Contagious user interface concepts

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Every now and then, a UI concept is so good that it becomes contagious in fascinating and frustrating ways. I’ve run across two recently.

The first is the iPhone touch screen. A few months ago, when I first got my iPhone, after playing with it for about 30 minutes, I went back to work on my mac, and my fingers automatically expected things like the two-finger zoom to work. I was stunned. Not surprisingly, that is now a feature of the new Macbook Air, and I expect it’ll be in all mac laptops.

The second occurred to me this morning. I was using ssh (a command line tool) to log in to a variety of machines with cryptic addresses, and I knew that I had to start looking for a place to write down those username/hostname combinations. At the same time, I realized that what I really wanted was the awesomebar for my terminal window. The notion that “the computer” should just remember what you’ve done no matter where, because past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, and that we can implement that quite well with simple mechanisms like keeping a history and doing some math on that history, is a contagious idea. (Note to unix weenies: I know that with the right magic i can get some pseudo-awesomebar within bash. Not good enough! I want bookmarks, tags, weave!)

Naturally, it applies to Thunderbird as well. I routinely go back to “the same” emails. We should find a way to make that as obvious and invisible as Firefox 3 does for web pages.

6 thoughts on “Contagious user interface concepts

  1. mawrya

    Sounds familiar. When I first started using firefox I had find-as-you-type enabled so that you can just start typing without pushing CTRL-F (on windows). It was so natural I would find myself reading a PDF or be looking at a spreadsheet or other document and I would just start typing a word in order to find certain content in a document! Next I would have this emotion of annoyance sweep over me because the program was “broken”, it couldn’t read my mind like firefox.
    I have since turned off the the setting in firefox so I am forced to push CTRL-F before I start typing. I did this because I was experiencing buggy-ness when filling out forms in web pages – typing in the form sometimes started a search operation. When I turned it off I noticed that I stopped typed words to find them when using other programs. Very interesting… I think I’m going to turn it back on and see if the buggy-ness has been fixed in FF3. I love that feature.

  2. …the awesomebar for my terminal window

    I think this might be something that could happen in the context of Hotwire Shell [http://hotwire-shell.org/] I agree it would be really nice.

  3. Jim Cook

    does any email system do something as seemingly simple as “tagging emails” so i can quickly “go back” as you suggest to all the keywords that particular email might trigger?

    I totally get what you are saying now! iTunes “knows” how many times you’ve accessed a particular song. Why can’t email?

  4. How about launching ssh from the awesomebar instead? Create a folder of bookmarks with links in the form of ssh://user@example.com. Firefox will pass the ssh command off to Terminal. I usually have a browser window open so using Firefox in this way works for me.

  5. David

    Not quite an AwesomeBar, but if you press Ctrl-R in a shell (both bash and zsh do this at least), you can search your history.

  6. david

    @Kevin: that’s a really good idea. It’s too bad that I can’t then bookmark those URLs, or tag them…

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