Some light and some shadow

Today I stumbled upon a very interesting article on propsed design concepts for KOffice, which makes Martin Pfeiffer the winner of the KOffice design competition. I haven't looked at the other contributions; but taken by itself, it looks like the award is well deserved.

The proposal contains lots of innovative, mostly good ideas -- as I've already hinted in some of my other postings, a feature IMHO sorely lacking from most UI concepts.

It implements, at least partially, many many principles I'm badly missing from existing GUIs. (Though by far not all, of course...) It also proposes some very interesting totally new ideas I haven't even thought about so far. It suggests solutions for some problems I'm seeing in existing systems. It makes me think more consciously about some things I vaguely considered before. All in all, it starts a lot of valuable thoughts. And, of course, it also has a couple of ideas that I do not agree with at all. (Well, what you'd expect, perfection? ;-) )

I won't dwell on all the specific aspects now. (I might pick up some in later posts.) It's way too much interesting stuff. Instead, I'll pick a single, very very fundamental issue -- one which this proposal sadly gets (almost) all wrong: Integration.

While it's obviously right that better integration between the various office applications is desirable, there is a fundamental misconception how to achieve this. The idea of having individual "viewers" for the various document types, and something that integrates them, is even basically right -- in spirit it goes in the right direction, towards what I call a hurdish application infrastructure. (Though not very far.)

There is also the very important realization that a shared canvas implementation should be used for displaying the contents, making the different document type "viewers" basically only transform the documents. But having the canvas in a shared library is a poor choice -- though typical for traditional monolithic UNIX systems, which do not offer an integrated object access approach like Hurd's translators (or Plan9's FS servers), to make implementing common functionality as server processes easy.

Where the proposal is really fatally wrong, is what that "something" integrating the components should be: It wants a single specific main application, gluing the whole into a sealed system, creating a desktop for office work inside the main desktop -- instead of fixing that one to provide the necessary integration. Reenforcing the dominance of closed monster applications, buying inner integration at the cost of making any outside interaction awkward, thus creating ever growing subworlds, ever more alien among each other. Ever more duplicated functionality, as it becomes so painful to use anything not part of the closed subworld. Creating another Emacs.

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