Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Oct 2022

Thought Experiment: Excitement in an OS

The other week, a tweet asked:

Are you a computer software professional and unhappy with your workstation OS If a brand new OS shipped tomorrow, what about it would make you excited?

This was such an excellent topic, that it went into the drafts last week, and some work towards some more thoughts and perspectives.

More Depth in Inputs

Going away from the scribbles to usually use to describe this. And yet, a visor for such a “OS which would make me excited” actually lives closer to being less dependent on typing, and more on scribbling, multitouch interactions, and less reliance on a screen (more on audio and pressure/feel). This was explored in a past piece looking at dictation as part of the input behavior.

What of Hardware?

For “current art’s sake,” the hardware would start with a device in the shape of Apple’s iPad Pro or Xiaomi Mix Fold 2. The aim here is that the screen needs to get out of the way by only being the way. There would be only one button (power), however the edges of the device would be programmable for gestural controls at top, middle, and bottom of the device. The OS would know the orientation and adjust the “buttons” accordingly, rather than acting like a physical device where the buttons remain and the user needs to remap their focus. A responsive platform in hardware, with software responding elegantly, feels like excitement is ripe to blossom.

Software Is Focus of This

But, back to the excitement of the OS. First off, it would be a first-party touch interface. Second party would be stylus input, and similar to Apple’s iPad-Pencil implementation, the screen would know the difference between screen and finger, and allow controls accordingly. Third-party input would be voice. The OS wouldn’t be usable with indirect input devices like keyboards or mice, it would allow it, but it would feel abnormal. Going back to the touch/gestural interface, I’d see taking from Ink & Switch’s work which led to Muse as the route here.

This would be sufficient-enough to excite. But, an OS has to enable more. It has to be a platform on which markets can be invented or fostered.

To that end, the other part of the OS would follow what we’ve seen from projects like Sketch2Code, where sketching shapes, flows, etc, are interpreted by the canvas as programmable and communicative spaces.

The base of the OS would be a near-blank canvas (taking a page from BeOS in memory, and a few modern OS attempts in current). The canvas would offer prompts (“what would you like to do” either in text or avatar), but the interactions would be scribbled, drawn, connected, and collected. The MercuryOS Concept approaches this in terms of the modules and prompts, not necessarily the input constraints.

Zoomed Excitement

Excitement in a new OS would be something like the OS being a canvas that is essentially zoomed in and out. Applications would essentially have only toolbars, no other chrome. But, and this is taking from Muse/Procreate, those tools exist only as a means to further create, connect, or adapt that level of zoom. Zoom out “enough” and you are looking at maybe a timeline of what you’d done (activity timeline). Zoom out a bit more and you are looking at constellations of activities, some of which have gravity to other activities. Some repel activities. The “verb” of what one does becomes the connective tissues, not so much the state of what was done. A canvas emulating space-time feels exciting.

The excitement of such an OS would be much like Arc’s browser in terms of getting out of the way. But, also because the possibility of what it enables is limited not by what had been done before, but, what the artist pens in their notebook.

Excitement seems to be a continual peeling away of layers, but exposing other parts and senses to the expereince of computing. This would be fertile grounds for what can follow as “augmented tools.” And as such, the creative spark can fuel itself towards the betterment of not just what happens in silicon, but what happens outside of it.