I guess I’m sort of late in discovering certain things. For example, it’s only been months since I found out about 24, the television series that won every imaginable award and is now finishing its 5th highly successful season. In 24, special agent Jack Bauer is humiliated, hurt and embarrassed more in one hour than most business consultants get to endure in 10 lives. When watching the first three seasons on DVD, I gradually began to notice something remarkable: in the offices of the famous Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) everybody is using trendy Apple equipment, including many 30-inch Studio Displays and even a real Cube, used by hero Jack in person. The opposition however, always uses shabby looking PCs running Windows XP.
So good guys use Apples. Bad guys use Windows PCs. Life can be so simple.
It felt like coming home. To be quite honest, I have my own share of cool Apple gadgets. And although my teenage kids don’t particularly approve the OS X user interface (“It sucks, it doesn’t even have a right mouse click”) I still feel that Buddhist serenity every time I install an application just by dragging its icon into the Applications folder.
But there’s always room for improvement. For that matter, we can learn a lot from 24. The applications are stuffed with space sounds and if something is displayed, it’s done at a very slow pace, character by character. Of course this is all about special effects: applications just aren’t fun enough on the television when they behave like we’re used to. So a truly appealing application should resemble a hard working, old-fashioned teletype (for the MTV generation: that’s sort of an old school typewriter which also is a printer, check it out on Wikipedia, dudes).
I truly hope that we will simplify our user interfaces more and more in the years to come. But I’m not so sure yet if we will succeed.
Microsoft is facing a big challenge with the upcoming release of Vista: its user interface will be new, shiny and almighty. But will it be simple? Could it star in 24? More is not necessarily better. And we’re not safe in the Browser too. Nowadays we have Rich Internet Applications and even Google is now teaching us how we can use Ajax to ‘augment’ the Browser Experience.
I guess it’s nothing more than their karma that programmers now have to design applications for smaller and smaller devices, like iPods, Internet watches and portable media centres. Nothing like just 10 square centimetres at your disposal when creating really, really simple user interfaces.
Maybe Jack Bauer should have a look at it. Could be a brilliant plot line for the sixth episode of 24, next season. Merciless IT experts are torturing the secret agent by forcing him to work with fat client applications for hours. In the back, the big boss smiles his evil smile. Then he checks his e-mail. On a Windows PC, of course.