Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Common Usability Terms, pt. VI: the Dock

Usability terms defined in six parts ...

"This is the sixth article in a series on common usability and graphical user interface related terms [part I | part II | part III | part IV | part V]. On the internet, and especially in forum discussions like we all have here on OSNews, it is almost certain that in any given discussion, someone will most likely bring up usability and GUI related terms - things like spatial memory, widgets, consistency, Fitts' Law, and more. The aim of this series is to explain these terms, learn something about their origins, and finally rate their importance in the field of usability and (graphical) user interface design. In part VI, we focus on the dock.

Origins of the dock
Even though many people will associate the dock firstly with Mac OS X (or, if you are a real geek, with NeXTSTEP), the concept of the dock is actually much older than that. In this installment of our usability terms series, I will detail the origins of the dock, from its first appearance all the way up to its contemporary incarnations; I will explain some of the criticisms modern-day docks are receiving, finishing it off with the usual conclusion.

Origins of the dock

As I already mentioned, many people assume that Mac OS X and its ancestor, NeXTSTEP, are the ones that first presented the idea of what we now know as a "dock". While these two certainly played a major (if not the only) role in the popularisation of the dock concept, the first appearance of what we would call a dock was made somewhere else completely - far away from Redwood City (NeXT) and Cupertino (Apple). It all started in a small shed in Cambridge, England.

Well, I am not sure if it actually started in a shed, but that is generally where cool and original stuff in England comes from (British independent car manufacturers, people!). Anyway, I am talking about Arthur, the direct precursor to RISC OS (so much even that the first actual RISC OS release had the version number "2.0"). Arthur, whose graphical user interface always reminds me of the first versions of the Amiga OS (the 'technicolour' and pixel use), was released in 1987, for the early Archimedes ARM-based machines from Acorn (the A300 and A400 series). It was actually quite a crude operating system, implemented quite quickly because it was only meant as a placeholder until the much more advanced version 2.0 (RISC OS 2.0) was ready (two years later).

That thing at the bottom of the screen is the Iconbar, the first appearance of a dock in the world of computing. The left side of the Iconbar is reserved for storage icons, and on this particular screenshot you can see a floppy disk; if you inserted a new drive into the Archimedes, the Iconbar would update itself automatically. Clicking on a drive icon would show a window with the drive's contents. The right side of the dock is reserved for applications and settings panels - here, you see the palette icon (which is used to control the interface colours), a notepad launcher, a diary launcher, the clock icon, a calculator, and the exit button."    (Continued via OS News)    [Usability Resources]

Arthur - Usability, User Interface Design

Arthur

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