Thursday, 23 August 2012

Evolution of the desktop

Posted by Gary Newell  |  at  22:47 No comments


I recently wrote an article about Ubuntu and the Unity desktop which said that desktops were now becoming far more icon oriented and this was possibly due to the iPod generation and the way that people have become more accustomed to navigating via icons.

It was brought to my attention that icons have been a part of computing for a long time and way before the iPod.


In the beginning there was DOS and then came Windows version 1. (I am aware that there were other operating systems available such as MacOS and OS2 etc).

As you can see there are windows but the system does not really rely on icons.


Then came windows 2 and windows 2.1 and although little icons were starting to appear they were not fundamental to the use of the system in anyway whatsoever.

In Windows 3 icons became more prevalent and were used to start applications.

From this point of view the person who commented that icons have been around for a lot longer than the iPod is 100% correct.

In this case however the window is as important as the icon.

It is the use of icons that has changed over the years that is key to my argument that the iPod generation has led to the design influences of the new desktops.

In Windows 95 icons were used on the main screen and also on the menus but Windows 95 is menu heavy. The icons do not exist by themselves and there is text stating what each icon does.

The same can be said of Windows 98 and Windows ME. Visually nothing really changed between those versions.





In Windows XP the icons still exist but they are accompanied by lots of text and the system is still heavily reliant on the start menu.

Icons on the desktop are not arranged in any particular way and the system is not reliant on them.

In Windows Vista nothing really changed in terms of the use of the desktop.

The styles changed and a search bar was added but the desktop was still heavily reliant on menus and text.







In Windows 7 again nothing really changed.

The icons are still used as an accompaniment to the text and menus.

The icons on the desktop aren’t arranged in any specific fashion unless you as a user organise them in this way.




Now look at Windows 8.

The start menu has gone and the icon is now key to the running of the system.

Text is an accompaniment to the icon rather than the icon the accompaniment to the text.
 So back to my original point. The iPod is heavily icon centric.

Any text and any menus that may appear accompany the applications but because of the touch screen interface and space limitations the icon became more important.

People have become accustomed to this style of interface now which explains the image of Windows 8 above changing to the tile based interface.

The Unity interface is heavily icon centric as well. Menus are sparse and the icons are grouped together logically as opposed to Windows (pre version 8) whereby they are placed sporadically (unless you arrange them).

My point therefore is that whilst the icon has been around for generations the Unity interface is clearly inspired by the use of icons as they have been implemented by the iPod/iPad and Android.

In an odd way however the Unity interface reminded me of another version of Linux I have seen called xPud and there are some rudimentary similarities between the two. 




About the Author

Gary Newell started the Everyday Linux User blog in 2010 and has written reviews on dozens of different Linux based operating systems. He has also written a number of tutorials.

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