Skip the navigation

The Interface Revolutionary

The mouse and computer desktop could go the way of the green screen, says the father of the Macintosh.

By Mathew Schwartz
February 5, 2001 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Twenty-five years ago, computer screens were small and green. The desktop computer and mouse, which users take for granted today, were far from mass adoption. So it's safe to guess that in 10 or 20 years, the desktop might be replaced by something we don't currently comprehend. To get a taste of what's in store, Computerworld spoke with Jef Raskin, best known as the creator of the Macintosh project at Apple Computer Inc. Raskin's latest book, The Humane Interface: New Directions for Designing Interactive Systems (Addison Wesley, 2000), highlights the impersonal nature of most current interfaces and argues for a revolution to create better ones.
Q: Why bother with new interfaces? Isn't the Macintosh interface - which you helped design - good enough?
A:
First of all, this is not a Mac issue. It's not a Wintel or Linux or Sun issue, either. It's a human issue. I have yet to meet a computer user who is happy with the way computers treat them. And most of their pain is caused by bad interface design. That includes overcomplex software, nonexistent manuals and help systems that themselves need help. It's been 22 years since I started the Mac. And a lot more is known now than nearly 30 years ago when Xerox Parc [Palo Alto Research Center] was first using [Douglas] Engelbart's mouse and inventing windows, with a small w. Forcing users to still work with current interfaces is like giving them the old 640-by-480-pixel screens and slow processors we used back then.

Q: What benefits would users derive from improved interfaces?
A:
Anytime you make a system faster to use, easier to learn and less frustrating, there are psychological benefits to the individual user and bottom-line productivity benefits to the enterprise. There are also physical benefits: an interface that takes fewer keystrokes and less "mousing around" creates less repetitive stress injuries.

Q: Will users bother with new interfaces?
A:
You can't imagine how many times I was told that nobody wanted or would use graphics-oriented interface widgets when I was creating the Macintosh, and I kept on hearing that even after it was released. Now, flawed though they might be, everybody uses them.

Q: How do you think interfaces should evolve during the next five to 10 years?
A:
That's a huge question. In general, present interfaces overuse the mouse and icons and rely on methods that we know now to cause users to actually make errors. Also, we turn the Web into a maze of little rooms with opaque doors called tabs [the tabbed navigation bar in



Our Commenting Policies