Microsoft granted new patent for 3D task gallery user interface

Three-dimensional user interfaces are nothing new - to the crowd that dares to try the first experiments of moving away from the traditional flat desktop metaphor. They haven't gone far, unfortunately. One of the more notable experiments from recent years was BumpTop, a project that came out of a graduate of the Computer Science department at the University of Toronto. The original prototype from four years ago showed a desktop very much like a real physical desktop, but with the ability to stack documents as virtual "papers." BumpTop's life came to an end last year following Google's acquisition of the small startup - the results of which are yet to be seen.

Before BumpTop, there was also another attempt at a three-dimensional desktop by another Toronto-based startup, but they took the metaphor to the next level - placing the user into a virtual "home" where their photos, favourite sites, and applications are modeled into virtual photo frames, a virtual control center, and throwable objects. Remember the 3DNA Desktop? It's still available for download, although the application appears to be abandoned. The user is thrown into a virtual spaceship, a loft, an underwater lab, or a villa, and they can interact with anything they see. 

Microsoft has had their attempts before at creating user-friendly virtual environments, although both suffered from being too obnoxious - first with the infamous Microsoft Bob, then with Clippy and his virtual assistant friends who tortured Microsoft Office users for years. This latest attempt bears some resemblence to both BumpTop and 3DNA, as seen in a recent patent awarded to Microsoft which was spotted by MIT's Technology Review (via Engadget).

This latest patent, titled "Method and apparatus for providing a three-dimensional task gallery computer interface," offers users a way to group together application windows in a three-dimensional world, instead of the current hide-and-show mechanics behind Windows 7's taskbar and the Command Center in Mac OS X Lion. The researchers behind this patent believe users can take advantage of spatial memory to memorize where they placed a window they were working with, instead of trying to search for where the operating system tucked it away.

Some new hardware will be needed to navigate this interface, such as a 3D mouse. Whatever comes out of this experiment, however, we can be sure it's no Clippy or Bob.

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This is a pretty big change as far as 3D goes and could be used for specific applications when you pair it together with kinect and a large screen or even something like surfice on a wall etc. As for the desktop? No. So I don't think people should look at this and automatically make the jump to it being a new or future UI for desktop.

Having Win8's UI be fully 3D though doesn't mean you have to radically change it. Adding more depth to an otherwise flat surface opens things up in some neat ways.

Makes me want to go find a copy of MS Bob and download it for Dosbox, lol.

By the way, did you guys know there is an encrypted copy of MS Bob on every Windows XP CD? At least the original ones, I read somewhere that to fill up the space left on the CDs they just thew MS Bob on there, and when asked for an encryption key they just hammered at the keyboard for a little bit.

Although I doubt it, seeing as how it's only a patent, & one that was only licensed while the full development of the OS is already in Milestone 3, I would REALLY appreciate this in Windows 8. Frankly, 3D user interfaces were essentially what I was searching for when I accidentally stumbled on Longhorn... & for some reason I now seem more focused on that, I still really wish we could finally do something about the fact that I was frankly frickin' sick of the same thing over & over again...

Azies said,

Oh god, that looks awful from a usability perspective. How the hell are you supposed to get anything done with such a confusing UI?

The way I see it, these "3D" interfaces are completely useless with our current display and interaction technologies. Computer screen are 2D, and even the so-called "3D" displays are still just a pair of projections onto 2D surfaces (stereoscopic displays). Mice are fundamentally 2D input devices. Until we have real 3D displays and a better way of interacting with computers, these new interfaces won't do any good.

Then again, my opinion about computers is that they're just a tool to help with everyday life and efforts should be made to minimize the interaction we have to do with them, and maximize efficiency.

So... I should wait 3 seconds just to open what I want all for the glory of a 3D interface? Whatever happened to double clicking (or single) just to open what you want? I use shortcuts on my keyboard to open my desired folders. I guess it could be fun for the kids to explore, but it's not production friendly.

Izlude said,
So... I should wait 3 seconds just to open what I want all for the glory of a 3D interface? Whatever happened to double clicking (or single) just to open what you want? I use shortcuts on my keyboard to open my desired folders. I guess it could be fun for the kids to explore, but it's not production friendly.

What would you say if it dynamically made items that you use the most larger? You could hover over it, single click, done!


Three-dimensional user interfaces are nothing new - to the crowd that dares to try the first experiments of moving away from the traditional flat desktop metaphor. They haven't gone far, unfortunately.

I disagree, just look at how successful Compiz made Ubuntu...oh wait.

I dont like the look of it, when even the diagram in the patent shows a guy looking confused as hell at a million different arrows and indicators =D

Until such time as we can make a virtual 3D environment, ala a Holodeck from Star Trek, I don't see a 3D interface taking off when it's being used on a 2D screen, and with 2D tools ( aka mouse )..

Maybe a few will like it, but I don't see it..

Ryoken said,
Until such time as we can make a virtual 3D environment, ala a Holodeck from Star Trek, I don't see a 3D interface taking off when it's being used on a 2D screen, and with 2D tools ( aka mouse )..

Maybe a few will like it, but I don't see it..

They can use kinect don't you think? Nvidia 3d vision maybe? The rumors about the 3d UI for win 8 indicated that obviously, certain hardware would be required.

winlonghorn said,

They can use kinect don't you think? Nvidia 3d vision maybe? The rumors about the 3d UI for win 8 indicated that obviously, certain hardware would be required.

I've used both, and while they are fun for a game, I wouldn't want to use one for much else..

Not to mention anyone who wears glasses already can basically be excluded from the 3D fad, everyone I know with glasses, excluding myself, can't stand it for more than a hr or so before getting either headaches, or eye aches ..

And lastly, what most people do on computers wouldn't really mesh with either.. surfing the net, chatting, email, etc.. Not really gonna be enhanced by a 3D UI or tools.

DerAusgewanderte said,
would make total sense to use the kinect for this

Exactly! Rumors have hinted at this for windows 8 too! I wouldn't be surprised!