forward thinking about the UI

Samuel Thurston, III sam.thurston at
Sat Nov 21 21:25:38 GMT 2009

On Fri, Nov 20, 2009 at 4:21 PM, Michael Haney <thezorch at> wrote:
> On Fri, Nov 20, 2009 at 12:38 PM, Samuel Thurston, III
> <sam.thurston at> wrote:
>> One of the things that continually bothers me about both gnome and kde
>> is that they both strongly mimic an established paradigm in UI design.
>>  Supporters of either project will argue that a) familiarity makes
>> adoption less traumatic for new users, and b) that there are many
>> differences, primarily configurability, so you're free to rearrange
>> things as you will.
>> I do exactly that: I've disabled the bottom default task bar in gnome
>> and replaced it with AWN and I am on the brink of disabling the top
>> bar and replacing it with a combination of gnome do and gdesklets or
>> screenlets.
>> But I can't shake the feeling that the whole idea of rectangular
>> windows with a "handle" at the top and virtual desktops and all of
>> that is very antiquated.  I very much like my cubed desktop that
>> deforms into a cylinder when working with it...
>> but what if instead a cylinder it was a sphere, and instead of having
>> discrete workspaces it had configurable "placemarks" on it that you
>> could jump to with keyboard shortcuts?
>> There's one idea anyway.
>> Are there existing projects or even just concepts that eschew the old
>> desktop paradigm for something fresh?  Or even that handle that old
>> paradigm in a fresh way?
>> Do any of you have wild and crazy ideas about how window management
>> might be done differently?
> There is one idea I've envisioned for a novel I'm working on.  Why not
> eliminate the idea of a desktop and make the large 3D void in which
> applications would float as 2D sheets.  You could rearrange the
> applications to sit anywhere in the space.  The apps could surround
> you and instead of tasking switching you'd simply change your
> viewpoint in the the 3D space.  Its sort of like taking desktop and
> turning it into a Second Life-type of environment.  Such a UI could be
> designed to work with VR goggles and gloves loaded with sensors and
> feedback actuators to simulate tactile sensations.  Something similar
> to this has already been experimented with at MIT.

I know of two projects that were attempting to go about this in
different ways.  3Dwm was basically a window manager designed to work
in a third dimension.  3Dsia was more aimed at creating the
gibsonesque "cyberspace" with network visualization and so on.

At last check both projects have been abandoned.

> You wouldn't need a keyboard because it would be there right in front
> of you in the 3D space.  You're fingers would feel the sensation of
> hitting keys but in reality they aren't there.

I'm not sure how practical this is... even if the technology arrives
in the next few years it won't be affordable any time over the next
decade.  It's not a terrible idea, I just don't think we're ready to
pitch the actual keyboard as part of the interface quite yet.

> Your hand would act as
> the mouse and the goggles would have accelerometers for head tracking
> so you can just turn your head, look at an application to bring it
> into focus and work within it as long as you are looking at it.  Then,
> turn your focus to another application instantly just by moving your
> head.
> With our current level of technology I estimate we're about 5 years
> from having something like this.

I remember a lot of people saying that same thing around 1990-1995.

> We already have sensor gloves with
> tactile feedback and ultra-lightweight VR goggles and tiny
> high-precision accelerometers.

I don't know anyone who has that stuff.  A quick research shows that 2
cheap gloves (no feedback) and 800x600 hmd would run around $3500 usd.
 put another way, about double what a decent gaming PC costs.  This
tells me we're still a good 15-20 years away from this even being
semi-common.  I believe the multitouch screen will become ubiquitous

And, i can't help but picture the number of kids i see in my local
coffee shop tapping away at their laptops instead wearing dark-glasses
and waving wildly at the air... it's kind of a ridiculous picture.

> Someone on posted a story
> about a group of researchers who developed a way to not only receive
> messages from the brain also transmit them as well using light and
> electrodes.

This would seem to me to eliminate the need for physical gesture as an
input device, but this tech is a lot farther off than the gloves and

> Could this lead to the real Matrix?  Not as a virtual
> prison for humanity like in the movies but as a digital playground
> where anything was possible.  The ultimate MMO.
> Anyway, the whole 3D virtual space UI using the keyboard and mouse
> would be interesting.

Sure it's interesting. I was thinking more along the line of
immediate-term interface changes.

For instance in the new google chrome OS, all applications live on a
tab.  it's basically a taskbar, where all apps are maximized.  it's an
interesting idea.

When I was talking about the sphere, maybe I was getting ahead of
myself.  on an x-windows desktop you have "real" (screen) resolution
and then you have a virtual screen resolution, which results in the
virtual desktop paradigm.  But is there any reason the virtual size
can't just be "unlimited?" where you could traverse a virtual desktop
in any direction as far as you'd like? (so more like an expanded
version of the "wall" switcher)

And what do we do with window handles?  i mean, the bar at the top is
pretty traditional, moving it to the side doesn't make a lot of
difference.  getting rid of the bar isn't a bad idea. or having window
bars that "autohide" like you can set your taskbars to do might be

i would like to see a linux desktop environment move more toward the
mac-os "everything in vectors" paradigm.

I feel like with applications, ubuntu exceeds the competiton.  With
configurability, it exceeds the competition.  It feels like in desktop
design, it trails behnd pretty far. Yes the 3d stuff is neat but most
of it is just eyecandy. the general linux-desktop layout (gnome/kde)
hasn't really changed in 15-20 years or so.

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