Have we already reached Desktop nirvana?
Recently I’ve been taking a look at Windows 7 and though I don’t want this to turn into flame war, I have to say I’ve been less than impressed with the latest offering from Microsoft. They have fixed one bug that annoyed me to distraction, but other than that, I really can’t see what all the fuss is about. However I don’t want to get bogged down by this. What I really want to talk about is the way that the desktop has changed over the last two decades.
The interest sparked off from the fact that I spent a considerable amount of time tuning Windows 7 to look and feel like my current Windows XP setup. I then realised that I had done the same on Windows XP to make it look like 98. But why? Is it because I am an old fuddy duddy now? Is it because I am unable to embrace change? Is it because I can not take the time to learn something new? I hope not!
I’m forced to think about the other side of the fence, the Linux world. I have used a large variety of Linux distros, Ubuntu, Fedora, RedHat, CentOS, Knoppix, BackTrack, Foresight and Puppy, to name the ones I have used regularly. I have had no problem adjusting to these, and to newer versions of these. So what’s the problem with Windows 7? Why do I constantly feel the need to live in days gone by? I guess the ultimate question is in the title of the post. Did we already hit a desktop Nirvana?
This is all very interesting. Going all the way back to Windows 3.1, and the change we encountered moving to Windows 95. The difference was vast. It changed the entire way we used the desktop. Now let’s move from Windows 95 to 98, no real major differences in the design of the desktop or layout, again from 98 to XP, save for a few updates to the startbar and grouping. Now we go from XP to 7, and I have to say for me it’s kind of more of the same. There is nothing really new, the groupings work a little differently, but I missed having the text labels for programs. I usually work with more than 40 windows open at a time, call me messy, but it’s just how I work. The nature of my work means I flit from task to task all day every day.
So have we seen the last of the desktop development? Of course not! I’m not for one minute saying that there will never be any more advances in desktop development. What I am saying is that all of the “nice” new features, the ring switching, the window previews and all just “nice to have” eat resources. We should be making improvements to the desktop that both offer us better workflow, more enhanced capabilities, but without the need for a machine that is three to four times as powerful as it’s predecessor. I still recall that the compiz engine when it first came out, at the time when I bought a GeForce 7300 GT OC, still ran acceptably on an old MX440. I was stunned.
You have to wonder about the real motivations for change here. Call my cynical, but the Linux desktop seems to move and evolve with the demand from the users. We ask for things to change, and when that volume hits a critical mass, change happens. OK, it’s not always this way, and sometime design leads take the bold decision to try something new, but for the majority it seem to me that this is how the development happens. Now let’s take a look at the Microsoft way of thinking and it’s a little different, but then so is their business model. They thrive on people buying new versions of the software, so it’s in their best interest to get people “hooked” on these new features.
Microsoft sell training, they sell certifications, and so a portion of their revenue is directly dependent on how good a job they do at changing things sufficiently enough to require more training. Look at the shift from Office 2003 to Office 2007. As I said, call me cynical, but this change in thinking also benefits the PC manufacturers also. It enables them to push bigger better and faster machines, which ultimately will all run at the same speed, once they become loaded with the next generation of system hogging operating systems.
I digress. Apologies. Going back to our idea of a desktop nirvana. The ultimate root notion of a desktop hasn’t changed in many many years. True, the mobile market is starting to make us rethink things, but it is still rooted in the idea of windows, files, folders, icons and desktops. It amazes me that in all this time we have not really come up with a single new methodology for using a computer that has been accepted and implemented. Cue some references to project X, Y and Z. I understand people have probably tried, but I’m forced to consider the fact that for the foreseeable future, the desktop is as good as it gets. Yes, we’ll get things like wobbly windows, snappy left and right thingies and the like, but the fundamental desktop model doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere just yet.
But maybe this is all stemming from the fact that the whole files and folders, the root method by which we store information needs an overhaul. It’s based heavily on the model of an office in days gone by, where you would have reams of paper files, in folders and that made sense, whilst we were still in a transitional period. Now though, it’s causing issues. People can’t get to their information quickly enough. I personally want a tag based file system. I want to be able to write in something like, “iso, 6 months ago, ubuntu” and for it to instantly bring back an iso image of ubuntu that I had 6 months ago. What I don’t want however is a tracker system that has to use up system resources to keep an index of the files. I want this built in. I want the world I know.
Let me know what you guys think?