Wednesday, March 28, 2007

GUI of the Future: Reflection of the Past

First, quickly: Every OS (operating system), like Mac OS X or Windows XP or Vista has a graphical user interface, or GUI (lovingly pronounced "gooey"). The GUI is basically all the stuff you interact with in the operating system, like folders, icons, windows, buttons, menus, even applications. Most of what you know about your computer exists on the GUI level, and that's the way it was intended. The GUI is just a shell for the guts of all that's really going on inside your computer, which is incredibly complicated stuff, which is why you need the GUI to dependably and easily interact with it, to get it to do things like play movies, burn CD's, send e-mails, write blogs, etc. Some GUI's are arguably better than others, and there are often trade-offs between functionality and appearance when designing a GUI (though I think OS X has a pretty impressive handle on both). As technology and our understanding of it improves, however, this trade-off diminishes and we come closer and closer to having pure functionality co-existing harmoniously with alluring appearance in an OS, the way it truly ought to.

While our OS should be smart and fast at doing all the tasks we require of it, its appearance should tell us things, not only about our computer, but about ourselves. What I would like to see as a feature in a future OS would be "aging". I'd like every unique aspect of the OS, every individual application's screen, every menu, button, folder, wallpaper, all of it to age based on use. Applications we use a lot, buttons we press a lot, would all show signs of aging sooner than ones used less often. The edges of windows could start to chip and crack and peel, buttons could wear down, smudge, fade, or even fall off. Folders could tear, wallpapers could scratch and peel and even fall on a slant. Just like objects in the real world, our GUI objects could all show wear and tear. This would give us some sort of feedback on our usage habits, which would be interesting to see in such a real world fashion. Of course, if we really started to dislike the look of all these signs of aging, would could initiate repairs, bring elements back to their original condition, keep on top of it all and have things looking nice and cared for part of or even all of the time, if such were our inclination.

I can do this for the exterior of my computer, and this care or lack thereof is in part a reflection of who I am, so why shouldn't the rest of my computer be the same?

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