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Windows on Palm

I'm venting my opinion about (mobile) user interfaces in light of Aza Raskin's concept post.

For me there are (broadly speaking) two categories of computing user interfaces:

  1. Non-overlapping tiles
  2. Overlapping (floating) windows aka the WIMP paradigm

Microsoft Windows (post 1.0) made err... the floating (overlapping) windows style interface familiar to millions of people, though I think there are problems with floating windows:

  • Different sized windows aren't useful, esp. very small ones.
  • Dragging items between windows usage paradigm is not that common (copy&paste is easier)
  • Managing different windows is hard, esp. when they overlap. Clutter!
  • Popup windows suck
  • Hidden / obscured / dragged off screen windows suck

So if I am right, why aren't we seeing tiled user interfaces?

Well I believe most people nowadays know tiled user interfaces simply as tabs. And we hopefully agree that browsers have made the tabs UI paradigm pretty mainstream.

Safari on the Iphone is also basically a tabbed user interface too and I like it. Apple's fixed maximised tab is right for browsing on mobile devices.

In my experience 'designers' don't really understand scalable / resizable user interfaces. Traditional designers know A4 and exploit such print dimensions to showcase their work. So again forcing designers to think at fixed intervals of screen sizes like 480×320 in the case of the Iphone works. (resizable or overlapping) windows doesn't.

If you're a Linux user (Ubuntu maybe?) and you want to try the tiled UI paradigm for more than just your browser (Firefox), give the excellent dwm window manager a try. It's what Webconverger uses. :)

Update: The image above could be a little misleading, as Windows mobile does not actually use floating (overlapping) windows on their platform. Proof that Mozilla should really steer clear of this path in it's UI design for mobile environs!

Those people who make those Webtops like this one are impressive. Though I still think the overlapping windows in a browser window is broken and stupid.