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Re: [olpc-software] AbiWord, HIG
- From: Alan Kay <alan kay squeakland org>
- To: Dean Johnson <dtj uberh4x0r org>
- Cc: olpc-software redhat com
- Subject: Re: [olpc-software] AbiWord, HIG
- Date: Fri, 31 Mar 2006 10:59:44 -0800
Heh heh --
At 09:12 AM 3/31/2006, Dean Johnson wrote:
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.
True enough ...
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.
There's more to life than Darwin -- another good D is "Design", and this
should be done when possible.
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
Sort of ...
However, what could be dumber than a mouse that requires you to take
your hands off the keyboard to use?
But you help me make my point in spades! You wouldn't say this if you knew
how Engelbart's original UI actually worked and why it was a good idea in
his interface to take your hands off the keyboard to use it. This makes me
worry about the depth of this discussion if I can't refer back to previous
interesting and great work without having to explain in detail.
Clearly that can't be right.
see above ...
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?
We did one of these at Utah and it was pretty good. And (little known fact)
Xerox actually made a workstation in the 70s that did this really nicely
(you have to have a little AI for homonyms, etc.). I loved it. It's more
difficult to learn but I thought was worth it.
And, if you do look into how Engelbart's interface really worked, you will
find this idea in a very interesting and powerful way.
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.
I've got a degree in Molecular Biology, and I would disagree to some
extent. The whole reason MB is separate from Chemistry is that the
architectures are at different scales.
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.
I don't know any MB folks that can't tell you the important things that
happened in organic chemistry or MB in the past. So I don't think your
attempt at analogy here works.
While the frontiers of those disciplines might look quirky, they are
fairly deterministic compared to understanding UI effectiveness with
regards to us quirky humans.
I think I agree with this. But my quote above said "software", and since
there have been so few really interesting systems (and so few really
interesting UI designs) there is a lot less to learn than what you have to
know to be an MB. I'm talking about "Maxwell's Equations" kinds of things,
not the latest results in supercold physics.
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.
And some have small heads.
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
I don't think this analogy obtains either. If we take music as an example,
I would agree with you with regard to the pop culture, but not with regard
to 15th through 20th century "developed" musical culture.
And I think this is another way to make my point. I think a big problem
with our field today is via the wide spread of it after commercialization
of the personal computer, GUI, Ethernet, Internet, etc. (all invented by
members of the "developed" culture) a large pop culture sprang up (not
entirely a bad thing) that has most of the characteristics of the larger
world pop culture. History is not important, ideas have to be learnable by
teenagers, hip and fashion prevail, and street smarts dominate knowledge,
etc. I think something more like this is going on.
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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