A Brief History of UIs
From my perspective there has been three big revolutions with-respect-to UIs. The first revolution was the command-line c:> (or other) where the UI really became interactive for both consumers and engineers sharing the same interface. The command-line era was an interesting one where consumers had to raise their basic understanding of devices by using esoteric command line runes. I had many a difficult session attempting to explain these runes to family and friends, verging on impossible for some. This UI exposed the engineering environment details to everyone. Even today most Operating Systems provide a command-line, if not an extremely hidden one.
The second User Interface revolution changed everything and is ubiquitous; it simplified the consumer experience making the computer accessible to the majority. This was the introduction of windowing systems (i.e. WIMP – Windows, Icon, Menu, and Pointing Device). It changed how we interact with computers and converted them into useful productivity/entertainment tools. I remember at the time not everyone had the same view, paraphrasing a UNIX programmer “why use a windowing system when you can use more monitors!”.
Windowing systems provided a safe environment for engineers with the windowing systems creating an artificial wall from the consumer. As with the command-line, the engineers and consumers shared the same hardware – it was software that created the virtual wall. The hardware was still fundamentally based on the same engineering tool developed many years ago.
UI becomes personal
This brings me onto what I call the Third User Interface Revolution. Mobile technology has created a physical separation of the consumer and engineering environments. This revolution has and will continue to change how we interact with “computers”. The rapid adoption of smartphones and tablets is a great example of this Third User Interface Revolution. Where the traditional engineering look and feel is missing and has been replaced with a new mobile UI. Unlike the previous revolutions, the new UI is being delivered on completely new hardware devices specifically for that consumer UI experience.
The First and Second User Interface Revolutions remain available today but they are starting to gravitate towards specialized areas e.g. gaming, video editing, and software development. I can probably predict that the notion of a desktop computer will remain the engineering tool for software development, but the development lifecycle will increasingly rely on cross-compilers and simulators. This will mean that the traditional laptop and desktop computers will no longer be the product target.
We have gone from sharing, to software isolation, to finally separating the engineering device from the consumer device. This third revolution is different from the previous two since it is brought about by consumer requirements and isn’t held back by engineering ones. Assuming that the Third User interface Revolution is upon us, does this cause personal really to mean innovation and not engineering?
Andrew N. Sloss, Consultant Engineer, ARM, He is interested in future software technologies and trends. In particular, Andrew looks at how software can make use of low power devices in new innovating ways. Andrew is an author, Fellow of the British Computer Society, and currently holds the chair of the ARM Bindings Sub Team for UEFI.
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