video via 10gui.com
The iPhone has popularized the multi-touch interface, and created the possibility for the most significant change in human-computer interaction since the invention of the Windows/Icons/Mouse Pointer (WIMP) interface. With Apple's revealed patents for touch interfaces, and the always-just-a-few-months-away tablet on the horizon, it's increasingly likely that we're going to see more and more computer functions controllable through taps and gestures, rather than mouse-clicks and -drags. Tablets and smartphones, obviously, will be the first devices controlled by touch... but what would such an interface look like on the desktop?
Enter 10/GUI. Software engineer R. Clayton Miller's self-described "crazy summer project" aims at nothing less than a full redesign of the human-computer interface. It centers around a multi-touch pad that lays on your desk in front of the screen, where our keyboards and mouses are today. Vertical touchscreens, where you have to reach up and interact with the monitor, have been found (unsurprisingly) to cause too much fatigue. With a keyboard integrated into a multitouch surface, rather than a row of buttons here and a separate mouse over there, suddenly the whole paradigm shifts.
The mouse pointer and multiple windows go hand in hand. When you can only click on a single point on the screen, it makes sense to have a bunch of different windows in arbitrary locations, and choose among them at will. If you're like me, though, that leads to a proliferation of windows, until it becomes a real problem to sort among them... and you have to rely on a separate, external manager (for example Spaces and Exposť) to deal with your pile.
10/GUI introduces a more intuitive, linear arrangement: new windows come in from the left, and can be sorted by gestures. In addition, the left and right sides of the surface - which can be distinguished by touch - are dedicated to "Global" (desktop) and "Local" (application) operations. Your hands stay on the touchpad, rather than having to move from mouse to keyboard and back again, which saves you time and gives you a much more rich vocabulary of typing, taps, and drags.
The whole thing can best be understood by watching the video.
Windows and mouse pointers had been around since the 1970s, but it took a product like the original Mac in 1984 to popularize them and create a familiarity among users for working with graphical interfaces. Similarly, the technology for multi-touch computing is in place, waiting for an application to prove that it's better than the interfaces we've grown up with. Whether it's Apple's imaginary tablet, Microsoft's Courier, or something we have no idea about, somebody is going to make the killer app that lets us interact with our desktop using more than just one finger.
And then... everything changes.