Radical UI Ideas – No Applications? No Desktop?

Aza Raskin from the humanized.com team spoke at one of Google’s Tech Talks about user interface design. He starts with talking about user interface and interaction and his ideas on things to avoid and what needs to change. One cool thing he discussed was how there needs to be services, and a universal access interface (basically APIs) that would allow any interface to be used for any service and thus would allow the focus to move from the tools to the content itself and what you are trying to do with it.

The rest of the talk is mainly about how the desktop is useless for the most part as it does nothing for you in terms of content. Content is key, it’s all we care about. We want to create and manipulate content.

He speaks about removing the idea of the application, as they are silos in terms of user interface and content interaction. He presented how Microsoft Word becomes bloated trying to be Mathematica for calculations, and Photoshop for editing images, as well as being a word processor, but it does so poorly. Applications also cause user interface to become stale and toolboxes come along to make development easy but non-innovative.

He showed of Enso a product they have developed that marries the graphical user interface (GUI) with the command line interface (CLI). Non-technical people are used to CLI whenever they use google to search for something. So what Enso does is allow you to select something, then hold down the capslock key and start typing commands to manipulate the content, such as spell check, calculate, flip image horizontally, and many more. It also has a navigation command set so you can open an application or document, or switch to a different window, etc. It’s tough to explain it all, much better to see it in action, so just watch the video. It’s long, but very informative for those interested in user interface and design.

Surface Computing

Microsoft recently unveiled their Microsoft Surface Computing technology that they have been demoing and perfecting over the past six years or so. It looks like this is a great idea that will unlikely to take off any time soon. I would love to see it used for many of the scenarios they present such as syncing to cell phones, paying with plastic by dragging bill items to your card that has been placed on the table, or having a video puzzle which shows the potential of the technology. They would most definitely make this into a platform technology as well, sort of like the tablet where applications can utilize all the different functionality that is available.

This is similar to Jeff Han’s Perceptive Pixel’s touch screen technology. He showed off his research at the TED conference a few years back, but this technology is different from Microsoft’s. I’ll go into details in another post.