How I'd Like My Computer

If I had the computer I really, really wanted... Scratch that. I probably have the computer I really want, it's just that I've not put all the bits together yet. Most of What I've got is at least six to twelve months behind anything that might be considered state of the art, but it's generally all I need. Because I'm not running Windows, I don't need to keep upgrading my machine just to run a web browser. In fact, the only reason I have for adding bits to Gonzo at this point is to make sure I can run mp3s without either skipping or interfering with the normal operation of the machine. And since I've started working mostly on the laptop with Gonzo as a server, "normal operation" usually consists of running a ppp dialup, a web proxy, and a live copy of both the Micromail site and my own website.

So the part I'm missing from my dream computer is the UI. There's been a lot of UI talk recently with Apple on the verge of launching their new-look Aqua interface and Microsoft moving towards a fully skinnable system, and Linux trying to get on board with GNOME, KDE, and whatever you're having yourself. Alas, all of these seem to be concentrating pretty firmly on appearance, with no advancement worth talking about in function or interaction.

No, the thing is, now that I've got a computer that's powerful enough to do both speech synth and voice recognition in software, I want a way to use that. And I'd like something funky with the visuals, too - I've been using fvwm2, and fvwm before it since 1993, and I've got my UI down fairly nicely, but mostly because I've not seen anything really cool to improve on it. How about a 3D window manager that will make me put the Monster II card back in Gonzo? You could, say, rotate your entire desktop around the X or Y axis to get at some other less important stuff in the background. You could push windows deep into the Z-axis so you could watch them updating without them taking up too much screen real-estate.

I want a faster, smarter UI. I want agents that are smart enough to see what I'm at and help me out with it - here, Search Agent, take these 22 pages of results from google and figure out which ones are actually of any use to me. Web Agent, grab any URLs I highlight and precache 'em while I'm not doing anything useful with my bandwidth. Email agent, go figure out which of that bunch is spam, complain about it and kill it.

From what I've been reading, a lot of this is at least partially achievable, but everyone's working in different directions and getting software to collaborate isn't fun. emacs mouse-pastes text at the mouse pointer, xterm pastes it at the text cursor. netscape needs you to press Alt-C to copy highlighted text to the cut buffer. emacs sometimes ignores the X cut buffer no matter what you tell it. No-one can agree on what BackSpace and Delete should actually do. Escape doesn't, and F1 won't get you help. Single, double and triple clicks do all manner of different things in different apps. Some text can't be highlighted no matter what. So the business of the Web Agent, above, which requires the coordination of the web browser, the X server's cut buffer(s), and any apps that feel that playing with the X selection is their own business, is obviously a little tricky. Never mind parsing the wide variety of HTML that comes back from search engines, or the difficulty of accurately recognising spam.

So I don't have the dream computer yet. I keep looking for bits that'll make it easier to get there, but I'm not holding my breath.