Posts Tagged 'UI'

Touch screen and the desktop

I just posted a response over on a CNET discussion topic. As often is the case, rather than write, review, edit and post; I banged away a response and submitted, as always I made a few typo’s, so here is a corrected version.

I’ve just retired from an senior engineering position at Dell, specializing in software and firmware but I also participated in a number of usability studies for hardware/software combinations. I was the originator of the NFC enabled server systems management concept. I’d offer a few thoughts to confirm what some others have said, but also a slightly different perspective.

1. yes reaching across a keyboard to a monitor mounted at the back of a desk is ergonomically unpleasant.

2. Touch is an interesting technology, but for fixed monitors and TV’s etc. it is less than optimal. There are numerous efforts underway to come up with a more responsive, natural way to control a UI. Think X/BOX or Nintendo, or the Samsung SmartTV gestures, voice ala Amazon echo etc.

3. That said, I for one would never go back to a non-touch laptop screen. I can lift my arm from the keyboard and prod the “submit post” button below much quicker that I can use the touchpad, or grab an extrnal mouse and click.

4. If you want a touch screen desktop I’d highly recommend getting an all-in-one with a touch screen and mounting it into a desk. I had one of the Dell XPS 27’s and had an IKEA draftmans desk. We cut a hole 99% the size of the screen; mounted the screen into the hole; secured it with picture wire in a # format across the back. I gave up using a physical keyboard and mouse, bought a Targus Stylus and went 100% touch. The advantage of the IKEA desk is that you can easily angle the surface to one that suits you. Also, it came with a medal lip which stopped things sliding off the edge; also it came with a built in glass area, which was great for to-do lists, notes etc.

One final note, on Touch screen PC’s. As with Windows 10, when switching over to touch screen you have to try to stop doing the way you did them with a mouse and keyboard. The Adobe PDF app for Windows 10, is much easier to use than the Adobe desktop app for Windows 10. Using a drawing program for line art, block diagrams etc. either with your finger, or with a stylus is a huge leap forward to messing about with Word and Powerpoint. In the case of slides, and powerpoint, it made me released me from decades of serial text mode slides.

So rather than ask why so few touch screens for desktop computers. Ask, what are top-5 applications I use, and how could touchscreen make them better, easier, or me more productive. If it’s email, calendar and web browsing, it probably won’t. Although even in those cases, zoom in and zoom out is an improvement.

Cote on Consumer to Enterprise

REST Interface slide from Cote presentation

REST Interface slide from Cote presentation

Over on his people over process blog, Redmonk Analyst, Michael Cote, has what is a great idea, a rehersal of an upcoming presentation including slides and audio.

The presentation covers what technology is making the jump from the consumer side of applications and IT into the enterprise. I’m delighted to report Cote has used a quote from me on REST.

For clarification, the work we are doing isn’t directly related to our PowerEdge C-servers, or our cloud services. For that, Dell customer Rackspace cloud has some good REST API‘s and is well ahead of us, in fact I read a lot of their documentation while working on our stuff.

On the other hand, I’m adamant that the work we are doing adding a REST-like set of interfaces to our embedded systems management, is not adding REST API’s. Also, since I did contribute requirements and participate in discussions around WS-* back when I was IBM, I’d say that we were trying to solve an entirely different set of problems, and hence now REST is the right answer, to externalize the data needed for a web based UI.

At the same time, we will also continue to offer a complete implementation of WS Management(WSMAN). WSMAN is a valuable tool to externalize the complexity of a server, in order for it to be managed by an external console or control point. Dell provides the Dell Management Console (DMC) which consumes WSMAN and provides one-to-many server management.

The point of the REST interfaces is to provide a simple way to get data needed to display in a Web UI, we don’t see having to expose all the same data, and can use a much more lightweight infrastructure to process it. At the same time, it’s the objective of this project to keep the UI simple for one-to-one management. Customers who want a more complex management platform will be able to use DMC, or exploit the WSMAN availability.

Touchscreen won’t kill the mouse… [or will it?]

I’ve really not been keeping up with what Microsoft are doing in UI design, although as the owner of an HTC Windows Mobile PDA/Phone thingy, I have a passing interest. I also sometimes look longingly on at iPhone users who swish their fingers around and do funky things, while on my HTC phone, apart from the contacts application, my finger basically just replaces the mouse. Still, I have my work calendar, address book, journal/notes, task list and more syncronised on my HTC phone!

In my post of the other day, I bemoaned the fact that creating slides and moving objects around even in the latest PowerPoint, really hasn’t changed much since Freelance under DOS, and even it had some neat features not found in todays PowerPoint for selecting, moving, duplicating and aligning objects.

It was with some interest then that I just spotted Robin Bloors commentary via his twitter stream, on Bill Gates latest claim that Touchscreen will kill the mouse. Robin is probably more right than Bill, but either way, hopefully creating objects, grouping them, moving the around on the screen and aligning them will get much easier. I’m all for that.

The chances of me still using Microsoft products by then, remote.

[Update] I’ve been giving some more thought to Robins argument, I do think he is right. However, I also think there is a reasonable alternative, at least one I could use. At home I use a draftsmans table as a desk. You know, one of those ones that sits up at an angle. Using my laptop on it, with a large external monitor for the extended desktop contain mostly the windows I’m not currently working on, IM clients, my calendar etc. works out ergonomically quite good.

I could see replacing the laptops sit up screen with a touch sensitive display of somesort, along with either a visual touch keyboard, perhaps projected onto the desktop; or a standard keyboard. I think that would work out fine, no mouse.

However, on a traditional flat desk it would be no use at all. Rather than having to hold your arms up all the time, you’d spend the day with your chin on your chest, not ideal for the neck. Still, I’m sure someone could resolve that, ergonomic touch screen stand anyone ?


About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I'm an information technology optimist.


I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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