hard disk icon represents another (limitless space, movement beyond the edges, etc.). The author proposes that it is asking too much of users to be able to make these spatial conversions.

    Now, let's think about this. Don't you already do spatial conversions all the time? You think of a house, that's in 3D, usually (in your mind). You go to an architecht, he draws the house in 2D (on paper), maybe with some 3D perspectives, but still in 2D. You take this to a contractor, and they construct the house in 3D! This is spatial conversion, folks. We all learned to do it as children, converting the spaces of normal paper into 3D houses, turkeys, etc....whatever those projects were in 3rd grade.

    It still comes down to a learning curve and ability scale. Most everyone will learn a system faster if they don't have to do spatial conversions. Therefore, for the ease of learning, such a "desktop only" system might be pertinent. However, computers are complex things and are expected to encompass a lot of different information in a lot of different configurations. Limiting yourself to one spatial relationship will only limit you in the end as to what you can store, manage, and organize. Having both the desktop and the hard drive paradigms to manage information will result in the ability to store the vast amounts of different information available.
  • by WyldOne ( 29955 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @01:02PM (#2720427) Homepage
    Both the desktop and a folder metaphor is inacurate. Nobody but me understands MY desktop, but everybody understands a forest.

    Until we store files on the harddrives differently (non-hierarchical) there will always be a diference in the WYSIHWTDI 'what you see is where the data is' views.

    A disk is equivilant to a tree. A tree has branches(path), and leaves (files). In a forest I can see all the leaves or just one branch, or a leaf. If I prune a tree that branch is gone. If I move a branch, I cut and graft (not paste) Vines are interlinks between fiels, and sometimes trees. Devices are fruits(mp3 devices) and or flowers/nuts.

    Now when I see a 3D version of my forest then it will be good.

    Trees was the original metaphor.

    Now, where was that hedge trimmer?
  • by fleener ( 140714 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @01:05PM (#2720436)
    The average person wants a super-simple, easy-to-use PC. (Slashdotters are definitely not average.)

    Most people do not understand file management or how their operating system works. They identify only with the applications they use. That is why when you ask someone what OS they run they will tell you "Office 2000" or somesuch. The applications are the OS to these people.

    In that respect, a streamlined OS for the average user should be transparent. The user should spend little time thinking about where files are stored or what folders are where. Get them into their applications and make locating files easy. The less time spent moving files around or making your icons line up pretty, the better.

    We need the Beatles. They could not read sheet music and did not know they were breaking all the rules for song writing. They wrote new rules that worked. We need a new OS written by someone whose ideas are not hindered by the assumptions that have brought us to where we are today.
  • by GiMP ( 10923 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @02:50PM (#2721304)
    I have for a long time thought that having desktop icons was a dumb idea. REMOVE them. They are the complete problem here, if the root-window didn't try to emulate a directory folder; there would be no confusion.

    This is how it should be: there is a panel at one of the sides of the screen, the rest is a "workspace" where programs visually reside.

    The panel/dock should provide some kind of visual clue that things can be added and removed from it. It will now be seen like an advanced kind of menu, rather then an extension of the filesystem.
    There really is NO reason to confuse users with having launchers for programs in the same physical area as where programs run; It should be like a windshield in a car, keeping the programs away from the driver.. The controls (and launchers) should all be on the inside of the windshield.

    Computere are a lot more like cars then you think.
  • by DennyK ( 308810 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @02:51PM (#2721313)
    Is Mr. Loebl really thinking about what he is suggesting here?

    He says that the directory system is confusing because it is limitless, and suggests some vaguely defined notion of unlimited space. So he advocates using "desktops", which have fixed "physical" limits. But then to get around the obvious problems with having such limits, he suggests using many virtual desktops accessed by some sort of menu or taskbar. Um...hello? The only difference between a hierarchial directory structure (a collection of folders inside one single "root" directory, each of which can contain files or more folders) and a system of multiple virtual desktops (a collection of "desktop" areas inside a single logical collection, each of which can contain files or folders) is that the desktops have artificial and arbitraty limits on how much stuff they can hold. How exactly does limiting the number of items you can place in a unit make it less confusing to use? Is it worse to have to search through 100 files in one directory to find what you're looking for than to navigate through ten different desktops with ten files each? And if it is, why can the user not simply create ten NEW directories, if that is how they wish to organize their stuff?

    Basically, the desktop system Loebel is proposing is a hierarchial directory structure where the directories don't have scroll bars. Where is the logic in that?

    As for making computers easier to use...that's a very hard task. As a rule, the more a particular tool can accomplish, the more complex it is to use. A computer is a tool that has virtually limitless applications, and as a result, it is a complicated tool to use. The problem is, end users want computers to be as simple as a toaster to operate, but they also want all of the functionality of a full-fledged computer system. Sorry, folks, but such a thing simply isn't possible. You can have ease of use or you can have a broad range of functionality...but you can't have both. That's not to say that it's not possible to make current systems *easier* to use while preserving functionality, but a computer will never be a toaster, nor should it be.

    A hierarchial file system is not that hard to learn to use. Yes, it does require some time and effort to learn, but it is far from impossible. A complete novice can't turn their computer on for the first time and instantly know how the Windows file system works, but it is certainly possible to learn. Anyone who wants to use a computer should devote some time to learning the basics. It's no different than driving a car or using any other complicated device. You don't sit behind the wheel of a car and instantly know all of the traffic laws, or all of the functions of your vehicle. You had to study them first, and learn about them. The same goes for using a computer. And you don't have to know how compile your own kernel or write shell scripts to use a computer to write e-mail, any more than you need to know the inner workings of your car's engine to drive it. These more complicated things can be learned later, if you have the interest and the time, but there are still some basics that you should know when you start using a computer.

  • by talks_to_birds ( 2488 ) on Tuesday December 18, 2001 @07:36PM (#2723534) Homepage Journal
    I mean, really:
    • "It is possible to build labyrinths of internal directories that eventually become too deep to navigate via the mouse.

    What the hell does that mean? That there's some point where you just can't click the mouse just *one* more time?

    • "...The feeling of such spiral filing systems is of endless depth, requiring great effort to retrieve a piece of information. It is difficult to create the same spiral feeling on the desktop."

    "Spiraling file systems..."

    God, I hope I'm not around to watch this guy freak out the first time he comes across a self-referential symbolic link..

    And we continue:

    • "With directories you can:
    • Add unlimited files without fear of clutter. (You can change views in a directory.)

    • Move the mouse past the boundaries of a directory.

    • Add, delete, and "move" directories "anywhere" inside the hard disk. "

    But wait a minute! Just a moment ago we were spiraling downward into a maelstrom of "endless depth" from which no mouse could escape, let alone get us into in the first place...

    Which is it?

    • "The vague space of the hard disk should not exist for you. Ideally, your machine should be a collection of desktops that you have created and named, that are easy to track via a menu or toggle button, and are each understandable because they follow the same rules and offer the same limitations."

    What has this guy been smoking?

    A hard drive is "vague"?

    Funny. I've always found cd /var/log/snort, for example, to be pretty goddam specific.

    But maybe I'm missing something...

    Ah! here's a hint:

    • "Daniel Loebl has worked with the Macintosh for over eight years for design, print and now Internet."

    One of them Mac-using graphic "artists"



User hostile.