Friday, January 9, 2009

BumpTop Desk: Desktops go tactile

Location: Web Site

At the Second Life Education Roundtable on Jan. 6, Jeremy Kemp, of San Jose State, mentioned this technology. It was my first encounter with this interface.

I'd not thought before about how virtual worlds might influence the day-to-day interaction with the flat interface on our PC, Mac, and Linux desktops. BumpTop brings a "physics" from gaming and virtual worlds to our flat screens, so we can push and pull things in a physically familiar way.

From their site, the makers state that:

"You can pile and toss documents like on a real desk. Break free from the rigid and mechanical style of standard point-and-click desktops. Interact by pushing, pulling and piling documents with elegant, self revealing gestures."

My real-life desk at work is a mess. But it is a fun mess. BumpTop brings some of the fun back to our desktops.

Be sure to catch the wonderfully humorous demo by BumpTop's co-creator (visit the site and scroll down a bit). One can crumple icons, dog-ear them, pin them to a wall, toss them into piles. It's more intuitive than our current interfaces, and it brings back some fun I miss from the Age of Paper.

I just hope the interface does not enable me to hide a basket under the BumpTop with a pile of papers, academic journals, and copies of Mac Life that I really don't want to consider or have not had time to read.

What will tactile desktops bring? Those of us who used DOS or other command-line interfaces, or who use UNIX today, understand the evolutionary step forward made by early GUIs--Xerox's Alto OS, The Lisa/Mac interface, Microsoft's Windows 3.0 (I used it!). The emergence of those OSes meant that we could actually multitask on our desktops (well, not right away with Microsoft's OS--perhaps by Windows 95, which seemed Mac-like enough for me to use it without fighting the interface). They also meant, longer-term, a change in how we related to the information inside our computers.

I don't know what the BumpTop or an interface like it will do for how we relate to information. Might it make multitasking seem more realistic, just as virtual worlds made chatting and sharing information more natural, when compared to MOOs and MUDs?

We'll know if a few years. The exploration will be fun.

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