Thoughts on software and life.

Tuesday January 13

death of the application

Let me be more specific about the one thing I would have liked to see in Longhorn: the death of the stand-alone application. This is not an easy problem to tackle, so I shouldn't criticize Microsoft too much for avoiding it, but I still hope that someday they or Apple start making strides towards this goal.

Let me give an example of what I mean. There are a dozen apps on my computer that will let me view a photo, and they each have their own way of letting me pan, zoom, resize, and draw on the photo. On top of that, there are even more apps to let me browse thumbnail listings of photos, and each has its own way of scrolling, selecting, organizing, and sharing the photos. I own all of these apps because each has some features I want. To accomplish a given task, I often have to fire up several of these apps in sequence and switch between them. Some of the apps attempt to be "all-in-one" photo solutions, but usually they fail at this.

What I'd prefer instead is if I could purchase the features of these apps on a more granular level, and plug them into my workspace for working with photos. I want Photoshop for its drawing tools and filters, Picasa for it's slideshow, AOL for sharing and publishing, and ACDSee for thumbnail browsing. I'm tired of dealing with Picasa's bizarre UI for selecting photos, AOL's weird way of retouching them, Photoshop's image browser which knows nothing about my Picasa collection, and ACDSee's awkward zooming and panning tools.

The solution to this is for Microsoft to provide an extremely extensible baseline for working with photos, and all other first-class visual objects. It must be extensible enough so that powerful apps like Photoshop or Word could be broken up into little parts that I could install separately. It has to be easy enough to use so that it feels natural for users to find the tools and objects they like to work with. This would create a completely different business model for software developers, and so the OS vendor would have to really make it worthwhile to do it.

Most geeks probably think this is a terrible solution, because they think consistency is boring, and enjoy the freedom of having 100 different ways to do the same thing. Ordinary users, on the other hand, don't really care about these subtle differences. They just get angry when something doesn't work because they got used to doing it one way, and some other app makes them do it another way.

I know that it is probably difficult to imagine how this kind of UI would work, but I'll go into more detail in a future post. In the mean time, check out the writing of Jef Raskin, who has been talking about this kind of model for years.

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