I’ve often joked with a friend of mine that the last time I really understood how my computer worked was when it ran MS-DOS. Everything was done via the command line and you actually had to know the commands in order to do any task. I remember seeing the Apple Lisa at a MACUL Conference and saw how everyone oohed and aahed at the use of a mouse and graphic menus. I didn’t feel endangered because the price tag was an indication that it would never catch on.
Well, the Lisa didn’t garner huge sales but the graphical interface concept sure did. Before long, we’re looking at the Macintosh and its GUI and Microsoft Windows. Along with the applications that came with, the interface becomes so important. It was also then that the wheels start to wobble in terms of understanding how the computer works. So many options; so many menus with sub menus. How do you master it all?
Plain and simple, you can’t. But the key is that what you’re looking for is probably embedded in a menu somewhere. As you develop a level of sophistication, you certainly learn the shortcut keys for the frequently used options and then navigate to the rest.
It really is a case of going with the developer. If it wasn’t for the Microsofts, Apples, Adobes, …, we’d be limited to whatever you could remember via the command line. Now, applications are jam packed with features that developers somewhere have felt that it would be nice to have. Maybe not today, but perhaps sometimes. They’re just there.
I ran into a similar situation with Ubuntu. Like so many, when Unity came out in a previous release, I didn’t like it. I liked the Gnome Classic interface and Unity seemed like a cheesy version of the Macintosh launcher. I played with Unity to try and learn it but, other than the original novelty, I didn’t make it my way of doing business. I’ll confess that I was searching for people smarter than me to provide a solution that would replace Unity with Gnome. I found it; liked it and kept with it.
With the release of 12.04, Unity returned. I did an upgrade in place and Ubuntu kept Gnome so I was good with that. I also installed Cinnamon. For a little while, I flipped from Cinnamon to Gnome and remarked at the similarities to other interfaces. For my purposes, they were really nice alternatives for navigating applications.
At the same time, I’d been doing some reading about Unity’s refinements – in particular the Heads Up Display. So, it was back to Unity for the default and the new functionality of resizing the icons allowed me to make it home on my desktop. HUD was kind of a novelty – until yesterday. I now know why it’s called “intent driven“.
I was doing some editing in Gimp and needed a feature dealing with layers. I use layers in spurts, it seems and it had been a while. No problem; I’ll just look in the menus. Cursor to the top of the screen and … nothing. As I’ve mentioned before, I did what any irrational computer user would do. I clicked harder. Still nothing. I right clicked in the workspace and was able to bring up the familiar set of menu options and then started looking for the functionality I wanted. Then, it hit me – I’ll bet Gimp supports HUD!
I tap the ALT key and sure enough the Dash icon turned to the Gimp icon and a mouse over reveals HUD and asks for a command. I type layer and …
… all of the layer options that would normally be available are there. Add an S for layers and …
I’ll admit. At first, it was a novelty. I just wasted a bunch of time typing the sorts of things that I would normally do in an image editing session, and I began to marvel at how quickly I able to get to the functions that I wanted. It was quick and easy and seemed ever so functional.
Now, while I’m not about to give up my shortcut knowledge – after all they’re pretty universal and even quicker than HUD. But, I’m seeing the advantages of HUD for the simple reason that I’m not going to be wandering around menus looking for the desired option any more.
I know that Ubuntu took a great deal of grief with the original release of Unity but we were promised that there would be features and additional functionality coming. In 12.04, we’re seeing them. It’s difficult to describe the experience. You need to try it yourself. It really is a significance change in the way that things are done. I have the same sense of wonderment now that I did when I made the transition from command line to a graphic interface.
The one advantage that you have when you stick with the developer is being at one with the vision for the product. I’m looking forward to learning more and seeing where Unity heads next.