My last opinion looked at Linux’s stance and how it had progressed to fame in a slightly different avatar. It looks as if mobile devices both in the form of mobile phones, tablets and even netbooks are influencing the way software looks and works on the desktop. Notebook OS’ like Ubuntu Netbook Remix for example, have become more modular allowing users to access applications directly, instead of through complicated menus. The latest Ubuntu 11.04 brings in Unity, an interface similar to that on a typical netbook-oriented OS.

Lack of direction

Everything about technology has been about making things less complicated and in turn, more aimed at reducing the time taken to do a particular task. It always comes down to the tiniest of things – how quickly can you access you e-mail, your office suites, turn off your PC. It’s all of these tasks that smartphones have become increasing efficient at handling. Simple gestures and menus are in place of the endless dropdown menus that you find on a desktop operating system.

A more simplified approach is required

A more simplified approach is required

On mobile phones, there is a somewhat limited space to work with and limited features that can be squeezed into that platform, so there isn’t space for any excess baggage. Why do desktop operating systems and software have to be so complex and have so many features squished into them? The race to build the superior software seems to have taken development the wrong path. Some basic, essential software needs to be dumbed down to its bare essentials?

Guidance from mobiles

Microsoft’s Phone 7 hasn’t been a big success in its early adolescence phase but it has got a lot of attraction over its whole new Metro UI interface. It’s been popular and it looks like Microsoft might be using traces of it or at least its concept in its next big operating system – Windows 8. The next build of Office – MS Office 15 is going to have the similar set of features as well. The idea is to use larger minimalistic icons and designs. Steve Ballmer has already mentioned that Microsoft is taking a risk with development of the new operating system. The reaction of users going to Windows 8 with its new interface is hard to predict. 

Start Button Saga

Windows has had a long tradition starting from Windows 95, where the entire computing experience on a computer started with the Start button. For its time, with multitasking being introduced with the addition of a taskbar at the bottom, it was the future. Things haven’t progressed or evolved a lot since then. Desktop operating systems have all stayed roughly the same since then. Windows 98, 2000, ME, XP, Vista and Windows 7 might have looked prettier than their predecessors, but the basic workflow of performing tasks hasn’t changed.

It’s not like Linux developers chose to go their own way. Almost every Linux desktop has the same applications menu that you find on Windows. That’s Gnome, but if you try out KDE, it too has a closer-to-Windows layout of applications and settings. It might be the way we’ve all gotten used to. No one wants to wake up to an operating system with the Start menu missing. If your My Documents folder specifically isn’t located in its usual place, then all hell breaks loose. 

Apple’s Mac OS X has a somewhat more simplistic way of accessing programs. I think it’s high time that we experiment with other approaches. The Start button has been overdone and maybe a simplified desktop with your most accessed programs accessible in drawers or via large icons is the way to go. 

I feel operating systems can be more minimalistic and made simpler to work. We’re always talking about how operating systems are so bloated and take so long to bootup and how consoles with their optimized OS’ are quick to boot and run games rather efficiently without the bulk of the OS. Sure, some of us require the features but isn’t there a way to build a quick-switch that toggles between a minimalistic interface of a software to a full-fledged one on demand? 

What I'd like to see

I’m hoping to see an operating system sometime in the future, which allows launching of applications with simple mouse or touch gestures. I shouldn’t have to run through a list of applications before I find my browser. The same should be possible with regular tasks. If I want to send a mail to my colleagues at work, I should be performing another gesture to click a mailer group icon on the desktop. We’ve come a long way since typing DOS commands to perform tasks. Hopefully, we’ll make some giant steps and mobiles will hopefully guide us there.

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