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Re: [olpc-software] AbiWord, HIG
- From: Alan Kay <alan kay squeakland org>
- To: "Krzysztof Kowalczyk" <kkowalczyk gmail com>, olpc-software redhat com
- Subject: Re: [olpc-software] AbiWord, HIG
- Date: Fri, 31 Mar 2006 06:06:03 -0800
At 03:05 AM 3/31/2006, Krzysztof Kowalczyk wrote:
> Andy Herzfeld (the early Mac designer, then etc., now at Google) did
several terrific UIs along these lines about 10-15 years ago (one for
General Magic and the other for Frog Designs).
Not everyone thinks that the approach of trying to duplicate physical
methaphors in UI is such a great idea:
There are few topics in this world that don't have opinions on every side,
so "just opinions" don't help resolve much.
I tend to agree with Alan Cooper on that.
Check out my (quite) earlier chapter in The Art of Human-Computer Interface
Design (Ed. B. Laurel) from 1990, on just that topic, and you will see that
I agree also. So why do I like what Andy did? Especially for Frog?
Incidentally, General Magic was a spectacular failure. Wheter it was
because their UI was weak or despite the fact that their UI was great
- I don't know (I would like to know what Andy thinks about Magic Cap
This seems to be a tangent and doesn't help resolve the question.
I do know that the only succesful PDA (Palm Pilot) didn't use "force
physical methapors in UI" but rather is designed to accomodate
weaknesses and strengths of hardware. If you read/listen to what Jeff
Hawkins and other key designers of Palm say, that was a conscious
decision (and it doesn't look like Hawkins thought that Magic Cap was
a good idea: http://www.pencomputing.com/palm/palmnews/palmnews-11-14-01.html)
Well, MS Windows has been successful, does this mean it is a good design or
just not a complete disaster? I'm not sure we should be evaluating along
I also know that Andy Rubin after working on Magic Cap started Danger,
Inc. and the Sidekick OS (which is quite beautiful design, at least
technically) that Danger did looks much more like Palm OS than Magic
Cap. It's also tightly optimized for the hardware they designed.
More opinions, but ...
Of course, there are people who think that Magic Cap was the best
As I said, there are almost always opinions on every side, but ...
Which does show that there's actually little consensus about what is
good software design (especially UI), which might partially explain
why good ideas get lost and are badly re-implemented.
I don't think the lack of consensus is the reason. I do think that UI
design is extremely difficult and not very well understood (I certainly
don't understand it). But it doesn't explain why ideas get lost, given that
they aren't really lost, most of them have been written down to be read
about by any who are interested.
While it's hard
to argue that an earth is flat or that linear search is better than
binary search, for any topic of sufficiently great complexity (e.g.
rpm vs. pkg vs. windows installer vs. mac os x packaging or Palm OS UI
vs. Pocket PC UI vs. Magic Cap UI vs. X windows UI) you'll find plenty
of intelligent people willing to defend their point of view.
I have absolutely nothing against this. I do object to people in the
computing field not being aware of the past. In a real science, like
physics, lack of accumulated knowledge is grounds for defrocking. The
problem is that really intelligent computer people without any knowledge to
build on, usually can get as far as they did in the 60s (when there was no
past to build on). I think this is one of the reasons that the 60s level of
programming, OS, and user interaction keeps on appearing over and over.
And, if the people doing it have less going for them than some really good
person in the 60s, then the results will be less than the best of the 60s
-- a good example is the WWW, which could have been informed by the great
and doable ideas of Engelbart and Ted Nelson, but since no one looked, we
got something considerably less than could easily have happened.
And relating to "people can't even copy good designs of the past"
thread: its worth noting that all attempts so far to shoe-horn linux
onto a PDA (Zaurus, QTopia, Nokia 770, GPE, OPIE) don't even come
close to usability and brilliance of Palm Pilot (released 10 years
ago). So I think the reasons for reinventing a wheel, and badly, are
deeper than just not being aware of the better designs from the past.
I certainly agree that not all ideas from the past were good, nor does an
idea from the past necessarily fit some current situation. But I am
certainly arguing that if an idea from the past was good that it should be
(a) known, and (b) part of the design thinking for the new things to be done.
For example, we didn't *copy* much from the past at Xerox PARC, but we made
damn sure that everything we did was as good or better than the state of
the art from the 60s. And, most of the stuff we did do was catapulted from
great previous ideas of many others rather than trying to reinvent the
sixties from scratch -- instead, we were able to actually get into the 70s.
The idea and importance of "knowing your field" is pretty simple stuff,
well known in every developed profession and art -- and this is certainly
the case in the physics of the HW. Why should it be so controversial and
avoided in the software side of computing, to the detriment of all?
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