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THE GUI SHOULD BE BETTER

If you ever wanted to know all my thoughts on the GUI, here you are! This has honestly been brewing in my mind for decades and while this video took way too long to make, it’s an accomplishment for me that I was able to put this into something coherent. I’m really hoping this leads to somebody bestowing GUI enlightenment upon us, though I’m not betting on it.

This post also doubles as a thread for people to post any helpful information regarding my GUI quest at the end of the video. Thanks in advance for anyone who finds some answers!

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I already posted this, but then I deleted it, but I think I'll have to deal with this comment being potentially useless. So, 

 

Those movies where everyone's waving their hands around to do everything is actually bad design, though it looks cool. 

 

Place your hands in front of you, with your arms parallel to the ground. Now, move your forearms up and down. Do that for the next 10 minutes or so. You probably noticed that you didn't last that long, or if you did your arms feel like lead. Now imagine doing that all day every day. It wouldn't work out. 

 

 

 

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Posted (edited)

I know this thread is about the desktop GUI and not about individual applications, but I thought I mention blender nonetheless. A lot of people hate on blender because it dares to look different, which I don't understand. I love blender's UI. I wish more software would be like that.

 

Screenshot_20200611_193708.png

These kind of programs have a huge amount of functions and it can be cumbersome to search for them in the menus, especially when you know the name of the function, but not in which nested menu it might be. In blender there's a way to search for commands (in the context of the current window). It will give you a list of results that also shows where in the menus you can find it and the hotkey (if there is any). (Note: This is in the current alpha version, so the contrast issue there might be fixed until it's released.)

 

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You can scale everything or separate panels. You can squeeze it all into a small margin or five it as much space as you want.

 

Screenshot_20200611_192918.png

Blender is basically like a tiling window manager and you can organize the tiles in whatever way you want. It comes with a few presets (the tabs at the top), but you can add your own (and delete the default ones) yourself as you like. You can also create new windows and put in whatever views you want. You know, for multi monitor setups. (Here I just show the integrated Python shell that has of course auto-completion.)

 

Screenshot_20200611_194727.png

For developers you can activate tooltips that show you how to access the hovered function/value via the Python API. A really quick way to find that out without having to read a programming reference.

 

You can "paint" over checkboxes. In other UIs if you click a checkbox and then drag, well, nothing much happens. In blender you can mass select/deselect checkboxes easily by clicking one checkbox, holding and dragging the pointer over all other checkboxes that you want to toggle.

 

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Context action help. In this screenshot I pressed "g" (for grab) and now it shows me all the more refined things I can do from here by pressing another key.

 

Of course there are also a lot of things that can be improved, but I just thought to mention these things as an inspiration of what an UI can be. In particular I hate how clunky Inkscape is. Certain side panels take away so much screen space and you just can't scale them down! WHY!?

 

Oh and in the image with the Python window you see my KDE window manager. I've put two extra buttons into the window bar: Pin on all desktops (the pin) and keep always on top (the double arrow up). These are very very useful buttons. I can just open a small image viewer and put it always on top so I can have it hovering over a maximized Blender/Inkscape window to work from the reference. (Or a video player to watch something on the side. I don't have a multi monitor setup.)

Edited by bloody_albatross (see edit history)

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I'm not sure if anyone's suggested this yet but Would it be possible to build your new UI on top of even the restrictive modern versions of windows using some sort of remote desktop app? Like, if you were to just put a Raspberry Pi or arduino between your monitor, mouse and keyboard and your desktop, you could have whatever shell you wanted installed in that that interacts with windows on its level but lets you interact with it however you configure it? 

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1 minute ago, mattihase said:

I'm not sure if anyone's suggested this yet but Would it be possible to build your new UI on top of even the restrictive modern versions of windows using some sort of remote desktop app? Like, if you were to just put a Raspberry Pi or arduino between your monitor, mouse and keyboard and your desktop, you could have whatever shell you wanted installed in that that interacts with windows on its level but lets you interact with it however you configure it? 

Only at serious speed costs.

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11 hours ago, Ross Scott said:

Also, your desktop is a perfect example of the problem I notice visually with a lot of themes.  Your terminal windows look pretty slick, dark theme, but readable colors, looking nice.  Then BAM your web page is bright as hell in comparison and just overpowers the rest of it.  My solution was to go for something in between, but maybe forcing everything to be dark on the web with plugins could work too.

It was my desktop he referenced; and the nice thing about tiling WMs on Linux (aside from the fact that dwm + dmenu resolves all your issues) is that I can segment tags by color if I like then only merge them if I need, or I can just switch between them. I'd recommend you check out tiling WMs though, since they *can* be configured to be all light mode and additionally allow you to resolve essentially all of your issues (with the caveat that learning minimal POSIX shell is necessary)

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Posted (edited)

shocked i didnt already make an account here ages ago as ive been following ross since around 2013 but whatever, this vid was particularly cathartic for me as someone that's been poking at the windows shell's guts for years and i still feel like going on a tangent

 

maybe its just my tism acting up again but i dont actually agree with a lot of your views regarding the *perfect* desktop gui - i dont need mouse gestures and so on, i actually like the standard windows 9x desktop paradigm. it isnt perfect and it can absolutely be improved upon (for a short time i used bbzero/bblean for windows and that comes with the right click start menu-esque thing most linux window managers do and i actually liked it a lot, although i still just open a lot of programs straight from explorer... which i should probably fix), but ive stuck to it since i was a squirmy little embryo and it generally works for me. i even love the raw beveled "classic" windows 9x theme you derided really early on. however every single thing you said about large software manufacturers (coughmicrosoftcough) gradually removing customization options and crippling their products in the name of """accessibility""" was absolutely spot on. this has been a widespread practice for the last decade at least but im going to illustrate this with an example thats been killing me from the inside for yeeeears:

 

Spoiler

 

as you mentioned countless times, customization in windows has been progressively gimped ever since xp added the theming engine to begin with nearly 20 years ago. (im pretty sure that even with xp you had to patch a .dll file to enable custom themes to begin with but i havent tried ricing it so..) 7 removed a few things like the classic "nested" start menu from win95 (steven sinofsky, the microsoft exec who is directly responsible for windows 8 and its metro interface killed it because he physically couldnt imagine anyone using it.. so he removed the option entirely :3) but it was still pretty damn good for ricing/desktop customization, and its the last generally sane version of windows that was actually primarily designed for desktop pcs but whatever. windows 8 was an absolute disaster for pretty much anyone interested in tweaking their desktop in any way whatsoever, and not just because they killed the start menu - not only is the metro interface permanently embedded within the os (you can ignore 99% of it and there are some hacky programs that "kill" it but its nearly impossible to fully get rid of), but microsoft also removed the aero glass theme and its associated effects (because their surface tablets physically couldnt handle it) AND they removed the option to use the classic theme which had been a core component of windows since win95 and nt4. the only desktop "themes" that windows has had since then are a gimped flat version of aero without any transparency and a glitchy high contrast theme, which you can actually customize to some extent, but its buggy and generally not worth the effort.

 

lets say i wanted to get the good ol' sexy lo-fi classic theme back. theres a little forum called winclassic (warning: it runs on proboards so prepare yourself for obnoxious anti-adblock popups..) which is primarily devoted to the classic '90s windows aesthetic and providing resources to get that look back on versions after windows 7. that "retrojackal" dude you used a video from has used this place for years. its kinda inactive and pretty goddamn small but afaik its the last bastion for people interested in getting back the actual classic windows look and not a shitty high contrast theme which barely even resembles the real thing. "wow!", you probably arent exclaiming. "i cant wait to get the old nostalgic Windows™ classic theme back on my modern, progressive and secure Microsoft™ Windows™ 10™ installation. this has to be easy to set up and configure!"

 

no! no it isnt! its an absolute fucking nightmare that barely even works, just like every other form of windows customization. i use 8.1 as my main os and not 10 so ill be primarily focusing on that. obviously windows 10's feature updates make this even more of a pain in the ass. i guess you could use 10 ltsc/ltsb like i used to and not have to worry about feature updates breaking your themes but you still have to deal with 10's telemetry and forced updates and the gimped control panel and the settings app and the dozens of conflicting ui types that microshit uses.. i legitimately believe that 8.1 is the better os once you stuff the metro ui into a closet and focus on the actual windows desktop but back to the classic theme..

 

the best method on winclassic i found for enabling the classic theme was this gui-based program called simpleclassictheme. it lets you enable/disable the classic theme at will (its still technically THERE in windows 8 and 10, microsoft just doesnt give you the option to use it anymore because they broke it!!), it lets you use the old theme customization panel from xp so you can use different color schemes and so on, it installs open shell or startisback if you dont already have it (i did..), and it comes with a bunch of other utilities i already use like 7+ taskbar tweaker and t-clock redux and folder options x (i use oldnewexplorer instead and if you really want the classic explorer toolbar back, open shell has an explorer plugin that adds it). sct works by physically removing access to the memory section that winlogon uses for handling themes instead of flat out killing dwm (the default wm that windows has used since vista, NOT the suckless tiling window manager..). wow, sounds great, right? i already wrote up a little text document months ago detailing most of the issues i had with it:

 

Spoiler

simpleclassictheme 1.0.6/general windows 8.1 classic theme issues:
-- doesnt launch on startup: programs that start before sct is applied use the default windows 8 theme [biggest issue]
-- weird black context menus when right clicking taskbar [solved with 7+ taskbar tweaker]
-- tray menu looks kind of odd [can be worked around by just.. not hiding tray icons]
-- transparency issues with certain programs that have custom borders (firefox, chrome, etc) [not really an issue with any of the programs im using atm except discord, and even then i can use the web app or ripcord. discord itself works fine regardless]
-- various issues with metro: metro wifi sidebar doesnt work (but the pc settings app still works?). default win8 task manager doesnt work (process hacker + old win7 task manager both work tho) [use holger's penetwork app or an alternative instead of metro wifi]
-- when sct restarts after crashing it doesnt actually apply the theme, it looks corrupted until you reenable it and wait a few seconds
-- explorer crashes when right clicking something in explorer (is it because of explorercontextmenutweaker?)
-- need to disable "use glass in address bar" when using oldnewexplorer
-- certain control panel menus simply dont work with the classic theme enabled (clasurol fixed this already iirc)
-- logo looks slightly weird in winver (fixable)
-- clasurol's pale moon theme is almost perfect but favicons in the address bar suggestions are too big

 

and simpleclassictheme doesnt touch any of the system icons or anything, by default it essentially just gives you the windows 7 classic theme. if you actually want something thats almost identical to windows 9x/2k you have to jump through so many fucking hoops that you would probably legit be better off just using windows 7 to begin with. i cannot emphasize just how much of a shitshow this is, and microsoft has shown absolutely no sign whatsoever of adding back something that even resembles the classic theme in windows 10. not like i was going to use it again anyway but whatever.... ;~;

 

currently im using an 8.1 port of the vista aero theme. nobody uses 8.1 and most of the custom themes arent that great tbh.. and i like the late 2000s glassy skeuomorphic look.. but even though windows still technically uses a gimped version of the aero theme from win7 (and the windows 7 basic theme even gets used sometimes, like during installation), this is still such a pain in the ass to setup. aeroglass by bigmuscle is the only tool i know of that readds aero glass transparency, but not only is it a pain in the ass to setup (with a custom theme patcher installed ive had it brick my windows installation a dozen times before, forcing me to use system restore, and you have to disable the "custom theme atlas" it installs by default or else any custom theme you install will be broken, etc etc) BUT it also happens to be an actual goddamn scam. even tho the website doesnt actually mention this at all, aeroglass is nagware. you can download and install the free version but it adds a watermark to the bottom of your screen and flashes a popup message in front of your face every hour or so that you have to manually click "ok" on to get rid of. if you find this obnoxious and actually want to pay bigmuscle to get rid of this shit, you have to """donate""" to him, but there is no preset donation amount, you just have to give him enough money and fucking pray that he gives you a licensed copy of his software. its entirely possible you could give him like 100 bucks over paypal... and he still wouldnt give you a copy of aeroglass.... its literal fucking extortion. i havent paid for aeroglass and i wouldnt seriously recommend it to anyone else. there are cracked versions out there, of course. im not going to link to them and theyre really really annoying to find, but theyre out there. and this isnt even going over the other programs i use like winaero tweaker and t-clock and oldnewexplorer and startisback but thats enough rambling for now i think, i need a fucking drink

 

 

and multiple people in this thread and the youtube comments and so on have already alluded to this (grrr...) but the "circle launcher" concept you brought up is called a pie menu and theyve been around in some form since the late 60s, and yes, don hopkins has advocated for them for yeeeears and he was the dude at maxis responsible for adding them into the sims. this is what i get for always being late to the party..

 

edit: whoops!! i forgot about stardock and all of their windows customization tools and that ross explicitly mentioned them several times in the video. i really really dislike them and i wouldnt recommend their software at all to anyone, not just because its paid proprietary software that barely works (well, so is windows, but... y'know...) but as far as i can tell, they actually changed their eula last year. if you buy ANY stardock product, you get to activate "one (1) copy of the Software on one (1) unique personal computer" and thats it! im not even going to try explaining why this is a vile fucking business practice, it should be blatantly obvious. just dont bother with stardock.

Edited by prengle (see edit history)

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I don't have time at the moment to read the other comments, but I will mention a couple things. Apologies if they've already been brought up!

 

Part of what makes Windows (and the other commercial OSes) GUI shell experiences so bad is a philosophy: that there is a distinction between the system author and the system user. The Xerox PARC Smalltalk system that originated a lot of the still-modern ideas about the UI did not make this distinction: everything was editable by the user, in realtime, constantly. If you didn't like the menus, the buttons, the layout of the program, all of it was up for grabs by you. You can experience this today in Squeak or Pharo, but of course, this is niche technology.

 

Another forgotten mouse concept from Plan 9 is mouse chords. If you click button 1 and then add button 2, that creates a 1-2 chord; there is also a 1-3 chord. I believe on Plan 9 you can do cut/copy/paste just with the mouse using these chords. Plan 9 in general has a lot of weird and interesting ideas about computing, but this seems like the only one that would resonate with Ross, based on the video.

 

This actually reminds me of chord keyboards. Even back in 1968 in Doug Englebart's famous "mother of all demos," he's using one of these. Most of these, unlike the keyboards we use for text entry, there usually are not too many other ways to put your hands on the device, so there shouldn't be as much "n"/"m" confusion.

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7 minutes ago, Daniel K Lyons said:

Part of what makes Windows (and the other commercial OSes) GUI shell experiences so bad is a philosophy: that there is a distinction between the system author and the system user. The Xerox PARC Smalltalk system that originated a lot of the still-modern ideas about the UI did not make this distinction: everything was editable by the user, in realtime, constantly. If you didn't like the menus, the buttons, the layout of the program, all of it was up for grabs by you. You can experience this today in Squeak or Pharo, but of course, this is niche technology.

The Genera operating system has similar ideas, although it was written in Lisp.

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So, I am not a GUI Wizzard, nor I want to be. Programmable mouse and second monitor allow me to perform most of the task as fast as I can process them anyway. But, if I were to design "perfect" GUI, it would not require lifting your hands most of the time. All thanks to using all three of modifier keys,  mouse gestures and radial menus - because all of these are options multiplayers, and they reach their true potential only when combined.

 

First - modifier keys. ALL they do is modify and allow other stuff - if you press one by accident, nothing happens. Two of them should be enough - but you can have more, as long as they are in comfortable positions. I choose two because that's how many legs most of us have. Legs that, you guess it, could press these two extra keys. One at a time, or both - all comfortable. That gives us 4 possible states - one for "normal" use and 3 for all the fun.
 

Second - we use gestures. Because each gesture is actually 3 gestures depending on modifier keys, we don't need fancy ones. Just simple directional A-B and A-B-A, approximation to one of 8 cardinal directions, is 48 very unique, very easy gestures. We could have more, but we don't need them. That's because even after we reserve some for things like copy and and paste and other always useful stuff, we still have plenty to bring up...

 

Third - radial menus. Even after mapping most used functions, we still have plenty of gestures to use. Instead of spending them on single thing, we instead use each one to bring up different radial menu. Because that gives us so many combinations we can keep the menus small - especially if we allow nesting and scrolling and other types of menus when there are too many options. And they will be all annotated at all times, with nice icons and all that. Because we can do that - they will only show when we want them to show.

 

Now, the problem can be memorizing what radial menu has what. There are two solutions - clickable sidebar that you can toggle any time, that also functions as hub for easy modification of these menus. And... simply not using that many at first. Sure, this is basically total replacement of normal GUI, but nothing stops you from having both installed and slowly switching as you learn. You don't need quick access to every program and every file on your computer.

 

So, this is nice GUI with minimal modifications to hardware (you can just use mouse with 2 programmable buttons). But these two buttons can not only be used for a gestures - they can also be used with keyboard. Not so you can have over 400 keys (I mean, if you want, sure). It allows you to START smaller. People are typing with just a few fingers every day - One (supported) hand, after some practice, will suffice for most but especially typing-heavy applications, like programming. But even there, modifiers under your feed allow you to always keep your hand where you want them - or to make even more shortcuts, for even faster computer use. And if you hate mouse so much, you can use other input device. The implementation is not so important - it's all about amplifying already existing techniques.

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Also have to mention the KDE file chooser. I really like it. It looks quite normal, but has many nifty little features that I'm missing in Gtk programs. I use Firefox for several reasons and am really missing how Chrome integrates in the Desktop. Firefox just doesn't do that. There is a thing, forgot it's name, some common desktop service thing that you can install that makes Gtk applications use the KDE file dialog, but it messed up seemingly unrelated parts of my system and crashed a lot of things, so I removed it again.

 

Screenshot_20200611_200208.thumb.png.74328dddf61d1fa87bbc9fdd66937ba8.png

Screenshot_20200611_200254.thumb.png.97318001213bb028b8f4d23c6aec87d3.pngScreenshot_20200611_200312.thumb.png.21207d11af35b4334be31d4edc4957e4.png

The KDE file chooser has several nice options to view your file system. A tree view and a thumbnail view where you can zoom the thumbnails. (Under Gtk you only get teeny tiny icons that are totally useless as thumbnails. Sometimes you get a preview in the right panel when you click a file, but randomly sometimes you don't. Whyyyy?)

 

Screenshot_20200611_200443.thumb.png.c0f1c22a0a770ab40771ad745692de4c.png

A program can define a preset of file filters (just like in Windows), but you can also just type there and filter for whatever globbing expression you want.

 

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You can edit the bookmarks on the side easily. (Last time I used Windows (XP) that wasn't possible at all.) You can set this as global bookmark or only as bookmark for the given program only! Of course you can set a custom icon if you want.

 

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You can navigate folders in the address bar by clicking, nothing special there.

 

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But you can also click after the last path entry and start typing! E.g. if you're quicker by typing or so you can paste a path. (Can't do that in the Gtk file chooser.)

 

Screenshot_20200611_200914.png.fdcb87b631a999ddc7e9395bf97792b7.png

Have you noticed the question mark in the title bar? When you click it and the hover certain UI elements your mouse pointer changes to this.

 

Screenshot_20200611_200949.png.efb49ae299c05d0f57215e265a16b9d8.png

This means there is a help text for that and with another click you get that help. Sadly not enough KDE programs make use of that feature and those that do aren't rigorous enough.

 

Screenshot_20200611_215126.png.f1e987bb0929209fe9462de8439fca21.png

And yes, there is auto-completion in the filename input field. Nothing special, or so one would think: The Gtk file choose HAS NO file name input and as such no auto-completion. You can just start typing there and it starts to search for files recursively, but I don't want that. I don't want to be overwhelmed by all the matching files in some subdirectory. Most of the time I want to search for a subfolder to navigate to and I get all these files from wherever!

 

Sorry, started with praising the KDE file chooser and ended up bashing the Gtk file chooser. But to be fair, there is one feature I'm really missing in the KDE file chooser: recently used files. Gtk has that! And it is even cross toolkit! So KDE should have the ability to access the list of recent files too, but doesn't show it in its file chooser. Welp. Rant over.

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More things I like about KDE:

 

Screenshot_20200611_222042.thumb.png.505a5edc711a48a019cd7d010a13ba8a.png

You can force your will on program windows. First you match windows by certain properties.

 

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Then you force other properties.

 

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And more properties.

 

Screenshot_20200611_222113.thumb.png.a95bb291f3ae9f0097b5882413883835.png

And even more. :D

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2 hours ago, sulupickles said:

Only at serious speed costs.

True, that would be a significant problem. But still, I feel like there ought to be a way to get a second OS working over windows running your custom shell but deferring to the Windows OS when it comes to the matter of running software. I guess it'd have to be more involved than that to avoid slowdown. I feel like there's bound to be a software solution too here... 

 

 

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Posted (edited)
On 6/10/2020 at 8:04 PM, Ross Scott said:

If you ever wanted to know all my thoughts on the GUI, here you are!  This has honestly been brewing in my mind for decades and while this video took way too long to make, it's an accomplishment for me that I was able to put this into something coherent.  I'm really hoping this leads to somebody bestowing GUI enlightenment upon us, though I'm not betting on it.

This post also doubles as a thread for people to post any helpful information regarding my GUI quest at the end of the video.  Thanks in advance for anyone who finds some answers!

 

This is a blog post. To read the original post, please click here »

 

 

 

These are really good ideas. Ross, or someone who's willing, please write exact design white-paper with visual examples for FreeDesktop.Org, ESPECIALLY radial menu concept that would work wonders for mice, gamepads, touchpad, gesture-controls, all point-type devices, so they could be expressed in Wayland protocol specifications and implemented in common ways among W-compliant WM/DEs that are supposed to replace entire GNU/Linux & F/OSS GUI infrastructure of the past, that is based on X11. It can be posted https://gitlab.freedesktop.org/wayland/wayland/-/issues  for programmers to figure out. Points about proper palettes should also be relayed to GUI design committees of common DEs, such as KDE and Gnome, they indeed deliberately copying stupid crap from Windows and MacOS. Campaigning for them to stop that and start thinking again would be nice.

 

Although, it's possible that all underlying infrastructure already exists and the problem is visual design and implementation. By the way, Wayland allows creating fully 3D DEs, video-game style, not just window layers. But we would need actual experience VG UI designers to achieve that, like ones working on economical strategies with big data-sheets and complex controls. There were notable 3D DE experiments, such as Project Looking Glass that Steve Jobs smothered, SGI's IRIX and Metisse.

 

And here's some obligatory F/OSS DE goodness (if you can call degradation of KDE 3 to 4 and 5 that) bragging (wallpapers are upscaled with legendary waifu2x-converter-cpp with OpenCL GPU acceleration):

* KDE3 with amaroK audio manager on Qt3:

2008-10-11_17-53-22.jpg

* KDE3 on 16:9 display with Quake-style terminal:

2009-12-27_05-12-59.jpg

* LXQt with jamin audio processing on JACK:

2015-03-02_00-48-27.jpg

* KDE4 with Conky with "now-playing" menu for Clementine, Qt4 amaroK fork:

2015-10-25_23-51-19.png

* KDE5 on Qt5 featuring Calf & LSP JACK plugins and Strawberry, Clementine fork:

2020-03-18_09-45-33.png

Edited by V (see edit history)

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Posted (edited)

I love the GUI of Haiku, for example it has a couple of cool features

 

Tabs:

gui-s+t.gif

 

 

Right click menus everywhere:

drill-down.png

 

 

E-Mails, contacts, documents or anything you want in your filesystem (and not just in any silly extra program):

people.png

 

Dragging and dropping elements (like system monitors, calculator, volume control etc.) from other programs to the desktop and pinning them there:

grafik.png.eb03b71005890088635bd03bddea192c.png

 

And more tools and themes to rice your desktop to your likings:

803c16b7bbd22b622dbd2ece593283890b2f29cd

 

It reached Beta 2 two days ago and it's definitely worth trying out (even if it needs some polish). But I think this one beats any operating system GUI-wise so far (and it isn't heavily terminal-dependant like Linux). And yes, it's its own little thing, no Linux, Windows or Mac thing (hence driver support is a little bit spotty right now).

Edited by koyu (see edit history)

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Posted (edited)

Haven't read the thread so I don't know if anyone has posted this yet, but I was looking into how to make my phone and PC look more like TNG era Star Trek computers. I found these:

http://lcarsx32.org/ - Looks like development ended on this one a few years ago. Features "Computer" as a voice activation line to preform different functions with the ability to add your own. Very clunky. Star date is set as the default for the clock, and that's in the negatives right now. Looks like the guy also had a youtube channel.

I was also really interested in what kind of results I could get with my phone given what I see online.

EDIT: Some people have even done this with their cars. I don't know if I would go that far on a vanity interface. It has potential but suffers from some of the same issues as modern GUIs.

Edited by Grey Tide (see edit history)

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Posted (edited)

There's a major problem with GUIs as they exist today: a lack of composability, or the ability to connect multiple programs together or assemble larger blocks of functionality from the smaller ones you already have and understand. This is something the CLI gets right, and it's one of the big reasons people tout CLIs as having superior efficiency.

 

In a composable interface, I might only ever need to learn a few searching/scanning/data extraction tools really well. Instead of learning yet another search interface, or worse yet resorting to a program's builtin find-and-replace dialog, I could just plug my favorite tool in and use that. For a less text-oriented example, imagine taking a video lecture, filtering it through a video-processing program to extract the slides, and sending the images directly into another program to assemble the resulting images into a PDF. No saving intermediate files to disk or manually dragging things around, just wiring them together and letting the data go from one program to another. Finally, once you've got it perfect, it'd be trivial to make the whole chain into a new "tool" you could use later on - maybe right-click a Youtube link, run it through the "get video, filter, make PDF" chain, then print the output.

 

In most GUIs I've seen, these functions are all separate programs that can't really talk to each other aside from saving and loading files. There's certainly no easy way to package up a collection of programs, their options, and the connections as a new building block. Essentially, the problem is that applications are special - you can't connect them together to make a new application without programming and a lot of work.

 

CLIs are great at composability. Connecting the output of one program to the input of another is so fundamental to the Unix paradigm that there's a character dedicated to it. They're by no means perfect - discoverability is not one of the strong points - but the ability to put together small, easily-understood parts like Lego to get the functionality you want outweighs the drawbacks for a lot of people, myself included.

 

You could have a perfect GUI by all the standards Ross sets out in the video, but if it didn't solve this problem it'd still end up being necessarily inefficient for a large class of tasks. He mentioned in passing that he sometimes spends large amounts of time searching for and evaluating programs to accomplish a specific task; the fact that this is common enough to mention is a perfect example of what I mean. With a composable system it wouldn't go away entirely, but it'd be less frequent.

 

I don't have as much direct investment in improving GUIs as some people since I'm a developer and live in the terminal or browser 99% of the time, but I figured I'd contribute my two cents anyway. Besides, if there *is* a solution to GUI composability I wouldn't object to a nicer computing environment .

Edited by Mostly Harmless (see edit history)

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Posted (edited)

Hello, I'm a KDE developer. Just wanted to pop in, share a bit of my workflow and say it's cool to see all the love for Plasma here.

 

Re: CLI:

CLI doesn't have to be as bad as cmd.exe. It's currently not as good as it could be, but it could get there and you can already do much, much better than cmd.exe or bash.

 

I actually like to combine CLI and GUI in one with Dolphin's terminal panel (Dolphin is KDE's main file manager):

Screenshot_20200612_001730.thumb.png.3b8c41445644c21786fb8ecc762f95ec.png

 

You see all those `cd` (change directory) commands? I'm sure some of you know that from cmd.exe or Linux, but I'm not actually typing those myself! Instead, when I change directories in the GUI, the terminal changes to the directory I'm looking at. Pretty sweet, right? Also, see how my terminal looks fancy? It can do autosuggestions based on command history when I start typing, do completions when I press tab, do syntax highlighting and more. With all that, it's not 100% perfect, but using the CLI is actually a pretty pleasant experience for certain tasks. BTW, the CLI shell I'm using is called Zsh. There are tons of plugins for it, but it's not that nice OOTB. There are newer shells like nushell and elvish out there.

 

Could a lot of it be replaced with a GUI that does something equivalent? Yes and sometimes the only reason why I use the CLI is because there are no good GUI alternatives. For example, most GUI frontends to Git (source code version control system) have major flaws. There are still advantages to the CLI though.

  1. Repeating the same tasks over and over is extremely easy. A GUI can't really ever match its efficiency at doing that.
  2. Unlike GUIs, CLI tools often can be made to work together, allowing you achieve more with fewer programs. Info is often text that can be passed around and modified freely. It would be very difficult to design a GUI ecosystem that works as well with passing around and modifying text.

Ways CLI could be better:

  • Better autosuggestions: why not make them context based? Why not make it possible to compose new combinations of commands only with autosuggestions? Think about what your software keyboard does on your phone. It could be like that, but even better because CLI isn't as complex as English.
  • Why such a hard divide between CLI and GUI? Dolphin's terminal panel gets a bit closer, but it's still completely separate in every other way. Although, we did recently add the ability to see thumbnails for files when you hover over file names in the terminal!
  • CLI and voice commands are not so distant relatives. Not sure if I'd actually want to use it, but I see no reason why you couldn't use voice commands to do what the CLI does.

To be clear, I'm not saying that everyone should just use the CLI and that GUIs don't need improving, just that you shouldn't dismiss the CLI as old and automatically bad. It's still in use for very good reasons and not just because of bad GUIs.

Edited by NoahDVS
Add bit about thumbanils (see edit history)

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I love this kinda thing! I love to skin my programs and make them look and behave the way I want. I was happy to see foobar in the video since that's one of my favorite programs for this.

 

Someone mentioned Haiku--I also love Haiku!

 

My dream UI brainstorm session:

 

I love to use keyboard shortcuts for most of my computer usage. Mouse is inefficient from my point of view. One big issue I have with the way we usually design keyboard shortcuts is that they require you to press multiple buttons at once, which a keyboard isnt designed to do, and also is often hard to do one-handed.

 

So my solution to this problem is key sequences. I remember playing an FPS game that had many voice commands bound to sequences on the numpad. This allowed the game to have dozens of options that were all accessible in 2 or at most 3 key strokes. Not only that but as you were playing you would learn the most used commands by heart VERY quickly. (I thought it was Return to Castle Wolvenstein that had this but I can't find any confirmation online.)

 

Perhaps this principle could be used in UI design as well?

ie. press numpad 0 to get a list of commands: 

1 -> firefox (browser)

2 -> foobar (music player)

3 -> directory opus (file explorer)

4 -> photoshop (image editor)

5 -> all programs

6 -> settings

...

9 -> [current program context, for example 1-minimize, 2-maximize, 3-close]

 

by doing this, you can start to do super quick one-handed shortcuts. they could even be context/program-sensitive so for example:

0->2(music player)->3(next song)

or

9->3 (close)

 

alternatively each number could contain a number of programs, so:

1(browsers)->1 firefox, 2 vivaldi, 3 opera

2(music players)->1 foobar, 2 winamp, 3 xmplay

this could be configurable!

 

it's really fast to type those kinda codes in and they will become second nature. It could be accompanied by a visual as well that shows a list of items, perhaps it could be scrollable with page up/page down or arrow keys in case you don't know what number you want. You could even include a search option as well.

 

If I think about it, you could also do this with a numpad on the side of a mouse, if you didn't want to take your hand off the mouse.

 

I hope this makes sense...

 

... Does anything like this exist? I really want this now.

Edited by surasshu (see edit history)

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I'd be really interested to see you try out tiling window managers for Linux. They're basically exactly the idea of creating a new type of GUI from the ground up without worrying about looking or feeling like Windows. I think the result is different than the direction that you would be looking to go, but they're still amazingly huge steps forward over Windows, and I think seeing how other people approach the problem would be helpful in coming up with more concrete ideas.

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13 hours ago, Eisen said:

Hey, i'm an amateur pixel artist. While i can't chime in too much, I did do something kind of strange that may seem interesting to some folks here.

 

 

Hey, a pixel art theme could be pretty awesome for the OS.  I'm a fan of that style.  When editing the video, I found myself wishing my OS looked like I was living in the racing game world at the end.

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