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OneAndOneIs2

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Thu, Jan 12, 2006

[Icon][Icon]The great UI debate

• Post categories: Omni, FOSS, Rant, Technology

A number of people who've read the Linux != Windows article have argued that I'm wrong to hold the belief that Linux user interface designers are correct in considering that "making a good UI" dont not equate to "Making a Windows-like UI"

Their main argument is that, since Windows is the de facto standard, and is the UI most people are familiar with, these two are the same and it's not possible to make a good UI that works in a significantly different way from Windows.

So let's talk about Firefox. It's undeniable that FF is touted by many as an IE-killer. It's hard to name a more sucessful, well-known free-software project. It's gained many converts from MS's browser: A perfect example of a free software project that can attract new users from the Windows world.

Now then: Was it made to be identical to IE? Was it successful because it was exactly the same as the existing, what-Windows-users-are-used-to browser?

No, of course it bloody wasn't.

Exactly as I said in LNW, Firefox was not designed to be as Windows-like as possible. It was designed with the best interface the developers could make. Not the most "Windowsy" UI.

Does IE have tabbed browsing? Nope. Does FF suck because it does? No, it rocks: Tabbed browsing is great!

Does IE have a Google searchbar built in? Nope. Does FF suck because it does? No, it rocks: There are third-party add-ons for IE searchbars specifically for this reason.

Most significantly, look at the "Find" function: In IE, you bring up Find via Ctrl-F or Edit->Find. A new window appears in the middle of the screen. You type in the term you want to search for, and press return/click OK. If the term isn't found, you get an error message you have to OK to get rid of. If the term is found in the middle of the page, you have to move the "Find" window to actually see it.

In FF, you bring up "Find". A toolbar appears at the bottom of the page. As you type the term you want to search for, FF searches as you type: You don't have to OK the search. If the term isn't present, the Find dialogue turns red: You don't have to OK an error. If it finds the term anywhere in the page, it doesn't obscure it.

The way Find works in FF is utterly, utterly different from in IE. And it's all the better for it.

FF is a fantastic browser. Not because it mirrors IE and works exactly the same way, but because it is different from IE in many significant ways. That's why the next version of IE will have tabs in it: Because it's following where Free Software projects like Firefox and Opera lead. Because their *different* interfaces are *better* interfaces.

Vive la difference!


16 comments

titanium
Comment from: titanium [Visitor] · http://www.creativehedgehog.com
Amen! Hurrah! Yay!

vive le difference indeed!

It is a point that many people don't want to accept- the windows interface is not the most friendly one.
01/12/06 @ 08:53
TheDoctor
Comment from: TheDoctor [Visitor]
An interface links two entities: a human being and a piece of software. The nature of the interface should be determined by the nature of the entities it links. It should enable the human to control the software and protect the software (and, perhaps more importantly, the data) from human foibles.

The nature of the interface should not be determined by abstract principles (eg a marketing executive's desire for a single 'look and feel'), since this, of necessity, means that the software, human or both will have to be distorted in order to make things work.

For this reason, if you try to make Linux like Windows, you'll just make it as bad as Windows.
01/24/06 @ 16:48
pat
Comment from: pat [Visitor] · http://www.linuxcolumbus.com
Thought I would point out a link to your Linux != Windows article. http://www.dispatch.com/promotions.php?story=dispatch/blogs/pcpipeline.php&srch_id=200056

This Linux hater doesn't even know how VI works.
01/26/06 @ 06:11
Grant Diffey
Comment from: Grant Diffey [Visitor]
UI is a hard problem particularly GUI ui.

As you point out in the original article first comes the commandline application (even if it's just a test app)

It's hard to make a completly unusable CUI (commandline User interface) partially because they need to be documented

However it's very very hard to make a really good GUI for anything non-trivial and the person who wrote the application isn't always the best person for it.

03/01/06 @ 19:30
Congratulation for this good truly not too polemic article
And by the way the German translation of http://linux.oneandoneis2.org/LNW.htm is very good ,too!

03/04/06 @ 05:12
A frog
Comment from: A frog [Visitor]
Good blog entry, and an even better L!=W article. Just wanted to point out that it's "Vive *la* différence" (difference is a feminine noun in French). Sorry, but i do really love being a pain in the ass.
04/16/06 @ 11:44
progmars
Comment from: progmars [Visitor]
Thanks for godd article.
Yes, I agree to it but I have some "addon" thoughts.
I am a Windows user. And that is true - I want to escape from Windows. Because I am a programmer student and hobyist and sometimes I feel that some aspects of Windows needs improvements badly to satisfy my needs. At this moment only FOSS can give mee freedom to create my own desktop GUI or something like that, but create not from the scratch - many people already have done a lot of things. So I can take some FOSS desktop environment, tweak the source a bit or more and have everything as good (or as bad if I have no luck) as I need it. And then I give my creation back to the world to see if someone else needs it.
For example, I miss a Sound Volume icon, which can be used to adjust sound volume only by hovering mouse over it (without annoying clicking everytime). I often make a mess on my Desktop because I am too lazy to open the apprpriate folder when dragging items from my CD/Flash. So I feel it would be great to have a folder which senses dropping and opens a menu with the subfolders so I can drop my files in a subfolder without actually opening it. And so on and on.
05/06/06 @ 07:00
S.S.
Comment from: S.S. [Visitor]
I presume you're familiar with
ESR's rant on CUPS...?

http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cups-horror.html

Have you any reply on this? He seems to address
many of the same points... but his POV and his
assumptions (not to mention his conclusions) seem
radically different...

- S.S.
05/10/06 @ 20:39
oneandoneis2
Comment from: oneandoneis2 [Member] · http://geekblog.oneandoneis2.org/
I've read it. I fail to see the relevance to this post tho. . . ESR wants the CUPS interface made better, not made more like Windows - a perfectly reasonable attitude, especially at the time he wrote it.

Incidentally, on a related note, my only experience of CUPS was setting up my gf's PC to talk to her printer last year. She ran a KDE wizard and just like that, her printer was working. So it appears ESR got his wish in the years since his rant was written.

So TBH, I have no real idea what you want me to reply to. . .
05/11/06 @ 03:21
Kronikarz
Comment from: Kronikarz [Visitor]
Huh, well, I wonder, why is the Back button in Firefox in about the same place as in IE? Or the URL bar? Or the status bar? Huh? That's because IT WORKS, and it works GOOD. It's intuitive and all that... It's not about being as Windows-like as possible... It's just that the Win UI is GOOD, it's intuitive and has a lot of tiny design pieces that are absent in Linux GUIs. This interface isn't perfect, but I haven't seen a better one yet. So is wanting to have a Windows-like GUI (in the sense of functionality and the likes) such a bad thing? No, of course you shouldn't just copy it, but most of the solutions work, and work good, so why abandon them?
06/15/06 @ 16:12
oneandoneis2
Comment from: oneandoneis2 [Member] · http://geekblog.oneandoneis2.org/
Of course! Firefox's buttons & bars are where they are because they copied IE. Yes. Right. Obviously.

It's not at all the case that they're in the exact same place as in Netscape, from which Firefox is descended, and which was in widespread use at a time when Microsoft was still dismissing the internet as a fad. . .

Nor, of course, is it the case that MS didn't design IE, but purchased it from somebody else, because they couldn't afford the time to develop their own browser when they arrived late to the party. . .

No. Of course not. Microsoft pioneered the whole web browsing experience, and those swines at Mozilla just slavishly copied them. Of course.

Perhaps you should read another of my blog posts. . .
06/16/06 @ 03:18
Yaroslav Halchenko
Comment from: Yaroslav Halchenko [Visitor] · http://www.onerussian.com
What is M$ Windows UI is anyways?

the idea of GUI? nope... Macs/SGI had it long before I believe (and see Stanford/Xerox research as the origin)

Drop-down menus? nope... not from windows I believe

Win "Start" button... may be... here we go -- that is the one! ;-)

In any case - I would recommend next article for anyone interested in the history of GUI:
http://www.sitepoint.com/article/real-history-gui

As for the facts: Windows GUI is ancient. It has no major changes (don't through some minor things like disappearing non-commonly-used menu items) since windows 95 (which was 10 years ago BTW).
And it seems not much changed in Vista from what I've heard in rummors... And does it look very neat really? Now -- look at Xgl + compiz... http://www.novell.com/linux/xglrelease/
most of the features are reincarnations of the old ideas to some extent but they looks very cool in action and some features (dynamicly adjustable transparencies, cube organization of mutliple desktops, reveal function to see all the windows at once, active (video is updated and playing) in your Alt-Tab switchbar, and many others) seems to be quite novel. Whatever Micro$oft can brainstorm with even 1000 highly experienced developers barely can defeat milions of enthuasists around the world giving away their ideas to open source projects... Now I'm back to reading compiz code to implement a very necessary to me feature ;-)
06/16/06 @ 17:59
Francisco Laborde
Comment from: Francisco Laborde [Visitor] · http://flabordec.blogspot.com
Firefox's UI is very windows-like. The navigation buttons, the home button, the address bar, the status bar, everything is where it is in explorer and so I don't have to spend time searching for things that just should be there. Of course Firefox has tabs, but that's a new feature not a part of the GUI.
06/19/06 @ 11:29
Leonhard
Comment from: Leonhard [Visitor]
This Article only point out the pros of non-comercial or open-source projects. It doesn't provide good arguments to use or not use an GUI which is similar to the Windows one.
10/13/08 @ 19:17
martin
Comment from: martin [Visitor]
Full ACK! Thanks for the post.

One small mistake: Opera is not Free Software :-)
04/19/09 @ 21:19
freebirth_one
Comment from: freebirth_one [Visitor]
@martin:
I second that: Opera is Freeware. And a really good one :)

@all:
And you know what?
I don't care a pap if it is Free Software or not, because it rocks. I don't understand those people which only reason for not using opera is it's closed source.
07/12/09 @ 16:47
 

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