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Re: [olpc-software] AbiWord, HIG

Alan Kay wrote:

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?

Its different because humanoids are quite quirky beasts and there are very few things that are "right" in the UI world. Part of the issue is that users typically attempt to truly minimize their knowledge to satisfy their needs as a tool user. Consequently their knowledge and usage grows rather organically and rather than best practices, they hammer at the square peg and eventually get it into the round hole. Eventually their quirks get codified and you get things like vi-mode in emacs.

When you look around at recent computer history, one could suggest that the WIMP interface was revolutionary for the computer industry. It is pretty much ubiquitous for desktop systems and could be considered "right", especially given its usage as a foundation for lots of academic UI mutterings. However, what could be dumber than a mouse that requires you to take your hands off the keyboard to use? Clearly that can't be right. You wouldn't expect the driver of a car to move over to the passenger seat to shift, so why is a mouse "right"? Would not a court reporter type keyboard interface (pressing many keys simultaneously) be more "right" than a mouse? Okay, you have that in emacs, but the point remains.

BTW, very few developed professions and arts have a well developed true sense of "knowing your field". The people most likely to "know their field" have narrowed down the definition of 'field' to fit in one human head. Look at biology, chemistry, and physics, all well developed sciences. They don't even speak the same language, yet frequently cherry-pick and lean on the other disciplines. For instance, surprise surprise, the molecular biologists often learn just enough chemistry to get their jobs done. Do they use the best practices of chemistry, sometimes. Should they, probably. Why shouldn't they expand the definition of "their field" to encompass chemistry? Cuz its huge. While the frontiers of those disciplines might look quirky, they are fairly deterministic compared to understanding UI effectiveness with regards to us quirky humans.

Take something less science-y, like art. Do typical artists "know their field"? Again, most artists define the word 'field' to be sufficiently small to fit into their head. As homework, go ask a professional sculptor about a profoundly important, yet obscure (think Doug Engelbart of painting), painter and see how much they know. They might know *something*, they might recognize the name, but they probably don't know a whole lot. Shouldn't they "know their field"?

Palm worked because it did the job, no fuss, no muss. Most folks wanted more, but ultimately got along just fine with what there was. Sometimes elegance means simplicity, sometimes it means complexity.


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