February 23, 2019

.comment: Luddite Linux

The Role of the Modern GUI

  • July 5, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

The reach of the marketers in Redmond, Washington, is long and it is broad, and it can sometimes be subtle, producing fundamental beliefs that upon examination have no basis in fact or reason.

Okay, so what's new?

What's new is that I'm here to tell you that the graphical user interface is no more intuitive than is a well-designed console application or group thereof. Sorry.

If icons are more natural than listings on a menu, how come they have words under them to explain what they are? Why is there "bubble help"?

"The only intuitive interface," notes my online friend, PamR of the Caldera and KDE lists, "is the nipple." She's right, of course. Put people who have never seen a computer in front of one and, no matter what's on the screen, they're lost.

When, as occasionally happens, something such as I've stated above is proffered on a mailing list or in a newsgroup, it's not long before the discussion bursts into flame. And yes, the various window manager-desktop combinations, populated with the fine X Window System applications available today, are easier to figure out without help than is a command prompt. But c'mon: that's not all there is, or at least not all there should be.

The graphical user interface, like the pointing device, is a product of Xerox PARC. The modern GUI, I'm told by Kevin Reichard, comes from IBM's specification for Top View, an idea that came and went.

It wasn't until the release of Windows 3.0 that it came to be thought that a GUI was a good idea, and it wasn't until Microsoft unleashed its considerable marketing machine that it came to be thought that a GUI was somehow easier. It isn't.

There's a point to all this.

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