Bob like interfaces?

S. Dale Morrey sdalemorrey at
Thu Feb 6 14:32:43 MST 2014

Well said.  I guess I was thinking the exploratory interface would be more
welcoming and familiar, but if you don't get the expected interaction I can
see how that would be off putting.  I never got to experience the joy that
was Bob, it looked interesting an I've pondered these same screenshots
periodically for several year.  But clearly it bombed for a reason.

Nevertheless a 3D "Home" structured like a real home, intuitively seems to
me to be an ideal introduction for a pure novice.
Perhaps though, it's not, for the reasons you outlined and because when it
comes down to it, it has limited applicability to the way modern interfaces
actually work.

By way of example, (and car analogy since it appears to be lament slashdot
day).  A real racecar does not actually have a stick shift.  It has paddles
on the steering wheel, probably because the worst thing you can possibly do
at 200MPH is take your hands off the wheel.

Nevertheless, a novice driver should probably stick with an automatic or
stick shift because that's what is in use by 99% of the automobiles on the
road.  Learning to paddle shift then would just be pointless because they
would be hard pressed to find a car with a price tag lower than a ferrari
that comes with that type of shifting mechanism.

On Thu, Feb 6, 2014 at 2:00 PM, Levi Pearson <levipearson at> wrote:

> On Thu, Feb 6, 2014 at 10:10 AM, S. Dale Morrey <sdalemorrey at>
> wrote:
> > Someone brought up MS Bob in a
> > discussion today.
> > It got me thinking, why hasn't this been implemented as a desktop for
> > Linux?  It would be totally perfect for kids and the elderly.  There may
> be
> > an example of this somewhere, but I've never seen it.  Does anyone know
> of
> > a Bob like interface on top of *nix?
> >
> > Also am I the only one who thinks this would be the perfect interface
> for a
> > touchscreen or tablet?
> As others have brought up, it's not really necessary for kids.  And I
> think it would seem condescending rather than helpful to the elderly.
> The original Mac OS and the original iOS were, IMO, high-points in
> usability for people who are not accustomed to the extreme complexity
> of modern computer systems.  I think the original iOS probably wins
> between the two due to the initial difficulty that many people had in
> figuring out mouse usage.  The Mac came with some nice tutorial
> documents and a simple program to illustrate the mousing concept, but
> for someone who's already a bit intimidated by computers, those only
> go so far.
> From my perspective, the key to interface usability is for there to be
> an uncluttered presentation of the interface tools and clear
> relationships between the tools and the operations they perform. For
> iOS, the gestural interface and the visual feedback you get when you
> work with it is an excellent example of this. There's a single button
> on the front that always takes you to the home screen.  Options for
> what to do are all presented on the home screen there.  Each option
> typically presented a full-screen touch GUI, with buttons that looked
> and behaved approximately like buttons and wheels/sliders that looked
> and behaved approximately like they appeared like they should.  There
> weren't a ton of extraneous options and there weren't a whole bunch of
> different possible screens per app.
> This is actually a lot like the interface of the original Mac, but
> with the added benefit of direct touch manipulation and the lack of
> the incidental complexity of menu systems.  The Mac was revolutionary
> compared to command line interfaces of previous PCs.  Just the attempt
> to give a standard categorization of commands and to put them in a
> standard organizational scheme and discoverable location like the Mac
> menu bar was a *huge* usability improvement over the days of
> application-specific keyboard overlays and heavily dog-eared reference
> manuals.  But the way that menus work in relation to the physical
> motions of mousing is not *obvious* to a complete novice, and it takes
> some time and guidance for an intimidated user to get comfortable with
> the concepts, and some never really do.
> Both Mac OS and iOS developed a lot of additional complexity over
> time, and it's now arguable whether they're significantly more usable
> than alternatives.  But when both were first introduced, they were *by
> far* more usable by novices than alternatives.
> If you look at those screenshots of Bob by comparison, I think it's
> clear that they did not follow the principles of usability I outlined.
>  Instead, the interface takes skeuomorphism to a ridiculous extreme.
> Things *look* like things you might interact with in the real world,
> but you can't physically interact with them in the same ways that you
> do with the real ones, and there's not even a dominant metaphor to
> pick out and learn.  Ideally, any visual complexity would guide you to
> the possible interaction methods, but in the case of Bob it simply
> distracts.
> What Bob mostly reminds me of is a visual puzzle-based adventure game,
> but without much actual game content.  While this could be enticing to
> kids, kids are pretty adventurous to begin with and don't need a whole
> lot of enticement to explore.  On the other hand, I think the last
> thing you want to present to an intimidated adult is a visual puzzle
> that is unrelated to the task they want to accomplish.
> I think the idea of "intelligent" agents that can watch what you're
> doing and suggest ways around common problems or give guidance for
> common use cases is actually a potentially good one, but Bob was
> probably too early to do a very good job with it.  I would certainly
> prefer an unobtrusive hint about how to accomplish things I'm doing
> efficiently rather than what they actually implemented in Word that
> guesses at what I'm trying to do and just magically does it for me
> without asking.
> But an experienced computer user must be careful about universally
> applying their preferences and intuitions to designs meant to be
> usable by novices; often the intuition and preferences of novices will
> be completely different, since they lack the significant amounts of
> experience with complex computer systems that the experienced users
> have.
>        --Levi
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