'Father of the Mac' discusses the future of interfaces

The mouse and desktop computer could go the way of the "green screen," Jef Raskin, the "father of the Macintosh," said in a Computerworld article.

Raskin was the creator of the Macintosh project at Apple. But what's this "green screen"? Well, 25 years ago, computer screens were small and green. They're now history. And Raskin, the author of "The Humane Interface: New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems," thinks that most current computer interfaces are due to be replaced by a better one.

Does this mean the Mac interface just isn't good enough? "First of all, this is not a Mac issue," Raskin said. "It's not a Wintel or Linux or Sun issue, either. It's a human issue. I have yet to meet a computer user who is happy with the way computers treat them. And most of their pain is caused by bad interface design. That includes over-complex software, nonexistent manuals, and help systems that themselves need help. It's been 22 years since I started the Mac. And a lot more is known now than nearly 30 years ago when Xerox Parc [Palo Alto Research Center] was first using [Douglas] Engelbart's mouse and inventing windows, with a small w. Forcing users to still work with current interfaces is like giving them the old 640-by-480-pixel screens and slow processors we used back then."

Raskin said that present interfaces overuse the mouse and icons and rely on "methods that we know now to cause users to actually make errors." He doesn't particularly like ways of interacting with the Internet ("we turn the Web into a maze of little rooms with opaque doors called tabs and URLs, so that you can't see where you're going") or adaptive interfaces a ala Microsoft's Office 2000 menus ("a disaster" because they change without warning, and "you suddenly have a new interface where things work differently or the menus are mixed up"). And though he likes Linux, "the developers keep designing what are, at best, puerile improvements on standard GUIs [graphical user interfaces]."

Though he doesn't know exactly what shape they'll take, Raskin thinks interfaces of the future will require fewer keystrokes and less "mousing around." And he told Computerworld it would take "a company as bold as Apple used to be to introduce a new interface idea."

Raskin himself has experimented with new interface designs, including the "zooming interface," which he said has been well received by those who have tried it. Such new interfaces will replace the need to learn new programs.

"In my current interface designs, everything you need is laid out for you," Raskin said. "You just zoom in, and as soon as you can read the text or see the graphic details, you can work on them. Then there's no need for windows, which you are forever opening, closing, moving or fooling with."

And he thinks that the interfaces will catch on, though they may be radically different from current ones.

"You can't imagine how many times I was told that nobody wanted or would use graphics-oriented interface widgets when I was creating the Macintosh, and I kept on hearing that even after it was released," Raskin said. "Now, flawed though they might be, everybody uses them."

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