Your computer is old. It might be brand new, maxed out with gigabytes of RAM, and dangling with dongles, but in one important way it’s no different than a computer built 46 years ago: It revolves around a desktop.
The desktop metaphor, first introduced by Xerox and soon copied by Apple and Microsoft, quickly became the foundation of all operating systems. Computer starts up, and there’s a beautiful picture, upon which documents sit, windows pile up, and trash cans fill.
The Sacred Cow
The desktop metaphor was great. But in all these years of technological advancement it has remained holy ground, untouched by the innovators at Apple and Microsoft.
Widgets have come and gone, and are now back yet again. But these like any attempt at enhancing the desktop have all been appendages; layers hovering over the same rectangle that holds a mess of documents and shortcuts. iPadOS brings back widgets, which can bring some utility, so that’s something, I guess.
I have waited keynote after keynote, conference after conference, for these simple words: “we are replacing the desktop with…” but it never comes. Microsoft tried their bold vision of the start menu with Windows 8, I suppose. Was the demotion of the desktop part of its failure? The answer: no.
Perhaps Apple took note, and made its only recent desktop innovation with MacOS Mojave… stacks. Apple continued its reverence for the desktop metaphor by looking for inspiration in the sad attempt of organization that is stacking papers on your desk.
Others have called for the death of the desktop. As recently as last week. My heart sunk for a moment that Jason Yuan beat me to the punch. But there’s enough room in this office for two sledge hammers. Hopefully someone will get the message.
My vision for the desktop is not as bold as MercuryOS. But focusing on tasks, both historical and future, is something our visions share in common. When pondering the desktop replacement I asked myself this one question: Why do we save files to our desktop?
- I don’t want to think of where to put this file
- I want to access this soon or often
You can address these two goals in many ways. I focused on a stream that captures your activity throughout the day. Save a file this morning? You might want it this afternoon. Copy a url to your clipboard? You might want that in 25 minutes.
Of course files are a big part of getting work done, so tracking and presenting files to you from a centralized location makes perfect sense. But the computer should be doing that for you across the entire file system, not to just a folder called “desktop.” Give us another special folder for when we can’t be bothered to organize. I’m calling it a “junk drawer”.
Siri still has a long way to go to truly help you get things done like the digital assistant of the future. But as it gets smarter, it can determine relationships between files and actions. Do you access a file or website at a certain time of day? Do you open two files together or a file with a website? Receive an email that mentions getting together? How’s your calendar looking? Not good? Here’s some options.
The hub brings anything that can help you get your work done to the fore. Checklists, your calendar, notes, and even clipboard items are relevant bits of information that can help you be productive throughout the day. I snuck in a combined messaging area, too.
There’s so much potential for a rectangle. Whether it’s this stream, something like MercuryOS, all that matters is that we do something with that potential. Let’s replace the desktop with something that makes our lives easier.
I created this prototype in Invision Studio. It’s not quite Sketch yet, but building out the transitions really helped me think about how these features fit together. I made the mistake of building this at full iMac resolution, thus the choppiness. But I was in too deep and there’s no scale feature yet. Oops. But you can play with the prototype here.
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Thanks, and DEATH TO THE DESKTOP!