replacing the desktop metaphor

replacing the desktop metaphor

Post by Dr. Jeffrey Bon » Sun, 02 Dec 1990 21:18:00



I have an invitation for net readers - create a metaphor for computing
systems that goes beyond the desktop cliche.  Four years ago, Apple
had something with the Macintosh desktop: a new way to think about
computing.  Now, everyone is copying the desktop: Microsoft, IBM,
AT&T.  Even the new NeXT machine provides little more than a
desktop with some cute simulated depth.

Marshall McLuhan said that a new medium always began by
imitating the old medium: cow paths were paved to make roads for
the "horseless carriage", film began by putting a camera in front of a
play, and finally, computer screens now look like a desktop.  What if
we really let go into our new medium; what should a computer work
space really look like?

William Gibson described a *space where computer cowboys
shared a:

"consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of
legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught
mathematical concepts ... A graphic representation of data
abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human
system.  Unthinkable complexity.  Lines of light ranged in the
nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data.  Like
city lights, receding ..."  (pg 51, Ace paperback edition of
Neuromancer)

What does your *space, or whatever you would call it, look like.  
I'm interested in suggestions that are practical and serious, in
particular, suggestions constrained by current technology in screens,
keyboards, mice, etc.  I'm also interested in suggestions that are
fanciful and poetic.

We get to create a medium from scratch - what should it look like.
Note: please mail your suggestions to me directly.  I will post a
collection of the results.

Send suggestions to:


or, using normal mail:

        Jeffrey Bonar
        708 LRDC
        University of Pittsburgh
        Pittsburgh, PA  15260

 
 
 

replacing the desktop metaphor

Post by Cory Kem » Sun, 02 Dec 1990 17:59:00


Sorry that this is so long.


Quote:

>I have an invitation for net readers - create a metaphor for computing
>systems that goes beyond the desktop cliche.
[...]
>                                            what should a computer work
>space really look like?

>William Gibson described a *space...

(I ignored the request to e-mail on the subject, 'cause I think that this
needs a wider discussion)

Up until about four years ago, all interaction to a computer was through
a single linear path (well, two actually).  The characters were typed on
the keyboard, and characters appeared on the screen.  The UNIX especially
is designed around this concept of a serial communication line.  It's
networking utilities (rsh, rlogin, rcp, etc) are the utilities that are
implied by this.  

About a year ago, there was an idea for networking the mac (actually, I think
it was for a multiuser mac) that included the concept of a primative *-
space.  It was based on the desktop metaphor of the mac.  

The idea was to extend the desktop of the mac they way it is done with
multiple moniters on a mac II.  Give each user their own mouse/keyboard.
If a user wanted, he could walk around the extended desktop with the mouse
the same way that is done with Close View.  Also, the user could pass a window
to someone else's desktop so that they could work on the application as well.

Each user could of course customize their own desktop much the way that
is done now.  

What I would like to see is the desktop metaphor extended into 3D, say
for example, an office.  You would have a desktop, a trashcan, a phone,
an inbasket/outbasket, a filesystem, etc.  Each of the services that are
offered by the system are represented as an object in the office.  If you
go out through the door, you find yourself in the hall (network), and from
there can go into someone else's office (the outbasket & phone act in a
predictable manner).

It'll be expensive (in terms of cpu time/bandwidth) but I think that it will
be worth it in the long run.  The way that you interact with the computer
in part determines the ways that you will consider using it.  (ex: desktop
publishing out of the Mac)

Comments?

--
Cory (...your bravest dreams, your worst nightmare...) Kempf
UUCP: encore.com!gloom!cory
        "...it's a mistake in the making."    -KT

 
 
 

replacing the desktop metaphor

Post by Ken Colli » Sun, 02 Dec 1990 18:58:00




> >I have an invitation for net readers - create a metaphor for computing
> >systems that goes beyond the desktop cliche.
> [...]
> >                                               what should a computer work
> >space really look like?

> >William Gibson described a *space...

> What I would like to see is the desktop metaphor extended into 3D, say
> for example, an office.  You would have a desktop, a trashcan, a phone,
> an inbasket/outbasket, a filesystem, etc.  Each of the services that are
> offered by the system are represented as an object in the office.  If you
> go out through the door, you find yourself in the hall (network), and from
> there can go into someone else's office (the outbasket & phone act in a
> predictable manner).

To take your idea a bit further how about getting rid of the CRT display
and creating a holographic display which could be projected anywhere
in your office (or workspace) that is convenient.  When your computer is
not in use (if that is possible) none of your desk space would be taken up.

You would even be able
to determine the metaphor that gets projected.  Say, Cory's idea of the
office with the doors and hallways, etc.  Or possibly a "zoomed" view of
the desktop with all of it's accouterments.  Manipulation of this projection
would be the user's choice of a standard keyboard or some sort of pointing
device.  Perhaps we could even come up with a way that the user could
physically manipulate the holographic characters.  

Remember the chess game in one of the Star Wars movies, where the holographic
images battled one another until one was "killed"?  If Lucas Films can
do it, it must be possible! :-)

Ken Collier
College of Engineering and Technology
Northern Arizona University
Flagstaff, Arizona

 
 
 

replacing the desktop metaphor

Post by Howard A. Landm » Sun, 02 Dec 1990 22:25:00



>What I would like to see is the desktop metaphor extended into 3D, say
>for example, an office.  You would have a desktop, a trashcan, a phone,
>an inbasket/outbasket, a filesystem, etc.  Each of the services that are
>offered by the system are represented as an object in the office.  If you
>go out through the door, you find yourself in the hall (network), and from
>there can go into someone else's office (the outbasket & phone act in a
>predictable manner).

Yes, but if I'm alternately working in my office and someone else's far away,
I want to be able to switch back and forth quickly.  How about teleport
booths instead of hallways?

(Sorry this isn't followed up to alt.*punk, but Sun's news server
won't allow posting to alt groups.)

        Howard A. Landman

 
 
 

replacing the desktop metaphor

Post by Remy Sanouill » Sun, 02 Dec 1990 23:58:00


[Previous article omitted.]

Quote:

>About a year ago, there was an idea for networking the mac (actually, I think
>it was for a multiuser mac) that included the concept of a primative *-
>space.  It was based on the desktop metaphor of the mac.  

>The idea was to extend the desktop of the mac they way it is done with
>multiple moniters on a mac II.  Give each user their own mouse/keyboard.
>If a user wanted, he could walk around the extended desktop with the mouse
>the same way that is done with Close View.  Also, the user could pass a window
>to someone else's desktop so that they could work on the application as well.

>Each user could of course customize their own desktop much the way that
>is done now.  

>What I would like to see is the desktop metaphor extended into 3D, say
>for example, an office.  You would have a desktop, a trashcan, a phone,
>an inbasket/outbasket, a filesystem, etc.  Each of the services that are
>offered by the system are represented as an object in the office.  If you
>go out through the door, you find yourself in the hall (network), and from
>there can go into someone else's office (the outbasket & phone act in a
>predictable manner).

>It'll be expensive (in terms of cpu time/bandwidth) but I think that it will
>be worth it in the long run.  The way that you interact with the computer
>in part determines the ways that you will consider using it.  (ex: desktop
>publishing out of the Mac)

>Comments?

>--
>Cory (...your bravest dreams, your worst nightmare...) Kempf
>UUCP: encore.com!gloom!cory
>    "...it's a mistake in the making."    -KT

This is basically the subject of my PhD dissertation. It extends
Fred Thompson's "New World of Computing (tm)" natural language system
to a host of networked users. Each user works in a "context", basically
his environment with his customized slang based on his native language,
(currently the system understands English, French and Italian but other
tongues are in the works.)

But the user can open up his context to the rest of the world using
several different methods. One is called "basing" and involves
incorporating another context (i.e. Dow Jones, Sears catalog) by
creating virtual links to it.

My role is allowing users to share their contexts which contain
data base objects in several different mediatic forms (entities,
texts, pictures, sound recordings, etc...) by opening up a common
window where each user retains his/her means of control. They each
have a cursor, mouse pointer or whatever pointing device their
computer supports, and a voice link is opened for direct communication.
This allows, for example, a team of designers scattered all over the
world to all lean over the same blueprint, give advice, make changes,
querry the data base to find who is affected by the change, get them
in on the meeting and send the revised project to manufacturing.

If all goes well, my prototype should be working in a few months.
The way we see it, this is going to be the next mutation of the
telephone and computer into one standard device in every home.
Seing how the previous mutation (the Minitel in France) has
generated such a thrill in the general french user community,
there is little doubt that we are heading for some exciting days.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Pasadena, CA 91125                   |              ...seismo!cit-vax!remy
Tel. (818) 356-6262                  |                              

 
 
 

replacing the desktop metaphor

Post by -for inetd server comma » Mon, 03 Dec 1990 00:14:00


I think people are getting a little too caught up in using metaphors.
In the past, there were a few successful uses of metaphores to
describe how systems worked, for example, the flow of a conversation
at a party was used to describe how Ethernet works, or the analogy of
a windowing system to an office desktop.  In those cases, the
metaphore helped the user understand a complex system by equating it
to a complex system the he or she already understands.  

It seems to me that there is a trend towards finding a metaphor that
fits the problem (computer interfaces or whatever) and then using that
as a specification for implementing a solution.  Metaphores are useful
for communicating understanding of complex systems but they should not
(in my opinion) be used for design of systems.  The odds are against
finding a real world system (model) that fits the needs of the user
and the limitations of current computer technology.  What seems to be
happening now is that people are trying to "force fit" metaphores to
the task.  For example, I think the idea of extending the desk top
metaphore to an office model replete with rooms and hallways is
absurd.  Why force a user to do do a lot of "walking around" just
because it nicely fits a metaphore?  True, the office metaphore makes
the description of a complex system easier (easier for the designer,
that is) but it isn't necessarily better for the user.  I think human
interface designers should spend more time learning how to effectively
communicate (using metaphores if only if needed) and less time trying
to avoid the communication problem by modeling computer interaction
systems after existing real world systems.

So there, I've said it, and I feel better.  I guess I'll sit back and
warm my feet with the flameage.  :-)

                                                        Stank

US Mail: Stan Kalinowski, Tektronix, Inc.      
         Information Display Group, Interactive Technologies Division
         PO Box 1000, MS 61-028, Wilsonville OR 97070   Phone:(503)-685-2458
uucp:    {ucbvax,decvax,allegra,uw-beaver}!tektronix!orca!stank

 
 
 

replacing the desktop metaphor

Post by Matt Land » Sun, 02 Dec 1990 01:40:00




>>What I would like to see is the desktop metaphor extended into 3D, say
>>for example, an office.  You would have a desktop, a trashcan, a phone. . .

>Yes, but if I'm alternately working in my office and someone else's far away,
>I want to be able to switch back and forth quickly.  How about teleport
>booths instead of hallways?

This is beginning to sound in some ways like a network-distributed version
of Rooms, the new "desktop thing" from ParcPlace.

If you haven't seen/heard of Rooms, you should look into it.  It presents
you with multiple workspaces, called rooms, each of which contains the set
of tools commonly used for doing some job (i.e., a collection of windows
and programs).  There are doors for going from room to room, bags in which
you can carry things from one room into another, and pockets in which you
can put things that you want to follow you around (like a clock, or your
phone) as you move from room to room.
--
 Matt Landau                    Waiting for a flash of enlightenment

 
 
 

replacing the desktop metaphor

Post by osm.. » Sun, 02 Dec 1990 05:51:00


[replacing the desktop metaphor, for heaven's sake]

I've often wondered if wireless technology would ever hit computers. Many
top rock and roll bands, for example have a little 3" antenna sticking out of
their electric guitars instead of a clumsy cable. Then there are wireless
telephones, not to mention all kinds of "remote controls" that work via
infrared pulses. So how about a wireless keyboard and/or mouse?

To go the route:

Flat-screen monitor 2 inches thick, 3 feet square. Hang it on the wall. The
CPU and magnetic/optical storage device (!) are stuck under a desk or something.
The keyboard has a trackball on one end of it, and interfaces with a
small infrared sensor in one corner of the monitor. Want to use the computer?
Take the keyboard out of your desk drawer, hit the "on" button, and compute
away. When you're finished, hit "off" and chuck the keyboard back into the
desk drawer, your briefcase, or whatever.

A monitor as described is a ways down the road, for sure, but I don't know
why a wireless keyboard would be far-fetched. It'd only have to send a
hundred or so infrared (or other) pulses: one for each ASCII character.
There are video/audio remotes on the market right now that do more than that.

Ron

=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+=+

>  Ron Morgan      {ames, utah-cs, uunet, gatech}!cs.utexas.edu!ut-emx!osmigo  <
>  Univ. of Texas    {harvard, pyramid, sequent}!cs.utexas.edu!ut-emx!osmigo   <


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replacing the desktop metaphor

Post by John B. Nag » Sun, 02 Dec 1990 06:04:00


       One can get carried away with mapping information into an illusion of
physical reality.  I've seen a number of examples of this in research
systems.  The architect of Microsoft Windows once was involved with the
development of a word processor in which one deleted words by dragging
them to the "trash can".  This proved not to be a useful concept.  At
Xerox PARC, I've seen a system in which windows and objects on the screen
have gravity, inertia, friction, and resiliency.  Move a window with the
mouse, release it while it's still moving, and it continues to move until
it hits something, then bounces.  Cute, but not useful.  The VPL people
tout the notion of programming by wiring functional units together with
"wires" on-screen.  This may appeal to the fraction of the population
that enjoys wire-wrapping.  A version of this concept for the little
ones is already available, called Robot Odessey.  This game, from The
Learning Company, allows kids to wire up simple robots with sensors,
"reaction jets", bumpers, and such, interconnected with logic built up
from AND and OR gates, flip-flops and inverters.  One can even create
new ICs; enough real estate is available in an IC for about a dozen
components.  An amusing game, but a painful way to get work done.

      More later if the dialog gets serious.

                                        John Nagle

 
 
 

replacing the desktop metaphor

Post by Randy Rickle » Sun, 02 Dec 1990 14:36:00


Quote:> [references to other article deleted]
> Flat-screen monitor 2 inches thick, 3 feet square. Hang it on the wall. The
> CPU and magnetic/optical storage device (!) are stuck under a desk or something.

What about replacing the entire top of a desk with some type of flat display?
Then add a touch-screen mechanism to drag papers, forms, etc. across the desk
top to work on them.  (Then your electronic desktop could become as cluttered
as the physical one. :-) )

Quote:> A monitor as described is a ways down the road, for sure, but I don't know
> why a wireless keyboard would be far-fetched.

I believe IBM used an IR-based detached keyboard on their much-maligned
PC jr.  I haven't seen anyone take up that gauntlet since then.
Quote:

> Ron

  Randy
--

                       Randy Ricklefs
       uucp:  {ut-sally, ut-ngp, noao, charm}!utastro!rlr

 
 
 

replacing the desktop metaphor

Post by Tim Dudl » Sun, 02 Dec 1990 15:34:00



>Sorry that this is so long.


>>I have an invitation for net readers - create a metaphor for computing
>>systems that goes beyond the desktop cliche.
>[...]

>What I would like to see is the desktop metaphor extended into 3D, say
>for example, an office.  You would have a desktop, a trashcan, a phone,
>an inbasket/outbasket, a filesystem, etc.  Each of the services that are
>offered by the system are represented as an object in the office.  If you
>go out through the door, you find yourself in the hall (network), and from
>there can go into someone else's office (the outbasket & phone act in a
>predictable manner).

etc...

This looks to me like an application of the Rooms metaphor proposed by Card
and Henderson out of Xerox PARC (and more recently Europarc).  As I remember,
the Rooms metaphor presented a means of linking desktops through "windows" and
"doors", in such a way that if you wanted to look at another application, or
view of an application, you did it through a "window", but if you wanted to
launch an application, you did it by going through a "door" into the "room"
in which the application was resident.  Seems to me that the idea of having
one of the "doors" lead into a hall (network) is a good one.

The Rooms metaphor has been published in several places, including ACM
Transactions on Graphics (don't remember which one, but it's relatively
recent).  It strikes me as being more closely related to hypermedia than to
3D...

--
Tim Dudley                           Cognos Incorporated
(613) 738-1440                       3755 Riverside Drive, P.O.Box 9707
uucp: uunet!mitel!sce!cognos!timd    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada  K1G 3Z4
 "It's a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word."

 
 
 

replacing the desktop metaphor

Post by Robert Stanl » Sun, 02 Dec 1990 15:53:00




>>I have an invitation for net readers - create a metaphor for computing
>>systems that goes beyond the desktop cliche.
>[...]
>>what should a computer work space really look like?
>What I would like to see is the desktop metaphor extended into 3D, say
>for example, an office.  You would have a desktop, a trashcan, a phone,
>an inbasket/outbasket, a filesystem, etc.  Each of the services that are
>offered by the system are represented as an object in the office.  If you
>go out through the door, you find yourself in the hall (network), and from
>there can go into someone else's office (the outbasket & phone act in a
>predictable manner).

The HyperCard Navigator II stack is an interesting experimental example of
structuring a familiar metaphor for the work space.  It presents a full
office, complete with a desk which has both a desktop and a set of drawers
for files and for miscellaneous bits and pieces.  It is clearly a richer
metaphor than the simple desktop, even though this example is full of
cutsie-pie off-the-cuff symbology which turns out not to completely capable
of generalization.  (Some of the symbols work, some don't, and most are
specific rather than generic.  Of course, with HyperCard you can roll your
own anyway, so perhaps this is a specious argument).  However, in keeping
with the concept of HyperCard as a personal data-access manager, there is
no provision in the Navigator II example to wander out of your office.  It
ought to be real easy to do, however (just another card, right?), and tied
into AppleTalk (sorry, LocalTalk) there are some nice possibilities.

The big, big problem with any of this stuff is that in order for environment
A to report to its user what is going on in environment B absolutely requires
environment B to expend some resource in telling environment A what is
going on.  What is more, this has to be done when environment A wants it,
not when it is "convenient" for environment B.  In practical terms, it must
be possible for any active environment to continuously support a back-
ground task with the sole purpose of supplying local information to remote
requestors.  Not impossible, but it raises the spectre of security, and
it's not the nicest kind of app to try and write on the Mac, even under
multi-finder.

On the subject of how such a metaphor might actually work, there are
currently a couple of interesting lines of work at Xerox (remember them?
Created that Star thingy...): they are devoting considerable attention to
the whole field of computer support for co-operative working, and on the
Interlisp machines they have a really interesting meta-windowing system
known as Rooms.  Each full-screen display is simply a room, and a meta-
navigational system allows you to open and close doors between rooms, and
to move from room to room.  I am too lazy to open my filing cabinet and
look right now, but if anyone cares I can dig out formal references.
There's lots of stuff on rooms, which you can buy if you have the right
kind of hardware, and the co-operative working was shown as one of the
video sessions at the Washington DC 'CHI conference earlier this year.

Robert_S
--
Robert Stanley - Cognos Incorporated: 3755 Riverside Drive, P.O. Box 9707,
Compuserve: 76174,3024                Ottawa, Ontario  K1G 3Z4, CANADA
uucp: uunet!mitel!sce!cognos!roberts             Voice: (613)738-1338 x6115

 
 
 

replacing the desktop metaphor

Post by Samuel M Druk » Sun, 02 Dec 1990 17:20:00


Believe it or not, Commodore used to have a cartridge for their 64K machine
that worked along that exact idea.  It had an office with a phone, trash can,
filing cabinet, typewriter, clock, calculator, etc.   My dad (expert in
computer illiteracy) loved it.

==============================================================================

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Arlington, MA                   |       "Basically, my boss doesn't even
                                |         *know* I'm on the net."

 
 
 

replacing the desktop metaphor

Post by Barry Margol » Sun, 02 Dec 1990 17:54:00



>I don't know why a wireless keyboard would be far-fetched.

Hardly far-fetched, since it was done in a commercial computer several
years ago.  The original IBM PC Jr had a wireless keyboard that used
infrared signals.  They eventually punted it because it didn't work
too well.  Input would be missed because someone would walk between
the keyboard and the PC, and it could get confusing with multiple
machines in the same room.

Wireless communication is pretty noisy and error prone.  It is well
suited to low-bandwidth applications such as telegraphy, or less
error-sensitive applications such as voice.  For applications such as
terminal I/O integrity is important, so you would need an
error-detecting protocol between the PC and the device.

Barry Margolin
Thinking Machines Corp.


{uunet,harvard}!think!barmar