The Graphical User Interface.
Time for a Paradigm Shift?

Introduction Preview

Does Apple´s OSX "Aqua" Interface represent a paradigm shift in GUI design, and is such a paradigm shift possible?
The Graphical User Interface, short: GUI, has become a paradigm. It was invented about 20 years ago and is now a software standard. Personal Computer users rely on its basic functionalities.

The following essay will examine and discuss how the Graphical User Interface did not undergo changes for a long time, and why finally the ubiquitous trend toward 3-Dimensionality and transparency in interface design also reached the Graphical User interface of today´s Operating Systems, as proved by Apple´s preview of Mac OSX "Aqua".

Therefore it will first examine the history of the Graphical User Interface and its pioneers. An overview of the GUI´s development on the PC software market will be given. The chapter "The GUI´s Impact on Society" will describe the role of the GUI today, and how it influenced the way a generation of computer-users think and work. At last, visionary views on future GUIs will be examined more closely.

Finally this essay will ask if the described new features of the new Apple GUI constitute a step forward in usability, or if they are´nt just balast for the user.
Does the introduction of OSX "Aqua" constitute a paradigm shift in GUI design?
What requirements would be needed for a paradigm shift in GUI design?

Paradigm Shifts

...and the successive transition from one paradigm to another via revolution is the usual developmental pattern of mature science. 1

To approach these core questions, the term "paradigm shift" has to be explained first. A paradigm, as used by Thomas S. Kuhn in "The Structure of Scientific Revolution", can be seen as a set of rules or a model which a field of science relies on. Paradigms are constantly replaced by other paradigms, in processes of "paradigm shifts".
These paradigm shifts are often caused by crises or anomalities. An older paradigm is then replaced (in whole or in part) by an incompatible new one.

All crises begin with the blurring of one paradigm and the consequent loosening of the rules for normal research. (...) On other occasions the problem resists even apparently radical new approaches. Then scientists may conclude that no solution will be forthcoming in the present state of their field. The problem is labelled and set aside for a future generation with more developed tools. Or finally the case that will most concern us here, a crisis may end with the emergence of a new candidate for a paradigm and with the ensuing battle over its acceptance. 2

Kuhn´s model of the paradigm shift as a motor for all scientific development can be seen as an evolutionary view of science.

...though the world does not change with a change of paradigm, the scientist afterwards works in a different world. 3


History of the GUI