Those two forces are converging to make computing more human by removing the confusing language of machines.
We’re about to cross over a threshold where the devices we use really do become far less like a computer — both in how they function and where their bits are stored — and more personal, too. We’re watching the small drops of rain turn into a full downpour, and the flood is just around the corner.
At Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference this year, Steve Jobs told an audience of eager programmers that his team had been working for 10 years to “get rid of the file system [on computers] so the user didn’t have to worry about it.” A month earlier, Google representatives took the stage at their annual developer conference and introduced a type of laptop that gets rid of not only the file system but nearly the entire computer, offering users nothing more than a Web browser with which to navigate their digital life.
Even Microsoft recently introduced its latest version of Windows (No. 8 for those keeping count) coupled with a simple, touch-friendly new way to navigate your computer, based on the company’s phone operating system.
Last month, Apple introduced the latest version of its operating system for Macs to the public: OS X Lion. The software is notable not just for what it adds to the user experience but also what it hides or removes completely.
Borrowing heavily from the logic of the iPad and iPhone, Lion allows and encourages applications to run in a “full screen” mode that removes familiar pieces of the operating system such as the menu bar. It also demands that the user focus on one application at a time. You’re either in it, or you’re not.
Why is this significant? Largely because interface designers have spent the past quarter-century trying to figure out how to better manage windows — literally, how to un-clutter the windows in which your information is kept. As anyone who has ever struggled to carry on an instant message session while browsing the Web, checking e-mail and keeping an eye on Twitter can tell you, that isn’t so easy.
However, with the advent of full-screen, touch-focused devices such as the iPad, user behavior is starting to change, and that’s changing the way our computers will behave, too. Full-screen applications might not necessarily make your life easier, but they’ll definitely alter how you interact with your PC.
Elsewhere in Lion, multi-finger gestures replicate the kinds of swipes and flicks we’re becoming accustomed to on the screens of mobile devices, an obvious foreshadowing of a generation of PCs that do away with the keyboard and track pad altogether. A simplified, iPad-like grid of icons called Launchpad can be used to open applications. Even scroll bars have vanished. In fact, the company is doing nearly everything it can to obscure the “computer” in Lion.