Back in the day I was finally fed up with Windows, and having come into some cash decided to buy an Apple because of the promise that it would “just work.” What I discovered was that this claim was predicated on being someone who had only ever used Apple software. For anyone else the UI was confusing and frustrating, and simple tasks became difficult or impossible. After three years I abandoned the Powerbook and moved back to a PC, this time with Linux.
This concept seems like much of the same, and I think it is trying to solve problems that don’t entirely exist.
The solution to a cluttered desktop is to stop dumping stuff on it, or to clear stuff off when some program dumps it there. In reality though a lot of people will just never do that, but that doesn’t mean that an enforced blank slate is necessarily the best solution: some people actually need things in plain sight to find them, and dropping them onto a desktop is essential.
Designing a “universal” UI to work primarily with touchscreens is just not a good idea. The reason why mice and keyboards are still prevalent is because they work well for the majority of people, and offer levels of control that a touchscreen often can’t match. I can’t imagine typing effectively on screen — I’m a classic three or four finger hunt and peck typist, and a real keyboard is what works for me.
In broad terms I really dislike software that tries to predict what I need or want. I invariably find that it offers as much nuisance as productivity increases, and I doubt that it will be any more useful a decade from now. Beyond that, the vast majority of tasks don’t need AI or predictive actions. These are more often just distractions from what really matters.
I will agree that the torrent of notifications is challenge, and I have just spent two or three weeks trying to shut them down on my new phone. If we’re just shifting from program initiated notifications to UI initiated notifications we gain nothing. In my experience almost none of the notifications that force themselves into my workspace actually offer useful information or can’t be ignored until later.
I really don’t care for the idea of data or projects “flowing” from place to place. I like to use one application at a time, and decide when to move from A to B. It strikes me that a flow like this would be more distracting, not less.
Ultimately though the reason why the desktop, toolbar, and menu paradigm continues to dominate on Windows, and Apple, and Linux, is because it just works for the vast majority of people, and can be customized to reflect an individual’s workflow. I can’t see any significantly different UI managing to take on that dominant position. As it stands now any computer user can sit down in front of a Windows, Apple, or Linux machine and pretty quickly figure out how to do regular tasks.
More and more I believe that the future of computing and applications is one of “less is more.” We’re all swamped in a deluge of apps and notifications, and would be happier of we could abandon most of them. Most people would be much happier if they were forced to work with one thing at a time instead of trying to multitask. I look back fondly on the days of WordPerfect 5.1 on MS_DOS.