TMO Short Take: 'Beyond The GUI' & The Next Big Thing In Computing, Redux

When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.

Jonathan Swift, "Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting"

(SAN DIEGO, CA) -- Iive not been able to write much in the last few weeks. My "Spousal Unit" — referred to henceforth with the term of endearment "SU" — has begun quibbling over my use of the phrase "a short time ago."

You see, "a short time ago" I began remodeling our basement. There was wood paneling on the walls — and I hate wood paneling. So, I tore down the paneling and patched up the underlying sheetrock, before priming it for a new coat of paint. I also, tore up the carpeting and tile, replacing it with a wood floor. According to my grandiose plan, the basement will function as a family room on one end, a workout area in the middle and my office on the other end. So far, Iim quite proud of my virgin, yet incomplete, effort at home improvement.

Since Iim easily handling such a herculean task, I donit see why the SU is so upset that I define "a short time ago" as the time elapsed since day one of my basement project -- so what if I began back in February? After considerable deliberation and deliberate consideration (i.e., I whined to other married men who readily commiserated with me, sharing similar tales of extended home projects) Iive concluded that I am proceeding right on schedule, regardless of the SUis protestations. Iim sure thereis many a married man out there who subscribes to a similarly male interpretation of the passage of time.

In light of my domestic issues, it should be no wonder that I am less critical nowadays of what I consider the most gross injustice perpetuated by the technology industry: there has been little if no revolutionary change in software, namely the desktop metaphor, in the last 20 year. After learning firsthand that a basement canit be remodeled overnight, to my wifeis chagrin (I wish someone would explain that fact of life to the SU), I am kinder and gentler in my complaints that the human-computer interface essentially isnit any more advanced since Apple popularized the GUI back in 1984.

Actually, it is more than just my glacial remodeling work thatis changed my heart.

Over the last few months, Iive tried my hand at programming, meaning Iive spent some time learning the basic syntax of some of the easier and more popular scripting- and programming languages: Perl, AppleScript, HTML and XML, to name a few. The latter two were for my day job, while I learned the former two for the fun of it. Couple that with memories of Pascal and Assembly Language projects in college, I have a much greater appreciation for and understanding of what it actually takes for (say) Microsoft, to create a product like (say) Microsoft Office v.X.

Imagine how many lines of programming code comprises that hog of an application suite. Now, shift your attention to the Mac OS, past and present. Mac OS 9 is the culmination of years of grafting, hacking and downright padding the operating system with code to optimize, augment and accessorize the Mac-useris computing experience. Over time the number of lines of code adds up. Now, imagine having to redesign the underlying algorithms (blue prints) and then writing the programming code for those algorithms.

Obviously, Iim playing the apologist here for Mac OS X, as well as for the latest incarnation of Windows. Why the newfound religion? Because I sat down and pondered how long it would take if I were in charge of redesigning the Mac OS. Also, Iive had a chance to look at what could possibly be an example of the new paradigm needed to evolve the Mac OS.

If you havenit had a chance to look at it, go and download a shareware application named 3DOSX. It basically gives a three-dimensional representation of your Macis folders and files. Avoiding a full-blown review, I will just say that the application has its flaws, but it does represent a novel approach to updating the Mac OS for modern users. Does the Mac OS have to be updated for the masses? In a way, I think so. Admitedly, my argument is an argument of change for changeis sake, though.

Think about this: if we just consider the Mac, itis been around for over 18 years. In 18 years, people have become more computer savvy, notwithstanding the luddites and the people who donit have daily access to computers. In other words, the desktop metaphor is commonplace, arguably a fixture of popular culture in the Western world. Thatis a clear sign that maybe we should now be taking the desktop metaphor to the next, logical step on the evolutionary ladder. What is that next step? I donit know. As Ratbert would say, Iim just an idea rat.

In defense of OS X, I love it more than "Classic" Mac OS, and surely more than any iteration of Windows. What Iid hope for, though, is that Apple or someone is already working on whatever would be the metaphor to come. 3DOSX is leaning towards this ideal.

I must add that I donit see anything wrong with the desktop metaphor; itis just that I believe technological advances should accompany the march of time.

Maybe Iim wrong about this, but I believe that many of you agree that there should be some evolution in the design of operating systems. From 1984 up to now, we can call it the "Age of the GUI." Letis make up a name for the next 18 years and whatever we call it should reflect the shape that the GUI will naturally morph into.

What do you think?

Rodney O. Lain doesnit like to admit it, but he kinda likes the command line in OS X. When heis not pondering whether or not he is a CLI nerd, he writes his "iBrotha" column for The Mac Observer, as well as the occasional editorial. Rodney lives in Minnesota, where he works for The Man during the day and sells Macs for a local retailer on the weekends. Rodneyis SU is still mad at him, because he told her that heill finish the basement "in a little bit." So, he took her to San Diego for vacation and gave her free reign with the credit cards. That bought him some time.