There are many ideas for integration of operating systems and browsers. I’ve a couple of ideas about how to make the integration more seamless.
First of all, it is worth noting that in Windows 7, Microsoft has made Internet Explorer integrate more deeply with Windows via new features in Windows 7. This means that Internet Explorer 8 tabs are now exposed in the taskbar when hovering over Internet Explorer, in effect showing the tabs as separate running applications. This is a nice addition.
Now speaking independently of the OS UX itself, it’s always bothered me that we have to have a single screen for the OS desktop where this screen is limited in how you can interact with it. It isn’t “infinite”, you can’t really scroll it. And although you can stack and tile Windows applications, you can’t really get a fluent experience out of the box. I’d like there to be a more analog UX – Linux is not better in this respect. Many distributions just give you workspaces, where you may perhaps typically have four, six or so workspaces. Then you can get some window manager that maps these workspaces onto a spinning cube. Not terribly user-friendly – more gimmick than anything.
My idea, which is probably not new, is that we should at the very least (much more advanced topologies are of course possible, but crawl before you walk), be able to have an “infinite” workspace, where you may constrain it such that it is only horizontally infinite and applications and tabs are laid out side-by-side. Then it is extremely easy to switch from application to application and to see multiple tabs at the same time – interleaved with regular desktop applications.
It should be possible to smoothly scroll this workspace and one could imagine it to be very nice with touch as well. Microsoft: tear down those artificial boundaries.
I expect we will see “something” in this space for Windows 8. I simply cannot imagine that we’ll have the same boring Window management one release cycle more. It’s high time an evolutionary step happens – a much bigger one than jump lists and a “unified” taskbar.
In the manufactured UX mockup I made in a couple of hours (Paint.Net ftw), you can see a simple rendition of how this might look. Note that tabs have a preview button on the taskbar. This means that tabs can be quickly visually identified, especially with higher DPI settings; and it means that the tabs do not need to be grouped.
Now there’s some caveats to this rendition. I imagine several improvements that I’m simply too lazy to do right now, but which will show the more full power of the UX, which would also sort of require a functional shallow prototype in Silverlight or some such to show how the transitions and scrolling would feel like.
Caveat 1: A site often has a favicon and although to my knowledge favicons are typically low fidelity (not even sure if they’re flexible in this regard), meaning they don’t match up with the high DPI desktop settings, it would be meaningful to have the option to stylefully superimpose the favicon onto the little tab previews you can see on the list taskbar.
Caveat 2: The feature of showing a preview on the icon itself is not something that happens for normal applications but I think it probably should, given enough DPI to work with. The reason is the same as for tabs. If you have many documents open in say Word, you could avoid having to group these in a single taskbar button preview panel and you could instead directly identify the document based on visual cues as well as have a 1-click way to navigate to things. Now 1-click may sound over the top. Surely one click is not going to kill anyone. But think about how many times you do this over a year. Think about how many hours this inefficiency takes up. It actually makes a difference.
Caveat 3: I wanted to show some more features, like the ability to flip a page (native application or web application) and show: 1) an (ink) annotation interface, 2) a search interface, 3) a way-back time-travel interface for previous versions of a document (e.g. word or web page), etc. This would provide a cool interface on say a tablet PC where you could surf and flip pages and write research notes on the back of pages. I first saw this feature in Sun’s Project Looking Glass by the way. And of course this data would be backed up on a hosted service and possibly publicized for others to use. Yes – imagine speaking to a webpage as well, talking in your notes and having Windows STT translate it back into notes and attach the audio recording as well. Then index it all and expose bia Bing or Google search.
Caveat 4: I also wanted to show nice 3D interface “icons” that would appear as you hovered over parts of a page, like rotation so you could flip a page or direct way-back access via a pageflip like icon. (Probably not pageflip like, more like something resembling a temporal axis… somehow).
Caveat N, . . .
These may come later but for now I just wanted to show a basic first mockup and explain the reasoning behind it. It’s far from fully baked, but I think it shows something useful – simple as it is!
Thanks to Aasemoon for constructive criticism! I’ve not incorporated all suggestions and some would negate my own preferences.
Disclaimer: Blogpost quickly assembled, typos a given, thoughtos too!