Are GUIs Really So Bad?

Allan Engelhardt is a guy I have worked with and respect a lot.  His knowledge of enterprise IT architecture is way beyond mine and he seems to successfully bridge the gap between IT purity and business need – in other words he is a pragmatist whose focus remains on delivering the end result.

So I found my thoughts provoked by his recent post on The Post GUI Era based on discussion from O’Reilly’s 2007 Emerging Technologies conference.

Now, I wasn’t at the conference but I do think that Allan has barely scratched the surface in this debate.  The theory goes that man wasn’t born understanding GUIs, and more natural interfaces such as speech, for example, are potentially better ways of managing the interface between human beings and technology.

However, humans aren’t born with the power of speech – we learn it.  Furthermore, if I travel to China, my personal powers of speech are largely useless.

I’d really like an interface that involved me just thinking about something and then making it happen.  I accept that in early forms of this new technology I may have to wear a hat of some sort with some electronic wizardry and a couple of antennae.  This rather silly example, though, merely demonstrates how far we are from virtual intelligence, and I believe we are not much closer to a usable speech interface that is easier to use than a GUI.

Is speech dying?  When you walk around Blue Prism’s offices people are communicating by email and IM.  Phone calls are few and far between.  Chat is mostly reserved for social conversations.  I think this is becoming more typical of modern business life and is also replicated at home.  I am sitting here at home on Easter Monday happily typing into my WordPress GUI and not speaking to anyone.  I prefer to do my banking on the internet.  I prefer to order most purchases online.  I often prefer the asynchronous nature of email conversations to telephone disruptions.  And yet I am a Generation Xer who grew up with no concept of the personal computer until my teen years.

I don’t doubt that there are better ways of interfacing with technology but attempts so far have only proved to me that human’s ability to adapt to different interfaces is streets ahead of a computer’s ability to do the same.

Maybe the GUI is not so bad?  Maybe young humans reared in the modern world are much more comfortable with current computer interfaces because they grew up with them?  Maybe us oldies will die away soon and the need to find alternative interfaces will diminish?

One Response to “Are GUIs Really So Bad?”

  1. Ciaran Says:

    You’ve heard me standing on that particular soapbox more times than you would have liked to I’m sure, so I’ll confine my comment to this: Yes, they really are so bad.

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