Windows, GUIs, 3D, Oh My

Windowing and Graphical User Interfaces are taking some more big steps. You may think that I may be talking about Windows Vista with Aero, but while it has some neat features, I’m not. Instead, let me first tell you about the coolest thing in X Windows window managers: Beryl. I’m totally going to date myself in this article by reminiscing about when I used twm, mwm, and fvwm. The X-Windows/*nix marriage was definitely something that I love – you have the power of a *nix kernel, a totally customizable command-line based shell, slap X-Windows on top of it and run any window manager you want. Your computing environment, your way.

Where was I? Oh yes, Beryl. Having been stuck in a predominantly MS Windows environment for years now, I’ve lost touch with the latest in the windowing advances. Luckily, I know folks who do keep in touch, and I was recently shown an extremely cool demo video of Beryl (and there are probably dozens of videos now). If you’ve seen demos of Aero and been wowed, prepared to be floored. Features in Beryl include warping windows, zooming in and out, using a cube as an abstration for a virtual desktop environment, transparency, wrapping windows around edges, and so much more. Just watch the video.

But Beryl and Compiz are not the only 3D window managers operating on 2D applications. Last year, Sun introduced Project Looking Glass which is of course Java based. When Jonathan Schwartz did his demo, the crowd went crazy. Here’s another demo that explains better what PLG is and can do along with interviews of the main developer (just try to ignore the robot-like people presenting it).

But the fun doesn’t stop there. I picked up this next piece of coolness from Dave Zatz. It’s a video demo of a two-handed touchscreen windowing environment by a company called Perceptive Pixel. Unfortunately, there isn’t any info on their website, but the demo is amazing. I was left wondering how the system ‘knows’ what you’re trying to do when you touch the screen or a window or whatever. I’m sure there are rules, which means there’s a learning curve involved. And oh yeah, can I sit down?

All of these new windowing environments are cool, but the question is will it revolutionize or at least improve usability? Will it make me more productive? Or am I still just as well off with twm and the apps I need? Next big step – just let me think it.