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A Sneak Peek at Nautilus from Eazel - page 4

GNOME, Eazel, and the Creative Process

  • September 8, 2000
  • By Michael Hall

One of the real challenges in interface design is arriving at a reasonable interpretation of "usable." Desktop users have spent the last decade with the general dichotomy of "Mac vs. Windows," with Microsoft undergoing profound changes in interface design several times. UNIX desktop users have weathered the CDE interface as well as the current potpourri of window managers and desktop environments.

Sorting out the truly "usable" from conventions formed from habit and simple market momentum can become a troubling issue as designers are faced with determining the difference between "good" and "popular." Adler acknowledges the difficulties this presents:

"This is a very difficult challenge. There's the combination of the most widely used interface in the world, which is what Microsoft came up with...then there's the fact that a lot of us are used to Macintosh systems, and the fact that the acknowledged best design in some areas happens to be on Macintosh."

One area in which the sorts of compromises the team has made shows is in the absence of the humble cut-and-paste function, native to Windows 9x interfaces but absent from the Mac GUI, which focuses more on the idea of 'moving' a file than temporarily copying it to a buffer for replacement elsewhere in the file system.

"The more you're used to Windows, the more you think that's a very natural and important feature," allows Adler.

On the other hand, he goes on, "there are lots of things that aren't in Nautilus 1.0 that are present in other file managers. We're not trying to be the union of every file manager."

Adler points to the Eazel team's lengthy experience in interface design to buttress his claims that they're on the right track, though, pointing out that they've had experience in building user interfaces from the ground up:

"One thing that's different from us and a lot of the Linux hackers is that on our team we have a lot of people with a lot experience coming up with user interfaces without any prior example," he says. "So we're used to inventing user interfaces. A lot of times, where someone else will say, 'What should I use'...what they had on Windows or what they had on Mac, what we think is "Let's find something that works."

This hasn't always made the design process simple, though:

"It's hard to decide how much to copy and borrow, how much to invent, and how to make it all consistent. The project doesn't exist in isolation. This is an issue for the whole GNOME project. We don't want to make Nautilus this weirdo program that's different from the rest of the system.

"We really feel like something we've barely started on is helping ratchet up the whole community into understanding how to do better user interfaces," says Adler.

In the end, Adler's attitude is positive toward the future of the Linux desktop, and he wryly notes that the onlu direction numbers of Linux desktop users can go is up:

"Right now, the numbers are so small, there's huge room for improvement. They're small for a reason. The software doesn't have the properties that would make it nice for the desktop, to make it an obvious choice. It's not going to take revolutionary work. It's going to take crossing some t's and dotting some i's. Some of the revolutionary work we do will not only make it possible, but compelling."

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