Monday, April 18, 2005

User interface expo

Microsoft had an internal user interface demo day of sorts today. I went for an hour this afternoon, and while I was entertained, I was kind of disappointed that there weren't many exhibits on the tons of actual user interface research and development being done in the company. It was mostly a chance for teams that have made cool UI stuff to show off their work, and while I did see some cool stuff, it wasn't really an educational or inspiring experience, which was too bad.

I did get to see Aero Glass, or what I think is Aero Glass. (Aero Glass is the codename of the top tier hardware-accelerated, pixel-shaded new UI in Longhorn.) While it looks hot—I mean, I haven't seen UI anywhere that looks as sexy as what Longhorn looks right now—somehow, I was expecting more. Basically everything I saw when I was playing around with Longhorn I had seen before in screenshots, both internally and on public websites. Maybe there's still something even cooler in development, and I just saw the scaled-back version—I've seen screenshots of this stuff leaked recently, and people are always told that "no, this isn't Aero Glass; that looks even better." That would excite me. But, I guess I'm excited enough that Longhorn will look at least that good even when it hits beta, and it will probably be the best-looking software on the planet when it hits.

But that's enough fanboyism. While I didn't really learn about anything new, I did get to see some prototype keyboards and mice that never made it to market—apparently designs that were so cool and stylish that they didn't think that people would buy them. I also got to talk to one of the designers of the recent Microsoft keyboards, which was a treat, since I'm a big fan of Microsoft's keyboards. I told him that I love the new five-button delete/home/end/pgup/pgdn layout (no insert key), and he reluctantly informed me that I'm only in about a 2% minority of power users. He said something interesting: there are two groups who buy keyboards. The first one is the OEM. The other one is the power user. Normal consumers don't buy keyboards. So, developing cool new keyboards with innovative features isn't very profitable: the OEMs are usually willing to ship super-cheap keyboards because users don't ask for a good keyboard, and power users are extremely resistant to change, and aren't even willing to try a keyboard with a wonderful double-sized Delete key and no stupid Insert key in the way.

I also got to try out a notebook/tablet auxilliary display first-hand. (An auxilliary display is a small LCD on the outside case of a portable computer that operates even when the computer is shut down, for accessing your mail, music, and calendar.) I must have one of these on my next portable computer, assuming I ever buy another portable computer... I barely use the one I have now. But this thing was amazing. My main complaint is that there weren't dedicated controls for changing the music; they used the same buttons as accessing your mail and such, so changing the track may very well require a couple button presses, thus it wasn't quite as easy to control as a dedicated MP3 player.

So, even if it was more of a "show off cool designs" demo day than actually showing off user interface research like I expected, I still had a fun hour. There were quite a few people there, even after they were supposed to have closed, though I think some of them were there for the free bar...

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm all about the double sized delete button

Tom said...

Uhh.... How do you toggle between Insert and non-Insert mode in text entry applications (Word, PowerPoint, vi, emacs, etc)?

Travis said...

Well, every six to twelve months or so when I find myself sort-of-wanting that functionality, I can press Function + Print Screen (Insert is printed on the side). It's so incredibly rare that I would want to turn on overtype mode that it hardly deserves a key. It's only the slightest bit more useful than scroll lock. I'd really be okay just not having insert or scroll lock keys at all.

Tom said...

They ditched the Insert key, but kept Scroll Lock? Who on earth uses Scroll Lock?! I'll spot you the super-sized Delete Button, as long as Scroll Lock is replaced by Insert.

Travis said...

My mistake; Scroll Lock is Function + Pause. The two keys in the upper-right are Print Screen and Pause, which are the only two of "those" keys that I use. I was a bit confused because that key is labeled "Pause Att. Arrêt défil" on my keyboard.