Gauntlet throwing: for fun and profit

Disclaimer: The views expressed below in no way reflect those of other members of the Reveal team. If they don't agree however, then I reckon they're gimps :)

Double-click? Blah.
Desktop? Blah.
Menus? Blah.
Launchers? Blah.

yep, blah too.

You'd think that after living with, and using, such a malleable, transformable and amorphous tool as the computer for so long, we'd have some pretty cool (and effective) ways of using them, wouldn't you? Surely, as development screamed along in the 70s and early 80s, revolutionising the computer interface with such ideas as the desktop metaphor, the mouse, and icons, you can imagine their inventors looking to the future; bright and bleary-eyed with visions of the next revolutions in interface coming in the next decade.

They must be disappointed. Instead of seeking new ways of harnessing the chameleon-like ability of the computer to do or be anything, in the 90s we've been blessed with such gems as the taskbar. Web "pages". The iMac.

Indeed, you'd be forgiven for thinking that as "revolutionary" as the desktop metaphor was (and all due respect to Alan Kay and colleagues from Xerox PARC), today the traditional GUI has more in common with digital castration, as opposed to liberation. Which is not to say that the idea of visual representation and manipulation was not a breakthrough, and that the implementation was poor for its time, but that we have failed the interface pioneers.

Tools and technology are an extension of the human mind and body, yet physically and mentally, computers are at best uncomfortable, and at worst agonising to use. Is it hard to use your hand to pick up something? No, it's natural. There is very little natural about computers, and very little being done about it.

In fact, the situation is so poor, that Windows9x users, the primary platform of interaction, seek refuge by mimicking 10 year old shells on their computers, because the interface is supposedly better. Something is wrong here, people.

So why am I telling you this? It's a preamble. An introduction before I throw down this gauntlet before you. Speaking as an (admittedly junior) member of this shell/interface development community I say this to you:

It is our right, responsibility and privilege to actively develop new methods of human-computer communication.

Yeah, you read that right. Read it again if you like. Sunk in? Then keep going.

Now let's start being specific.
Consider litestep, undoubtedly the most popular replacement shell around. It's the alternative to the dreaded microsoft "desktop". It's also pretty much a remake of Afterstep from *nix machines. You've got a (let's face it, rather unsophisticated) launcher which is called a wharf - not that things dock on it exactly - and a popup menu. There's some minor extension of the original idea in there, but little innovation. On the whole, a relatively successful, but kinda stagnant David, to microsoft's goliath.

I should make it clear that at this point I'm not belittling or complaining about litestep (and its developers') achievement. Obviously, as the best known and most successful interface replacement, it makes for the most pertinent example of this situation, and as close to a figurehead as you can get. On the contrary, litestep is the piece of software that said "It is possible"; a piece of software that fostered a community of people interested and passionate about interfaces and the alternatives.

But it's not enough. Now, litestep and it's creators don't owe me anything. They were largely the catalyst for the environment and audience I'm writing this in and to, but if this same environment and community (and litestep as well) are to move forward, they need to develop, grow and be critically thought about - and not just have extra bits of code, software or loose ideologies tagged onto them as time goes by.

We're now exiting the 90s, and we're still restricting our communication with computers to the metaphors and input devices of the early years of User Interaction - much the same way we're in a bind with a programming practice (double digit dates) that should have been fazed out and replaced years ago. Someone needs to take up the torch again and be prepared to try new things, try different things. Sure, some, if not most, will fail to a degree, but for that one idea that clicks… well, I think it's all worth it.

That someone is us. We're the petrie dish for the next step in interface evolution.

With computers, we have a possible extension of ourselves that can allow us to think, work an play in completely new ways. Never forget that computers are a means, but that a means is a method, and a method is an action. INTERaction, to be precise.

We have the infrastructure and the talent - all we need is the will.

I dare you to respond.

headline | blueprints | fumes | designs
workshop | storeroom | what is it? | architects | rev.web