Click here to close now.

Welcome!

Java Authors: Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Esmeralda Swartz, Mike Kavis, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Java

Java: Article

The Two-Dimensional Legacy of GUIs

"There are striking similarities between cinema and GUI software"

Ted Nelson, inventor of, among other things, hypertext, once lamented that software development today is at the same evolutionary stage film making was at 100 years ago. Back in the 1900s, when the technology of film production was in its earliest stages, the cameraman was the person in charge because he was the one who understood the technology and could make it function correctly. The audience's sheer fascination with the magic of films was enough to captivate and hold their attention while the silent and blurred subjects grinned and gawked directly into the lens. Much has changed in the last hundred years though, and movie directors are now the ones in charge of making a film. It is they who decide every camera angle, every pan and zoom, every focus switch, and every light level in order to create the finished product. Their goal is to captivate the viewer, hold their attention, and suspend disbelief for 90 minutes or more. Cinema is a branch of the arts whose end product is thing of aesthetic quality.

There are striking similarities between cinema and GUI software, the most obvious of which is the fact that both interact with their users through a screen. It was developers at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in the 1970s who realized that the eye is the highest bandwidth connection to the brain, and to interact with the user in the most efficient and natural way required using a terminal as more than just a way of receiving and displaying formatted text output. As a result of this epiphany, the first WYSIWYG editor was created and the concept of the GUI was born. Having the user interact with the information via scroll bars, push buttons, pop-up menus, check boxes, and so forth were all conceived 30 years ago. Each time a new whiz bang PC operating system is released or a software package created that will "revolutionize the way we work," I am always disappointed to peel back the hype and find that most of the effort occurred under the hood, leaving the front end largely unchanged with just a token rearranging of controls. Yesterday's dinner is re-served with fresh salad dressing and a quick 30 seconds in the microwave to make it smell fresh.

The problem is a deep one and can be traced back to the original Xerox developers who, although they were undeniably creative geniuses who shaped most of modern computing, also created the legacy that now holds us back. Their task back then was to create applications that supported laser printers; they needed a way for the user to see what the finished output would be before wasting toner and paper. WYSIWYG is more aptly an implementation of the acronym WYSIWYP or "what you see is what you print." For example, the scrollbar was designed to allow the user to deal with having their available viewing area smaller than the size of the underlying page, not as a way of navigating through large lists of back-end data. All of our computing metaphors - such as copy and paste, applications on a desktop, folders with files, trash cans, and so forth - come from a paper-based view of the world. Ted Nelson writes that "like the fish that is unaware of water, computer users are blind to the 2D tyranny of paper." The problem occurs because everything we do in GUI software is predicated on the fact that we're using the computer as though it were a page of information.

What needs to be done then to break out of the goldfish bowl we're all currently swimming around in? We need to create applications that push the boundaries of software toward cinema, where the user experience is all that matters and our job isn't to be latter-day cameramen just arranging precanned widgets and controls designed to help some laser printer engineers.

Part of the problem lies in our psyche, who we are, and where we came from. In Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham (www.paulgraham.com/hp.html), he draws a parallel between the numerous people involved in creating a piece of art. One is the painter who has the inspiration, the talent, and the creative ability to produce the finished piece. To do this he has the knowledge of how to apply paints in the right way, the right combination, and the right technique to produce a work of art. The other person is the engineer at the paint factory. He has the knowledge of how chemicals can be mixed together to produce different products; paints that dry on the canvas and not in the tin; different colors, mediums, and so forth. The two disciplines are clearly different and neither the artist nor the engineer would be able to apply each other's trade. When the paint factory hires new recruits, they approach the chemical engineering department for graduates, and when the art gallery needs new material, they visit the art department. Software should be the same, where for a GUI application the people required understand how to communicate with users through a computer screen and how to convey information. These people are artists, not engineers. They are people who understand how to direct a movie, not those whose only skill is loading film in a camera and switching it on and off.

When this is understood it can be used to good effect, for example in the computer gaming industry where the production process has more in common with a movie studio than a traditional software house. Likewise, the plethora of special effects that occur in films, not to mention the raw technology underpinning CGI cartoon movies, makes the boundary between the two disciplines even more blurred. Computer games companies hire, and put in charge of production, creative talent and artists, while the engineer's job is relegated to cutting the code, pointing the camera, and making the canvas come to life in the image of the design team's ideas and vision.

What we need to do for desktop software is to learn from the games programmers, to recognize that the screen can do more than rehash a 30-year old paper presentation metaphor to the users, and see if we can inject more art, and less science, into the applications we produce.

More Stories By Joe Winchester

Joe Winchester, Editor-in-Chief of Java Developer's Journal, was formerly JDJ's longtime Desktop Technologies Editor and is a software developer working on development tools for IBM in Hursley, UK.

Comments (1) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


Most Recent Comments
David Marshall 12/11/06 09:56:09 PM EST

Reliable speech recognition and artificial intelligence would go a long way toward making interfaces more usable. How many times I have to move around looking for files and opening them with the correct app when I wish I could just say "edit the web.xml file in my garbanzo web app folder". Or "Restart Apache."
Why am I ever looking at XML files anyway? These things are meant to be read only by parsers.

This kind of stuff is so tedious especially if you have RSI. It mystifies me to see that so many people are returning to essentially a 1970s operating system (Linux) or Unix on the Mac. Now they can issue commands like ls -l to see all their files or cat xxx to look at a file in a terminal window. grep , awk , sed. This is for hackers and only hackers. The fact that these things still exist is not a testament to their power. No one has broken out of the box. I don't think MS Vista is a move forward but it sounds like they at least they entertain some of these ideas. Unfortunately, they seem to be taken with the idea that you can walk into your house and have your computer figure out what song to blast from your entertainment center. That much I can handle. But give me a computer that I can ask "Whats 34.48 times 94?"

@ThingsExpo Stories
Wearable technology was dominant at this year’s International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) , and MWC was no exception to this trend. New versions of favorites, such as the Samsung Gear (three new products were released: the Gear 2, the Gear 2 Neo and the Gear Fit), shared the limelight with new wearables like Pebble Time Steel (the new premium version of the company’s previously released smartwatch) and the LG Watch Urbane. The most dramatic difference at MWC was an emphasis on presenting wearables as fashion accessories and moving away from the original clunky technology associated with t...
SYS-CON Events announced today that robomq.io will exhibit at SYS-CON's @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. robomq.io is an interoperable and composable platform that connects any device to any application. It helps systems integrators and the solution providers build new and innovative products and service for industries requiring monitoring or intelligence from devices and sensors.
Internet of Things (IoT) will be a hybrid ecosystem of diverse devices and sensors collaborating with operational and enterprise systems to create the next big application. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Bramh Gupta, founder and CEO of robomq.io, and Fred Yatzeck, principal architect leading product development at robomq.io, will discuss how choosing the right middleware and integration strategy from the get-go will enable IoT solution developers to adapt and grow with the industry, while at the same time reduce Time to Market (TTM) by using plug and play capabilities offered by a robust I...
After making a doctor’s appointment via your mobile device, you receive a calendar invite. The day of your appointment, you get a reminder with the doctor’s location and contact information. As you enter the doctor’s exam room, the medical team is equipped with the latest tablet containing your medical history – he or she makes real time updates to your medical file. At the end of your visit, you receive an electronic prescription to your preferred pharmacy and can schedule your next appointment.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Solgenia will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Solgenia is the global market leader in Cloud Collaboration and Cloud Infrastructure software solutions. Designed to “Bridge the Gap” between Personal and Professional Social, Mobile and Cloud user experiences, our solutions help large and medium-sized organizations dr...
While not quite mainstream yet, WebRTC is starting to gain ground with Carriers, Enterprises and Independent Software Vendors (ISV’s) alike. WebRTC makes it easy for developers to add audio and video communications into their applications by using Web browsers as their platform. But like any market, every customer engagement has unique requirements, as well as constraints. And of course, one size does not fit all. In her session at WebRTC Summit, Dr. Natasha Tamaskar, Vice President, Head of Cloud and Mobile Strategy at GENBAND, will explore what is needed to take a real time communications ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Litmus Automation will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Litmus Automation’s vision is to provide a solution for companies that are in a rush to embrace the disruptive Internet of Things technology and leverage it for real business challenges. Litmus Automation simplifies the complexity of connected devices applications with Loop, a secure and scalable cloud platform.
The world's leading Cloud event, Cloud Expo has launched Microservices Journal on the SYS-CON.com portal, featuring over 19,000 original articles, news stories, features, and blog entries. DevOps Journal is focused on this critical enterprise IT topic in the world of cloud computing. Microservices Journal offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. Follow new article posts on Twitter at @MicroservicesE
SYS-CON Events announced today the IoT Bootcamp – Jumpstart Your IoT Strategy, being held June 9–10, 2015, in conjunction with 16th Cloud Expo and Internet of @ThingsExpo at the Javits Center in New York City. This is your chance to jumpstart your IoT strategy. Combined with real-world scenarios and use cases, the IoT Bootcamp is not just based on presentations but includes hands-on demos and walkthroughs. We will introduce you to a variety of Do-It-Yourself IoT platforms including Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, Spark and Intel Edison. You will also get an overview of cloud technologies s...
Containers and microservices have become topics of intense interest throughout the cloud developer and enterprise IT communities. Accordingly, attendees at the upcoming 16th Cloud Expo at the Javits Center in New York June 9-11 will find fresh new content in a new track called PaaS | Containers & Microservices Containers are not being considered for the first time by the cloud community, but a current era of re-consideration has pushed them to the top of the cloud agenda. With the launch of Docker's initial release in March of 2013, interest was revved up several notches. Then late last...
The WebRTC Summit 2015 New York, to be held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York, NY, announces that its Call for Papers is open. Topics include all aspects of improving IT delivery by eliminating waste through automated business models leveraging cloud technologies. WebRTC Summit is co-located with 16th International Cloud Expo, @ThingsExpo, Big Data Expo, and DevOps Summit.
SOA Software has changed its name to Akana. With roots in Web Services and SOA Governance, Akana has established itself as a leader in API Management and is expanding into cloud integration as an alternative to the traditional heavyweight enterprise service bus (ESB). The company recently announced that it achieved more than 90% year-over-year growth. As Akana, the company now addresses the evolution and diversification of SOA, unifying security, management, and DevOps across SOA, APIs, microservices, and more.
The list of ‘new paradigm’ technologies that now surrounds us appears to be at an all time high. From cloud computing and Big Data analytics to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and the Internet of Things (IoT), today we have to deal with what the industry likes to call ‘paradigm shifts’ at every level of IT. This is disruption; of course, we understand that – change is almost always disruptive.
SYS-CON Events announced today that SafeLogic has been named “Bag Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo® New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. SafeLogic provides security products for applications in mobile and server/appliance environments. SafeLogic’s flagship product CryptoComply is a FIPS 140-2 validated cryptographic engine designed to secure data on servers, workstations, appliances, mobile devices, and in the Cloud.
GENBAND has announced that SageNet is leveraging the Nuvia platform to deliver Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS) to its large base of retail and enterprise customers. Nuvia’s cloud-based solution provides SageNet’s customers with a full suite of business communications and collaboration tools. Two large national SageNet retail customers have recently signed up to deploy the Nuvia platform and the company will continue to sell the service to new and existing customers. Nuvia’s capabilities include HD voice, video, multimedia messaging, mobility, conferencing, Web collaboration, deskt...
SYS-CON Media announced today that @WebRTCSummit Blog, the largest WebRTC resource in the world, has been launched. @WebRTCSummit Blog offers top articles, news stories, and blog posts from the world's well-known experts and guarantees better exposure for its authors than any other publication. @WebRTCSummit Blog can be bookmarked ▸ Here @WebRTCSummit conference site can be bookmarked ▸ Here
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cisco, the worldwide leader in IT that transforms how people connect, communicate and collaborate, has been named “Gold Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Cisco makes amazing things happen by connecting the unconnected. Cisco has shaped the future of the Internet by becoming the worldwide leader in transforming how people connect, communicate and collaborate. Cisco and our partners are building the platform for the Internet of Everything by connecting the...
Temasys has announced senior management additions to its team. Joining are David Holloway as Vice President of Commercial and Nadine Yap as Vice President of Product. Over the past 12 months Temasys has doubled in size as it adds new customers and expands the development of its Skylink platform. Skylink leads the charge to move WebRTC, traditionally seen as a desktop, browser based technology, to become a ubiquitous web communications technology on web and mobile, as well as Internet of Things compatible devices.
Docker is an excellent platform for organizations interested in running microservices. It offers portability and consistency between development and production environments, quick provisioning times, and a simple way to isolate services. In his session at DevOps Summit at 16th Cloud Expo, Shannon Williams, co-founder of Rancher Labs, will walk through these and other benefits of using Docker to run microservices, and provide an overview of RancherOS, a minimalist distribution of Linux designed expressly to run Docker. He will also discuss Rancher, an orchestration and service discovery platf...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Vitria Technology, Inc. will exhibit at SYS-CON’s @ThingsExpo, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Vitria will showcase the company’s new IoT Analytics Platform through live demonstrations at booth #330. Vitria’s IoT Analytics Platform, fully integrated and powered by an operational intelligence engine, enables customers to rapidly build and operationalize advanced analytics to deliver timely business outcomes for use cases across the industrial, enterprise, and consumer segments.