26 January 2014

The feel of Linux UI vs Windows UI vs Mac UI vs the ideal UI

I've worked on all three OS'es, and it's just a personal opinion that the UI I've loved the most is that of Windows XP.

People who haven't had the chance to venture into the field of interaction design would usually not mind this aspect, but after having had internationally acclaimed interaction designers as my bosses for two years, I've developed a similar gut -feel for quality that they have.

A product has to look and feel right. It has to have an emotional value that appeals to a certain kind of user.

The Windows XP UI has a nimble, crisp, efficient feel to it. Especially after you disable the special animations and effects in the performance settings. The 'click' sound played on every folder click adds to the experience. It just feels right. Feels comfortable to work on (except maybe for the way the taskbar tab flashes in orange :-) ). The UI responds promptly to clicks and key-presses. A good operating system for a new person entering the world of computers.

The Linux UI has a lot of visible effort put into creating it. With distros like Fedora and Ubuntu opting for a minimalist design, the UI has become less usable for a person already accustomed to an OS like Windows. Much less usable for a person with no experience with computers. The UI feels cumbersome to use. It's not as responsive to clicks as Windows XP, and some operations are just un-intuitive. Eg: If a Firefox window is open and you click the Firefox icon again, it doesn't open another window. Right clicking on the file-browser does not produce the option for creating a new text file. Clicking the shutdown button shows options to shutdown, but no logout button (you have to click the user icon to see the logout button). 
But then again, Linux was not really meant to have a lovely UI (although I wish they'd make it like Windows XP). It's power comes from the commandline, and that's what programmers love about it! In terms of the commandline and security, Linux beats Windows hands-down any day. As a programmer, this is the reason I like Linux.

The Mac UI, although pretty much like Linux, has a kind of a sticky, dragging feel to it (as compared to the crisp feel of XP). I was using a G4. It's a combined effect of the hardware and the software that produces this feel. In terms of intuitiveness, the Mac was good. I just loved the fact that to remove a program, I could just delete the folder instead of being like the add and remove programs of Windows or the uninstall techniques of Linux. The animations and sounds were un-intrusive and pleasant. 

The Ideal UI though, as just a figment of my imagination, would be part of a machine that can read the mind of a living being (note that I didn't mention it as 'human'). It would be a machine we wouldn't have to talk to, for it to understand exactly what task we want to accomplish. It would not be made of metal or plastic or any material which would incorporate delays in input/response. It would give us the perfect aesthetic and emotional feel customized to our personality and interface needs. Such a technology may be very far away in the future, but I'm predicting it now because I do believe it can be a reality.

Until then, back I go to working on my hobby project for which I'm trying to design an intuitive UI.

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