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The Future of the Operating System: Revisited, Part 1 (webb.page)
56 points by NetOpWibby 4 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 38 comments





My long term bet: computing will move towards an interface driven by "emoji as command". Custom iconography will fade out as the interoperability (and familiarity) of popular unicode symbols becomes dominant. So much of the existing textual input we use is designed to overcome the limitations of our software. In the future if you want to go home then you'll ⌂. If you want to go to the supermarket then you'll U+1F6D2. Once the AI knows your usual supermarket then that's where it will bring you. A complete shorthand for interpersonal communication will spring up, obviating the need to express the kind of nuance that we use presently solely to delude ourselves that we have something to say that can't be statistically derived from the total sum of former human communication.

Meanwhile I'll be in my sweet, sweet grave.

Edit: looks like HN can't show the shopping trolley


In the 80s a pundit predicted that in the future the interface to spreadsheets would be a games controller, because that's what the kids were growing up with and would want to use when they grew up. Then 10 years ago it was txt shrt abrvs wr t ftr. Except actually they were just the product of now ridiculously dated numeric keypad input the kids of today know nothing about.

The latest kids craze is always the wave of the future, except actually it's usually just a craze and will end up looking just as dated as the Rubik's Cube.


It's a thought worth considering though. Basically you have your fingers at the "home row" at all times, so no delay or errors from travel. Also you have analog input instead of digital!

I'd say that the market have optimized creativly the gamepads to near 1:1 through put w/o having to think about backwards compatility.

What holds us back is the vast majority of minimum effort pencil pushers who want to spend 8 hours at work and don't care if things get done. They would never see the idea of making their job go faster say by a better keyboard and or by writing a nifty script to automate some dull toil. As long as they have a legally protected job they'll just go there 8 hours a day and don't care if they are doing something that could be automated in an hour!


I can say "home" or "supermarket" faster than I can type Unicode. For that matter, I can type "home" or "supermarket" faster than I can type Unicode.

But Neo, what good are your typing skills... if you don't have a physical keyboard?

But what good is your comment... since I do have a keyboard?

And in situations where I don't have a keyboard, these days, I do have speech recognition.

Those comments are me responding, having had to guess what your point is. If I've missed, could you perhaps clarify your point?


Presumably, emoji commands will become a thing in an era when soft keyboards are the norm for personal computing devices and emoji input will therefore be easy.

More likely, such commands will take the form of a changing panel of custom ideographs. Think fast-food POS terminals.


Well... if I can input any emoji (or worse, any Unicode), then I still can almost certainly type "home" faster than the emoji. If I have something POS style, where there are only a few icons available, and the icon I actually need is part of the set, and I'm familiar with the layout so I don't have to hunt for it, then I can probably touch the home icon faster than I can type "home" - but still probably not faster than I can say it.

But you can touch it faster than the sum of the time it takes you to say it and the time it takes the machine to recognize what you said. And the touch will be more accurate.

Eventually, people will get tired of drawing pictures of houses and shopping trolleys, the glyphs will become increasingly simplified and abstract, and we'll finally have Yingzi. https://www.zompist.com/yingzi/yingzi.htm

Wasn't one of the characters in Neal Stephenson's "Diamond Age" struggling with reading iconographics, a disability similar to dyslexia - but for glyphs?

Is my scrollwheel broken? Oh, no, somebody just abused Javascript events for a horizontal scroll.

I think this is a sign of stagnating development on the frontend. You have all these zealous developers trying to just do something new, better, different - eventually it leads to consuming itself, to the point where old, widely accepted standards are broken in the name of novelty, with no concern for the UX.

The same self-consumption can also be seen in the cryptocurrency space.


There needs to be a hard rule about this.

Don't mess with scroll. You will always get it wrong.


The scrolling is so horrible on this page. Only way I can move forward (right) is by scrolling up and one full swipe on my track pad moves it ~200 pixels.

I had the same experience, but I found that the arrow keys worked fairly well for moving side-to-side. The presence of a workaround still doesn't make this kind of thing acceptable though.

I’m a fan of multi-column layouts horizontal scrolling but this one is badly done. The scrolling speed is wrong; might be calibrated for the author’s pointer device, because they vary a lot, both among devices and among operative systems. There is no way to get it right.

The mapping of vertical scroll to horizontal scroll is something that should be done by the browser when using a multi-column layout.

My most recent attempt is this: https://sentido-labs.com/en/library/201904240732/Xanadu%20Hy...

Right after the title there is a checkbox, checked by default, that when unchecked will lay the document out with multi-column chapters and horizontal scroll inside a chapter, vertical scroll to move between chapters.

I use a touchpad which allows horizontal scrolling so there is no need to remap v-scroll to h-scroll, but that would not work with most mice that only have a plain scroll wheel.

In practice, I too find the cursor keys (also try page-up/-down) the most comfortable way. It’s still jankier than it should but I hope that browsers’ handling of CSS scroll snap points will improve.

Although the multi-column layout works well for me, it does not for most people because of limitations in both the browser and their input devices, so I had to make single-column the default.


Arrow keys, pageup/down didn't work for me either. The horizontal scroll bar was the only thing that worked.

We want to send a spaceship to the moon but we haven't even made a decent car yet.

There is not a single good desktop operating system. Am I the only one that has noticed this? I hope not.

Windows sucks, Linux distros suck, MacOS sucks, but each one sucks in a different way. Our whole civilization depends on desktop computers, and they run crappy software. I wonder how haven't we all died because of the unreliability of our software stack.

I don't care about weird mobile things that are always connected to my watch running javascript. I want a computer --a regular, personal computer-- that works well, looks decently good, with a nice user interface and that doesn't spy on me. Is that too much to ask?


I wholeheartedly agree. While the technical underpinnings of today's desktop operating systems have never been better (we have come a long way from DOS-based Windows and the somewhat unstable classic Mac OS), I feel that we have experienced a decline in the user experience.

I personally believe that Windows 2000 was the best version of Windows despite its security issues. Windows 10 is technically better, especially with its Windows Subsystem for Linux layer, but unfortunately Windows 10 doesn't support Classic Mode like earlier versions of Windows, and I find Windows 10's telemetry, advertising, notifications, and mandatory updates highly annoying. Windows would be a great OS if it weren't for its annoyances, which is why I hope that one day ReactOS catches up with Windows 10 in terms of compatibility.

I personally love macOS, but its EULA ties it to Apple hardware, which I've become increasingly disappointed with. And, quite frankly, I have a soft spot for the simplicity and consistency of the classic Mac OS, even if its architecture needed a complete re-haul.

As for desktop Linux, while it definitely has all of the components necessary for a modern OS, it lacks the fit-and-finish that macOS has. Part of it is due to the very nature of the development of desktop Linux. Unlike Windows and macOS where Microsoft and Apple, respectively, have control of the entire stack from the kernel all the way to bundled applications like WordPad, Edge, and Safari, in desktop Linux each component is part of a completely different project that is made by different developer teams who have very different goals, which are often not aligned with a larger vision of providing a coherent desktop experience. Now, one can find greater consistency by sticking to applications that follow the GNOME and KDE user guidelines. However, many applications don't follow either one of these guidelines. I find that Linux distributions have the uphill battle of trying to create a consistent, coherent environment out of a collection of discrete, disparate parts. The result is a system that may very well be just as full-featured as Windows and macOS, but it feels more like a collection of parts rather than one coherent system, which becomes apparent whenever something breaks.

I would love to use a desktop operating system that provides coherency and consistency while also allowing the user to have full control over his or her environment. I also want to use a desktop OS that is also unabashedly and unashamedly a desktop OS and not one that tries to integrate a user experience that is more suited to mobile devices rather than desktop computers.

Unfortunately operating systems are very capital-intensive to build. This blog post (http://mmcthrow-musings.blogspot.com/2019/06/my-2019-mac-pro...) contains more information about what it would take to build the type of system that I would love to migrate to.


I disagree with the article's conclusion. I think the reason the desktop metaphor with files and folders has stuck around so long is because it is actually a pretty good, and neatly simple, abstraction of how things actually are.

Every new OS, it seems - mobile or desktop - seems to go out of its way to hide my files from me. On Windows 10, the "C" drive isn't listed until you go one level deep.

Unpopular idea of mine (not invented by me oc): Horizontal scrolling is a great idea. The only reason it is annoying in this site is because there is no first class support for it in many touchpads and physical mouses.

if you're talking about paragraphs: DEAR GOD NO.

Paragraphs should be 40-80 ems wide if you want them to be readable. My phone has first class support for horizontal scrolling and it still sucks.

Now if you're just talking about window management then yes I totally agree with you (See X11 "pagers" (a different approach to "workspaces") that are part of FVWM and TWM.)

Edit: I should probably include an argument instead of just an opinion: obviously scrolling is a necessity, you can’t fit all the information you want on one screen and paging is (IMO) generally worse. When you’re reading a document or paragraph you’re concerned about context. Really scrolling here in general is bad but you’re moving left and right so often enough that it makes the most sense to just wrap text and have vertical scrolling (with an image the scrolling direction really doesn’t matter it just sucks in general.) switching windows (or whatever) usually indicates some kind of mental context switch (looking at a different source file, looking at build errors, etc.) and so it doesn’t matter so much if you have to scroll (Although you’d naturally try to keep things with shared context close, preferably within one physical screen of each other, because no scrolling is still always better.)


I think the idea is to have multiple columns on screen (like some print magazine and newspaper layouts) so each paragraph is still 40-80em like you say, but you just see more of them at once. (this was roughly the Windows 8 layout guidance)

It's also much slower than my setting for normal (vertical) scroll.

I honestly wouldn't mind the horizontal scroll, if it actually felt native.


Why not go closer to the UNIX abstractions but with modern graphics and utilities instead of away from it. So in essence the commands and structures of UNIX files (nodes) and directory structures (graphs) but presented via state of the art visualization methods?

If you look at how far a regular user could get in the 90s with Applescript, Hypercard, and the Classic Mac OS, today's systems are quite underwhelming by comparison.

I have no doubt that all the Unix based systems of today are more stable and faster than the older (and more diverse) crop of personal computing operating systems, but these systems lack the kind of true computing power that older systems provided to regular users.

Smalltalk systems are another kind of vision for what a personal computing operating system could be like: no "applications" or "files," just a sea of computing structures called objects and levels of metaphor and abstraction that give regular users powerful ways to interact with them.

Today if users want to go just a step beyond what their shrnkwrapped programs can do -- and trust me, that happens all the time -- they have two options: either buy some plugin or other program that hopefully does the job, or learn a full-fledged general programming language from the ground up and then apply it to the problem. That's pretty sad -- doubly sad, considering the core metaphor of most operating systems today is a teletype!


What's with the bizarre horizontal scrolling?

Bizarre and flaky. Couldn't read. Apparently the author is an advocate for responsive design (as though that had anything to do with operating systems). I guess thwarting the user is a kind of response.

the mobile experience is fine, but opening an image for a closer look won't save your scrolling position when you get back

I actually like it. Constraining the text width improves readability, columns make more efficient use of the available space, and horizontal scrolling avoids the need for vertical pagination when using columns.

It's a neat idea, but the execution is not there.

Page Up / Page Down buttons are underrated.

The UI of this article seems to break my browser. The horizontal scrolling only gets about as far as the terminal UI image and then stalls out. Can't pan further right. It made me think "The future of the OS is trying to do c. 1986-ish basic mouse controls."

Although referred to as a joke, I really like the look of eDEX-UI, and I look forward to trying it out. I have a tablet running Ubuntu which I mostly use for writing and freehand drawing, and it'd be nice to use it for other things (particularly terminal based programs) without having to attach peripherals to make the UI usable.

Nice mini write up. Author, if you hear me, you either use a dot grid as a background AND you align text and images to it, or you don’t use the dot grid background. My OCD was killing me.

"Toggle Reader View" -> Much better experience.



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