Monday, February 18, 2008

All that matters to a user is the GUI

The trouble with computers is the same as a bunch of blind men describing an elephant. Who is touching what and who is expressing their opinion. The topic of choice is the human-computer interface. What do you, the common computer user today use to access, control, manipulate and view data? Besides the various input and output devices there is a common element that co-ordinates the whole arrangement. It's what you see on your computer screen, the desktop GUI (graphical user interface). The GUI is a bone of contention among system designers. Some are old enough to remember the all text days. I my self was around when pen and ink drafting gave way to computer aided drafting, so I know the pangs of progress. The fact that the GUI responsible for the popular use of computers, is often lost on some programmers and developers has not hampered its use in the least. So, even if the operating system is perfection itself, the GUI is the thing the user handles. If the GUI is sloppy, sluggish, ugly or any other faulty adjective, the user thus judges the whole system as lame. And you know how picky some users are. The GUI has progressed since the early days in Xerox labs and I don't think we've seen the end of it. Many are trying to extend the devices we use to manipulate the GUI beyond the keyboard and mouse. But for you and I right now we have the keyboard/mouse/screen combo with the on screen GUI. It is almost safe to say that certain elements of the GUI are standard, that is what a user expects to see on the desktop after boot up. You expect to see a status bar, menus, and of course icons and windows. Who doesn't know how to point and click, drag and drop, and cut and paste? If you can work the GUI, you can work the computer. It always cracks me up to hear users say the GUI and OS they are using is the best. They often get quite heated over criticisms to the contrary. In truth, you'd have to admit that the quality of workmanship of the operating system underneath the GUI does show through. Stability and response are very apparent to users when trying to get work done. My point is not to promote who has the best elephant(GUI), but that GUI's are the common access method for users of computers today. If you can grasp the GUI concept, it probably wouldn't matter the brand name of the operating system behind it. Of course and having said that, I am implying that many are duped to believe that Microsoft and Apple software are all there is and that they alone have the polish and glitz to own the desktop. This is not the whole truth and in fact Linux is not the only other operating system with a GUI that is available for public use today. Again, my point is that if you can work the GUI (point, click, drag, drop, cut and paste), you can operate virtually any desktop computer today. Talking cars, does your drivers training make you a Ford, Chevy or Toyota person, or give you the ability to drive any car, truck or van? I know, a computer system is so much more than just a GUI, but the GUI is the means to access any system today. Many operating system camps use the scenario of how easy is it for grandparents to use a computer. It is the GUI they are talking about. Will they understand how to point and click, drag and drop or cut and paste? It is about the precise location of screen elements (habit optimised) vs user adjusting and tweaking. It is about knowing what to expect when you click. A GUI can add a level of reassurance to a person poking the keyboard and clicking the mouse. The GUI is a comfortable face on a screen of numbers. The GUI is the thing!

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