The Graphical User Interface.
Time for a Paradigm Shift?

Visions of the new paradigm

The browser, another GUI system that enables PC-users to connect to the WWW, has become a paradigm on its own. Internet protocol standards make contents of websites accessible thorough the browser-interface. Yet internet sites themselves represent small Operating Systems, each with their own GUI - representing a convergence of content and navigation on one level.

A vision of the next step in GUI design, and maybe the next paradigm to come, could be to unite the different concepts described here, and create a desktop GUI that already includes the web-browser, or even turn the desktop-GUI into a browser and make the Operating System be another content represented within the GUI-browser. This way the GUI could be the converging medium that transcends the limitations of the personal computer and connects to one worldwide linked dataspace.

Another GUI-vision is descibed by Jakob Nielsen and Don Gentner in their online-essay "The Anti-Mac Interface" 20: As the Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines have become a dominating standard in GUI design, and as the Macintosh was designed under different circumstances and constraints, Nielsen and Gentner draw the scenario of an interface that violates the rules set up in Apple's design guidelines, and reflects more of the needs of PC-users today. The essay analyzes the limitations of GUI-paradigms like the desktop metaphor:

The desktop metaphor assumes we save training time by taking advantage of the time that users have already invested in learning to operate the traditional office with its paper documents and filing cabinets. But the next generation of users will make their learning investments with computers, and it is counter-productive to give them interfaces based on awkward imitations of obsolete technologies. Instead, we need to develop new interface paradigms based on the structure of computer systems and the tasks users really have to perform, rather than paradigms that enshrine outmoded technology. The way to advance the interface is not to develop ever-more-faithful imitations of the desktop, but instead to escape the limitations of the desktop especially as computers themselves become ubiquitous and are used away from the desk. 21

Nielsen and Gentner suggest the use of language additional to the See-and-Point priciple on the screen, to enable a richer Human-Computer communication:

If we want to order food in a country where we don't know the language at all, we're forced to go into the kitchen and use a see-and-point interface. With a little under- standing of the language, we can point at menus to select our dinner from the dining room. But language allows us to discuss exactly what we would like to eat with the waiter or chef. Similarly, computer interfaces must evolve to let us utilize more of the power of language. 22

The basic principles of their Anti-Mac Interface are:
- The central role of language as a richer communication-tool;
- A richer internal representation of objects to provide more complex informations about documents;
- A more expressive interface supported by sound and improved display techniques;
- Expert users, as the next generation of GUI-users is growing up with computers;
- Shared control, already exercised in the WorldWideWeb.

To realize the full benefits from the Anti-Mac approach, we argue, it will not be sufficient to retrofit its features one at a time to systems that basically follow current user interface architectures. We believe an integrated design that builds a new user interface from the bottom up will be more coherent and will have a better potential for increasing user productivity by at least an order of magnitude. A full Anti-Mac system will likely have to be based on deep object structures in an architecture that supports network-distributed objects and detailed attributes that are sufficiently standardized to be shared among multiple functionality modules. Realistically speaking, such a complete redesign will take some time to appear. Even if the full system were not to appear for several years to come, it is necessary for detailed research to begin now to develop the needed features and to collect usability data on how the Anti-Mac characteristics should be shaped to truly meet users' needs. 23

Conclusion: Mac OSX "Aqua": A paradigm shift in GUI design?

Following Nielsen's and Gentner's argumentation it is not time for a new paradigm yet, as such a new system needs to build upon a completely new interface architecture. Apple have re-structured their system architecture without going the relevant step further to also change the GUI architecture. This may have been a short-sighted, marketing-driven decision.

What has become clear is that for initiating a new paradigm, the Graphical User Interface would have to undergo radical changes. In Apple's "Aqua" there are no radical changes but soft, translucent transitions and weak new features instead. Therefore OSX "Aqua" cannot claim to be a new paradigm in GUI design.