Steven Frank, at his stevenf.com blog, has been thinking about what could possible replace the desktop metaphor that XEROX and Apple helped to pioneer.
Besides the desktop paradigm, Frank describes the pros and cons of other computing models – like the Newton’s soup-based data model and the iPhone’s multi-touch platform.
The Newton’s model had benefits, Frank says, but crumbled under the weight of OS-to-OS translations:
The Newton’s object store was an engineering marvel that fell apart as soon as you needed to exchange data with the outside world. You couldn’t just take a text file and send it over to your Newton because the Newton didn’t understand the concept of “file”. Your text first had to go through a conversion (via Newton Connection Utility) into an object format that some Newton application (in this case, probably Notes) could handle. Then you’d have the reverse problem going the other way.
Because desktop apps and Newton apps would never offer exactly the same feature set, inevitably these conversions result in loss of some information. Nitty-gritty things like precise formatting, metadata, and so on are the first things out the window when you need to convert data between two formats. It leaves you with a “lowest common denominator” form of information exchange that’s more frustrating than just being able to send files around. But in order to “just send files around”, you’d have to jettison all your radical (and useful) innovations and go back to square one: the good old hierarchical file system.
It’s a heckuva read, even if Frank offers no clear solution to what will come (web apps? Spotlight?) after the desktop metaphor has outlived its usefulness.
John Gruber at Daring Fireball has mentioned this before, but what I like about the Newton OS is that everything is automatically saved for you. When you scribble out a new note, you never have to press a “save” button. The only action you take with a note, after you’ve finished it, is to move it into some sort of organizational file system. But that’s optional. If you don’t want to move it, you don’t have to; you can shut off your Newton and the note stays right where you left it.
It’s like the Notes app on the iPhone, or the Stickies app on the Mac. Everything is automatically saved to some arcane folder deep in the Mac Library system.
What do you think? What’s the best possible platform to inherit the desktop’s dominance in computing?