How it works: Inductive user interfaces

Paul Thurrott writes:

The text of this article is derived from an email response I sent a reader, and I thought it was valuable enough that a wider range of users would benefit from it. Many (Mac) people misunderstood the comments I made comparing Windows XP, Longhorn, and Mac OS X in my Longhorn FAQ. My aim wasn't to make a general comparison between the three OSes, but rather to focus on one specific area: While Apple can and should be credited with innovating the desktop operating system GUI we still use today, the company has done little over the years to dramatically improve this interface, though it has arguably made it more attractive, especially in OS X. My argument is that Microsoft, of all companies, has done far more innovative UI work, especially in the past eight years, working to extend to the standard desktop interface metaphor with new document-centric and task-centric user interfaces. Microsoft calls its task-centric work inductive UI. Here's the original email here, largely unedited.

An inductive, or task-based, user interface is one that is based on "tasks" rather than applications (as in OS X) or documents (as in Windows 95/Office 95, sort of; Microsoft backed off of this concept pretty quickly as the benefits of a task-oriented UI became more obvious). Here's an example. Let's say you want to print a digital photo. In OS X, generally, you would think "iPhoto," load it up, and look for the print option, which is pretty easy. This is an app-based approach. Like, I want to write a letter: I need Word. In XP, you would navigate to the My Pictures folder, or wherever you store your photos, (which I find a bit technical, frankly; people aren't into file systems), find the photo you want to print, select the photo, and then view a list of tasks in the tasks pane. One is "Print this picture." Another is "Order prints online". If you select the former, you are presented with a wizard that walks you through the whole process: Selecting the printer and, if desired, the printer settings; selecting the photo layout to use (which is really cool for photos, especially if you have a photo printer with different photo paper sizes); and so on. Step-by-step.

News source: Paul Thurrott SuperSite

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How is OSX app-based? That makes zero sense.

Windows added the MDI interface: one of the most application-based UI elements around. It takes all your documents and contains them within one window. So, if you have that application maximized, you have no access to your other documents in other applications. Think Photoshop as a good example, also Office was MDI when OSX was released...

In OSX, the windows you're using are the documents or tasks you are doing. Maximization doesn't entirely exist (zoom doesn't usually fill the screen), you don't fill your screen with the one task you're doing. This encourages inter-application interaction. It encourages you to *not* concentrate on the application you're working with, but concentrate on working with the documents or tasks you're trying to get done.

Paul saying things like Windows says for you to go to My Pictures and OSX says to go to iPhoto is ridiculous. I definitely have a Pictures folder in my home directory on my OSX machine. Plus, my side bar in the file browser is customizable. Windows forces me to use their choices, not what I'd necessarily want to get to. However, that's more of a minute detail.

Sorry Paul, but you're wrong. Dead wrong.

The default provides you with your basic selections of folders, much like XP. However, I am able to drag in and out my own folders to customize it beyond that. It's designed for customization. For example, there is a project I'm working on that I need to get at the folder frequently. So, I dragged the folder into the sidebar and can get at it easily. Once the project is over, I can just drag it back out. These folders are even accessable from the Save As dialogs, so I can get easy access to the stuff I choose.