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Thoughts about 10/GUI

10GUI Multitouch Pad

Robert Clayton Miller [1] has done an excellent thing: he’s re-imagined the personal computer GUI [2] and associated input devices in a practical, achievable, realistic way. It’s no small achievement, this: we’ve essentially been using the same lineage of human-computer interface metaphors and technologies for more than 25 years. Originally developed at Xerox PARC [3], Steve Jobs brought the windowing operating system and the mouse to consumer computing in the early 80s. While Moore’s Law has grown computing power exponentially and we now have multitasking and colour screens, nothing much has changed when it comes to our input devices. (If you’re at all interested in the history and impact of Xerox PARC – and you should be – this book [4] is a fantastic read.)

Here’s the 10/GUI video. (Note this is a designer’s demo, not an actual operating system.)

When I first saw this, I found myself appreciating the immense amount of work this must have been to produce. I’m not a designer but I’ve worked with enough designers on enough design projects to know that this can’t have been easy. It’s thoughtful, comprehensive, compelling and just realistic enough to make you believe.

So what do I think about 10/GUI and the associated CON10UUM windowing metaphor? First, here are the current UI/interaction challenges it addresses well:

Here are some areas where I have questions about the 10/GUI vision:

Chris Clark points out [7] that he really likes the multi-touch gestures. I second that whole-heartedly. And I think it’s alarming that – like crop seeds – multi-touch gestures are already being patented by tech corporations [8]. In the interest of computer users everywhere, we should resist the notion that things we do can be proprietary.

If I could give one more bit of feedback to Clayton Miller, it would be the lack of community infrastructure around 10/GUI. The website doesn’t have a forum or comments. There’s no way to leave feedback centrally, and – as a result – it’s hard to see how the open source community might go about embracing this vision in a practical sense. But that may not have been his intent.

On the whole, I’m curious to see where 10/GUI ends up. Will someone create an open source windowing environment for Linux once the hardware is available (and I’m certain Synaptics is working on something like this already)? Will Apple or Sony have a go at this (as Clayton suggests, only a vertically integrated hardware/software manufacturer could really do it justice today)? Time will tell. In the meantime, we can use up to 4 fingers on our Apple trackpads and wait patiently for the arrival of the ten-finger version.