Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Emacs user interface

In my opinion Emacs represents the state of the art in user interface design. When Emacs was invented in the 70s, most computers used text based user interfaces. Later graphical WIMP interfaces were developed as a "successor" to textual user interfaces, however, I don't believe they are a true successor as they are deeply flawed and in many cases they actually reduce my productivity. Zooming user interfaces (ZUIs) are the true successor.

The main problem with traditional GUIs is that they are full of pop-ups, such as alerts, prompts, confirmation dialogs, menus, and tooltips. These things cause more problems then they solve. Dialogs break the users focus, and menus are hard to navigate and they have to be fit into the screen when you go near the corners.

Pop-ups are also a security problem, as they essentially mean that a program is drawing outside of the space secured for it. This is why most modern web browsers come with pop-up blockers. To move into the web age we should completely abolish pop-ups.

To disable pop-ups in emacs add this to your .emacs file:

(setq use-dialog-box nil)
(menu-bar-mode -1)

ZUIs solve this problem by placing content in place rather then hiding it in a pop-up, and they make more efficiently use of the users spatial memory, which is why I think they are the true successor to textual user interfaces, unfortunately there is no practical ZUI available right now.

The problem we have to address now is creating a synergy between textual user interfaces like emacs and the ZUI paradigm, then we will have the humane interface that Jef Raskins envisioned decades ago.

No comments:

Post a Comment