Sunday, January 27, 2013

Operating Systems and their UI era

This afternoon as I had free time to ponder on something totally unrelated to the need of the hour, I was thinking of user interface evolution through time. I'd like to quickly classify them as

1. *NIX era
2. Desktop era//Gaming console era
3. Mobile device/Tablet/Cloud computing

NOTE: *NIX/Desktop and Mobile devices do co-exist today, but the era classification is based on popularity as read through magazine articles/online and casual discussions

The first *NIX era was a terminal era, with limited terminals (remember the phosphor screens) and wonderful keyboards that lacked (arrow keys, I just have to assume looking at the design of the original vi). The UI was quite straight forward (text), of course there were some high end workstations as time evolved. The most popular *NIXes were BSD and AT&T variants

The desktop era started with the PC and DOS. Keyboards were designed for non programmers, they were friendlier. With the introduction of GUI OS's, mice and keyboard were the primary input devices (supplemented by new generation pen & other new input techniques, but the focus was mice and keyboard). They had good GUI's, nice video and sound cards and were optimized for keyboard and mice. This lead to a sporadic growth in Internet usage, gaming. DOS/Windows/OS-X and MAC-OS variants with new design inspired from *NIX, but still different were the ruling OSes. *NIX were pushed to large systems where they would continue to run and serve large workloads as before.

The latest trend is mobile/tablet computing, this is again a market captured back by variants of *NIX (Linux - Android) and iOS (BSD) variants. Touch screen with LCD front ends with gesture awareness and multiple sensors are dominant UI inputs. It is good to see OS's designed on older principles race into the new era where voice input/GPS sensors/Cameras/touch screens/gestures are the primary interaction points with a lot of automation and simplicity built into the software on top of them. As I write, these devices are making their way into gaming consoles as well. These workloads are well supported in the back end with cloud computing work flows that provide the necessary horse power for calculating complex map routes, document editing and much more (most of these are again based on Linux servers).

I suspect the next generation will be projector driven devices, it will be interesting to see how *NIX variants will drive the next generation of computing devices.
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