Going gaga over XGL


Chris Pirillo’s been making a ton of noise over a video he posted showing off a YouTube video of a demo of the XGL desktop running on KDE.

He then turns around and asks “Why can’t Vista look like this?”.  I’m not a UX (user experience) guy, but I have watched the video and I’ve got some pretty strong opinions about it.

 

First off, he’s right – this is a pretty amazing demo.  It has TONS of eye candy.  The “bouncy” effects on the windows are very pretty.  The rotating cube is cool, as is the “windows bump into each other” effect. Having said all that, there’s a TON of distance between a cool demo (or proof of concept, or whatever it is you call something that’s not shipping in a product for millions of consumers).

 

For instance, the bouncy windows make you seasick after a while.  And the cube desktop, while slick has some serious issues – for instance, you’ve got a strong potential for “losing” your windows (because they’re on a face of the cube that’s obscured).

The key thing to realize is that it’s relatively easy to make a cool UI.  I’ve seen the most amazing proof of concepts for Windows UI coming from our advanced UX team.  Really compelling stuff, that just knocks your socks off. 

And not one of them has ever seen the light of day outside of Microsoft (to my knowledge).

 

Why is this?  Because making a good user experience is HARD.  It’s easy to make a cool user experience, it’s REALLY hard to make one that’s good, and that works for millions of users.  There are a ton of things you need to consider.  You need to consider usability, accessibility, localizability (yeah, it matters – Right-To-Left languages may have differnt visual conventions than Left-To-Right languages), all sorts of other *bilities.  I’ve been through enough and read enough UX reviews over the redesigned multimedia control panel in Vista to realize the complexity of the things that these guys have to deal with.  It’s a lot harder than you think.  John Gruber over at Daring FIreball has a classic post entitled “Ronco Spray-On Usability where he talks about some of hte issues.

 

Take floppy windows for example.  The Shell Fit&Finish dude (Dave Vroney) just put out a post explaining why they disabled floppy windows.  The answer is that they significantly reduce the usability of the system.  They may be cool but they get really annoying really soon.

 

And, of course, Vista is only V1 of the DWM.  This release is about getting the heavy lifting and building a new desktop compositing engine.  Future releases are likely to have a ton more cool stuff coming from the UI wizards now that they have a platform on which they can do really cool things.


Comments (51)

  1. Vipin says:

    The only problem with Vista is that it is heavily resource intensive and is intent at driving the hardware market rather than the ISV market. Minimum 1GB RAM plus a directx9 support graphics card is something that is required at the minimum to enjoy the cool graphics there. Vista market at the beginning is going to be sloppy, I will have to throw away my machine and get a new one to enjoy it. :( No plans as of now to do that. How many would make that transition soon?

  2. LarryOsterman says:

    You don’t have to throw away your machine.  My 2 year old home machine runs glass just fine.  My dev machine at work needed a $99 video card and it runs glass just fine.

    My two test machines, (one with 768K of RAM) both run glass just fine.  

    You’re right that Vista is more hardware hungry than XP was, but it’s not likely to be as bad a picture as you paint.  And all the machines shipped with Vista preinstalled on them will have glass working just fine.

  3. Diego says:

    Agreed – and most of compiz (the window manager being used in those videos) effects are more "tech demonstrations" than "things that should get enabled by default for every linux user"

    More importantly, it’s clear that Windows Vista *does* have the technical ability and all the pieces to do that kind of effects. What I don’t understand about the Microsoft-way-of-doing-things is why Microsoft won’t allow expert users to download extra effects (I suspect they won’t), Microsoft usually only releases whatever gets into the final build and nothing else even if they could. (compiz’s architecture is plugin based and it’s easy to enable and disable plugins for example)

  4. Dave says:

    "For instance, the bouncy windows make you seasick after a while."

    I know just what you mean. The fuzzy text in the borders of Vista’s Glass interface give me a headache.

  5. Mathias says:

    Vipin: Minimum 1 GB RAM is just not true. My girlfriend has glass on her machine and it has only 512 Mb RAM and an Intel onboard graphics adapter (I think it’s a 940 or 945).

  6. matthew says:

    768K of RAM running Vista, let alone Glass? No. Way.

  7. Ross says:

    "here’s a TON of distance between a cool demo (or proof of concept, or whatever it is you call something that’s not shipping in a product for millions of consumers)."

    Whether XGL is bad UX or not, the Youtube video you watched is from a shipping version of Ubuntu — admittedly not shipping to millions of people :)

  8. Mark Smith / xb95 says:

    I will certainly agree that there is a huge world of difference between the target markets of things like the Xgl/Compiz demo and Windows.  I also agree with your point that these features don’t add anything to usability except for a small set of people that happen to have a mental state that agrees with how they operate.

    However – that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t have them.  Program the functionality in, turn it off by default, and then let the savvy users figure it out.  Include somewhere in the depths of the Accessories > System Tools menu a "UI Enhancements" widge.  Label it as beta, for the daring, etc.  Even make it a hidden feature – everybody loves easter eggs and cool features.

    (Spoken as a guy who has a Compiz/Xgl box but vastly prefers Windows for day to day use and would love to combine the window manager of the former with the functionality of the latter.)

  9. Mike Dunn says:

    "Why can’t Vista look like this?" – I’d respond "Why _should_ Vista look like that?"  Flashy gimmicks alone don’t make a UI good. You’re gonna have to give me more supporting evidence before convincing me a new desktop metaphor is worthwhile.

    Some of the elements from the old Task Gallery[1] have made it into Vista: most notably rendering windows using the 3D card; and Flip3D looks a heckofa lot like a stacked-window layout from TG. But that took how many years to get into production? TG was running on Win2K, so 6 at the least.

    [1] http://research.microsoft.com/adapt/taskgallery/

  10. Neal says:

    Larry, I can’t recall ever disagreeing with you, but when you say "all the machines shipped with Vista preinstalled on them will have glass working just fine," I have to call crap.  

    Have you ever sat down in front of the average consumer pc from Dell, Gateway, EMachines, etc.?  Straight from the factory with XP installed they’re so under-rammed you could wipe the drive, install Win98, and still find them running so slow as to be barely usable… forget about XP and all the preloads.  Nope, PCs will be shipped with Vista that won’t run fine with Vista much less with Vista with glass working.

    Now, if Microsoft would put something sensible in their agreements with manufacturers like "no discount price if you sell ANY PCs with less than 1GB of RAM"… then I might let your comment slide… but I still wouldn’t consider it accurate.

  11. LarryOsterman says:

    Neal, you’re right, that was too strong.  How about "the vast majority of the machines shipped with Vista on them will have glass".

    You can get glass on surprisingly limited machines – for instance, the intel integrated graphics adapter gets glass (at the cost of system memory).

    And my 768K test machine does glass quite well.

    Mark Smith: The problem there is the 1000 knob problem.  UI can’t have that many knobs and switches.

  12. Jason Pursell says:

    – How about "the vast majority of the machines shipped with Vista on them will have glass".

    this is not necessarily true.  This will only come with Vista Home Premium and above.  Many companies will undoubtedly try to sell their low-end computers with the Vista Home Basic, which will not come with the Aero features.

  13. foxyshadis says:

    I’m shocked that you use a PC-XT (clone?) for your test machine. ;)

    By the time Vista ships 512M will presumably be the minimum possible configuration for buying it. Currently, the number is 256 (and frankly I’d be shocked if you could put win98 as mentioned on that and not have a speed demon). With the vast majority of consumer machines simply uninstalling the virus/security trial will rid you of most of the slowdown (norton/symantec always hijacks and destabilizes the system anyway).

    And I want some of those cool demos! Not actual skins, just short videos of various wild and crazy but rejected concepts. It’d be a lot more fun that surfing windowblinds.

  14. Scott says:

    I don’t think too many people will argue with you  if you say the effects are superfluous. The 3d flip task thing in Vista is superfluous too. I think the main point that Chris P. and others are making is: "Look at what XGL can do with 1/3rd of the machine that it takes to run Vista."

    So when you say, "all my work machine needs was a $99 video card to run glass.", I say, "All I needed to run XGL on my 2 year old laptop and have those visual effects was to burn a DVD." And btw, just HOW beefy is your dev machine? How many CPU’s do you have in it? ;) I doubt most home users have that much horsepower.

    The cube is just another way to swap multiple desktops around, the bouncy windows are just for fun. The full screen transparent video is nice.

    After having seen the re-work of the "Start" menu in Vista, Paul T’s demostration of the new back and forward buttons in Vista, and having used Quicksilver under OS X for over a  year now, I refuse to believe that Microsoft has ANYONE working on useability. ;)

  15. Cheong says:

    [quote]

    For instance, the bouncy windows make you seasick after a while.  And the cube desktop, while slick has some serious issues – for instance, you’ve got a strong potential for "losing" your windows (because they’re on a face of the cube that’s obscured).

    [/quote]

    I don’t think so.

    Do you remember XWindow has multiple desktops in the same user session ages ago? I believe the sides of "the cube" are just different desktops be made to stick together.

    I think this effect can be made into Windows in similar way too, just treat the "screens" as multiple monitors. :)

  16. Jonathan Rascher says:

    Larry: You got Vista running on a box with only 768 kB of RAM??? It must have a heck of a page file. :)

  17. Larry Osterman (ya, the same Larry Osterman that got bit by the Audio bug) has a great post on why XGL…

  18. DL says:

    So true Larry, so true. I am tired of hearing some open source project comming up with flashy animations and calling it the best UI ever (and like you said, it makes you sea-sick after a while). My fav UI improvement in Vista, the Start dialog with its search and "in-place" browsing. Saves a ton of time for me and I no longer need to carefully take my mouse pointer from the parent menu to the child, without losing the child menu because my hand slipped!

  19. Chris says:

    You say that making a good user experience is hard and use this argument to make it impossible to customize the looks and effects because _some_ customers will not like it etc.

    That is not really a good argument.

    Also, I see the argument that Linux distros have much fewer users and that Windows has millions more – thus, Windows has far greater responsibility to make it work for a larger number of people.

    It makes it look almost impossible to do anything innovative in the desktop. I don’t buy this argument and the perception that people can’t deal with a large number of changes either.

  20. J. Edward Sanchez says:

    "And my 768K test machine does glass quite well."

    You keep using that figure. I do not think it means what you think it means.

  21. LarryOsterman says:

    Jason, whoops -I forgot about starter and home basic.  You’re right.

  22. LarryOsterman says:

    Scott, my dev machine is a 4 year old HP x4800 workstation with a hyperthreaded 3.2 gHz P4, 1.75G of RAM and an nVidia 4800U AGP graphics adapter.  It came with a 200G hard disk (I added another 200G hard disk later).  I’ve got 2 16×12 monitors and glass (we went with the 4800 display adapter because we wanted something with enough horsepower to drive both monitors at 16×12 with glass).

    And my test machines are a 2gHz P3 with 768M (whoops :)) of RAM and a 1G AMD64 box.  One has a Realtek AC97 sound card on the motherboard, the other is an HDAudio machine.  Both run glass just fine.

  23. Maybe I’m weird, but I find Aero Glass to be a huge waste of resources. Flip 3D is pretty, and occasionally useful, and I like taskbar window previews, but that’s about it. I see no point at all in title-bar transparency (I turned that off pretty quickly), and I find the text on the title bars to be nearly unreadable. I’m all for better experience, but for me that has nothing to do with floppy or bouncy windows.

    The stuff in the XGL demo just doesn’t excite me at all.

  24. I think Chris looks at things from one point of view instead of the end to end scenarios.  remember you guys showcasing the wobbly/Curtain window effects at WinHEC ’02 or ’03 (I think) in an early alpha build of Longhorn (way before XGL came on the seen). It looked nice, but I started thinking, what is the value proposition here, keeping boredom in your cubicle at a minimum?

    As far as innovative, I don’t think Vista is innovative at the average user level, but it provides a seamless out of box experience by integrating desperate technologies in way Consumers and Businesses can consume more easily and readily. There was a period I was going through the OS X UI AQUA craze, so I got a copy of OS X x86 installed on my PC and was pleased with the UI, but quickly reached the "thats all?" feeling.

    I have played with Linux and XGL and I have to say, its not worthy of the word impressive, its just a visual art there to occupy the users mind and just provide a good looking, but still not practical, unfriendly to use to desktop.

    AERO is also i-candy, and I honestly hoped that, AERO the experience would have improved the many inconsistences in Windows itself. Have you interacted with networking in Vista, the tonnes of dialogs, explorers and windows just setup a basic workgroup or network connection?

    What about Personalization? More dialogs, just to change sounds, screensavers or wallpapers. The Display Properties was doing just fine and I consider it a major step back in this release of Windows. There is just a lot of mouse clicking Vista. But on the other side, the improvements are apparent, integrated desktop search, RSS bringing information to the desktop, better management of data and of course security UAC, sandboxing IE and disintegrating it from Windows.

    The recent invalid comments I am hearing from Chris Pirillo are very unfounded and just don’t make sense saying. At times I can sense a wanting in his post. Maybe he wants the UX Team at MS to ask him to join them.

  25. Ulric (a Mac user) says:

    To get back to XGL,… wow, they cloned the OS X doc.

    The worst part of OS X.  The windows 95 taskbar really wins hand down in best UI design in my opinion.

  26. Beer28 says:

    Though I don’t post on Channel9 anymore I still read it.

    The before shipping to millions of people comment is way off Larry. Novell is "shipping this to millions of people" right now as this UI is built into their new Novell SLED (suse linux enterprise desktop)

    http://www.betterdesktop.org/wiki/index.php?title=Data

    Novell invested a lot of money in these usability test you say they never did.

    I think you should do some fact checking then come back when you know what you’re talking about.

    http://channel9.msdn.com/ShowPost.aspx?PostID=132500#132500

    Remember this post, when I had posted screenshots of IE’s dlls being preloaded but you still insisted that IE had no advantage over firefox and that preloading was not true? Then Bruce Morgan told you otherwise.

    I think this is a similar situation where you are just backing the people that cut your checks without fact checking.

    I don’t want to sound intrusive here, so I will leave it at that. I just think people should have a right to know the facts.

    BTW, this demo is much better, because it compares all 3 systems, mac, windows vista, and Linux.

    http://www.ehomeupgrade.com/entry/2915/linux_xglcompiz_graphics

    PS- Please tell Bill not to let the door hit him in the ass on the way out of the computer business.

  27. Rosyna says:

    1. I don’t think people would lose their windows if they are on a different "side" of the cube any more than people lose them when windows are minimized in windows. Clicking on the window/app in the taskbar/dock/whatever brings the window/app frontmost in all cases. If it’s on a different desktop, it’ll switch to that one. So support is a non-issue.

    2. Yes, useless eyecandy is bad. Much like the fuzzy, translucent borders in vista. Mac OS X 10.0.x had those, and they were quickly phased out as being too distracting. i wonder when windows will phase them out.

  28. Qt says:

    Hmmh. Sometimes I feel that Windows users are just jealous… or irritated because Linux has such a nice technologies like Xgl/AIGLX/Compiz and Vista doesn’t look so "awesome" anymore.

  29. Dean Harding says:

    > I say, "All I needed to run XGL on my 2 year old laptop and have those visual effects was to burn a DVD."

    I say, "All I needed to run Vista RC1 on my THREE year old laptop (with 1.6GHz Pentium M and (admitedly) 1GB RAM) was to burn a DVD."

    Runs perfectly fast with Glass and all.

  30. Dean Harding says:

    > Much like the fuzzy, translucent borders in vista. Mac OS X 10.0.x had those

    Mac OS X had NON-fuzzy, slightly opaque windows (for the unfocused windows). Vista blurs everything underneath, which actually makes an enormous difference.

    The problem with the Mac OS way was that the text of the windows underneath was ALMOST readable, so your eye got distracted trying to figure it out. While text under Vista’s windows does not fool the eye into thinking it might be able to read it.

    In fact, the way it works in Vista makes the whole titlebar and everything else that is "glass" fade into the background (which is obviously the whole point) thus focusing you on the actual contents of the window.

  31. Centaur says:

    Too much eye candy causes brain decay.

  32. Mike Dimmick says:

    My home machine: 2.8GHz P4 on 533MHz FSB, 512MB RAM (1066MHz RDRAM on 32-bit modules, can’t be upgraded), 160GB Hitachi DeskStar 7200rpm 8MB cache on ATA-100, Radeon 9550 Pro w/128MB RAM on AGP4x bus.

    Desktop Graphics score 2.1 on Vista RC1, had to enable Glass manually, but runs fine once I’ve done so.

    Seriously, anything that has 512MB RAM will run Vista perfectly well.

    Personally I like the translucency effects on the window borders, but don’t like the ‘zooming’ animation as a new window is created.

  33. James Risto says:

    Too bad there is not an <debate had before> link to somewhere so debates don’t have to be had again and again. Vista, like the many Windows and OS2 releases before it, will, as in the past: a) not run well on some bargain basement machines b) will run better on a) with some more memory c) may not run well on your current machine d) will run better on your current machine if you stay away from some features d) the install will be slower, but you will get used to it or won’t care if you do it once only.

  34. Vipin says:

    Mike:-

    well what if you run several bloat applications like Office, Visual Studio2005,coreldraw on Vista? Does it become sluggish? I bet it will become so. 512 MB is like throwing peanuts to Vista to run productively. The point is the conclusions on RAM,etc drawn here are based on the fact that nothing is running on those systems. btw,I am wondering how MS suceeded in turning Visual studio2005 into a bloat.

    As far as eye candy is concerned, I am ok with all the UI effects. I love it. But I am wondering as a developer, how much it will affect my productivity. It would be like programming with a SuperModel by my side. lots of distractions. Not the best environment to program in but to have fun with. Well I am kidding, I will get used to it. :) I love the new looks in Vista.

  35. Vipin says:

    Mike:-

    well what if you run several bloat applications like Office, Visual Studio2005,coreldraw on Vista? Does it become sluggish? I bet it will become so. 512 MB is like throwing peanuts to Vista to run productively. The point is the conclusions on RAM,etc drawn here are based on the fact that nothing is running on those systems. btw,I am wondering how MS suceeded in turning Visual studio2005 into a bloat.

    As far as eye candy is concerned, I am ok with all the UI effects. I love it. But I am wondering as a developer, how much it will affect my productivity. It would be like programming with a SuperModel by my side. lots of distractions. Not the best environment to program in but to have fun with. Well I am kidding, I will get used to it. :) btw,I love the new looks in Vista.

  36. bluvg says:

    Chris: "I don’t buy this argument and the perception that people can’t deal with a large number of changes either."

    I feel the same way–people are capable of amazing things, and the problem for a lot of people isn’t that they *can’t* learn new things, but they don’t *want* to learn new things.  HOWEVER… there has to be a value proposition to do so, particularly when it comes to businesses.  Businesses are notoriously wary to make upgrades that involve significant user training, and the reason is a simple, practical one–if the cost is not worth the benefit, they won’t do it.  How on earth would you show a productivity benefit for wavy windows?  

    More to the point, how would you show that the benefit of a virtual desktop utility like the cube in XGL wouldn’t exceed the costs to train users?  Training costs are unbelievably expensive: it involves both direct training costs and, more importantly, the opportunity cost of workers training rather than working.  I can almost assure you that the cost of purchasing a second display and the associated (minimal) training costs would be far lower than the virtual desktop training and support costs, and the productivity benefit would be much greater (easily outweighing the cost for most user scenarios).  Plus, I’m convinced that acceptance and actual use of an additional display would be far greater than that of virtual desktops–a lot of users would never touch the virtual desktops feature, even if they were trained how to use it.

  37. michel says:

    XGL is just TECHNOLOGICAL Possibilities.

    it allows X to use the video card to do thousands of things : compositing hardware (you want that even if you don’t care about colors and moving stuff) ,  fluent resizing and move of windows without use the cpu ,  special effects to improve the interface (not beautify it, but IMPROVES : to help the user to see something is happening and where) without use too much cpu

    and so on.

    about the "cube", Gnome (and I think Kde) is able to switch to the virtual desktop if an application need to inform the user or to move the application to the current desktop

    in Novell Linux,  XGL has way to inform users.

    it’s not ABOUT "eye candy" !  of course some people can take XGL and Compiz projects and add fluffy wobbly and waterly effects

    but enterprises as Canonical, Redhat or Novell can build upon it to do better interface using more efficiently the computer.

    you HAVE TO STOP mistaking technological EXPERIMENTATIONS and corporate development.

  38. meneame.net says:

    Larry Osterman empleado de MS desde 1984, opina sobre algunas caracter&#237;sticas que trae XGL.

  39. John Barrows says:

    The only thing I know is that XGL runs like a dream on my GF4MX card. Runs wonderfully on my laptop, too. On both machines, Vista just drops me into an ancient XP-like desktop.

    Make up all the excuses you want, while it’s true that XGL right now might be used for eye-candy, or might be misused by its developers, at least it’s giving me a hardware accelerated desktop with my limited hardware, a thing that Vista is not going to achieve.

  40. Eddy says:

    Hey, you don’t have to use XGL and Compiz as a GNU/Linux Desktop, this is just a small demonstration what the Open Source community can do… Which is real miles away of the simply appearance of Vista Glass, to be honest I was on the floor laughing when I saw the comparison between them.

    But far away of fanaticism, Compiz is a very high step forward on the concept of a desktop mean for us, we still can not say what will need in the future, so that the main ingredient that the open source add to the IT world… So instead to make discussion about, just try it and the change or not… But anyway I guess to say that Vista run with less than 512MB should be a joke. I may opinion the person who say that is running Vista with less than 1.6GHz and 1GB is because is just running and text editor, surfing the web or checking the email, but is not doing anything else what require computational power…!

  41. Larry Osterman (ya, the same Larry Osterman that got bit by the Audio bug ) has a great post on why XGL

  42. DarkTrancer says:

    Putting aside the vista glass vs xgl argument for the moment,how about the simple fact that we are allowed the option to play with this "eye candy" , but not allowed to play with the great stuff that MS has hidden in their UI dev unit?

    If they dont allow people the choice,where they gonna go? Right!

    Somewhere else that gives you a choice.

    Oh and just for my own small debunk,i have xgl running on a Ibm x22 laptop (p3 600,ati rage mobility,128meg ram). Would this run vista with glass?

  43. Corallus says:

    I would beg to differ on the characterization that xgl represents only eye candy, though there is a great deal.

    Granted, I can change virtual desktops in linux without having them pasted on a rotating cube.  But hell….at least I have virtual desktops, which have become essential to the way I work.  Having them pasted on a rotating cube just makes work more interesting. MS Windows users aren’t even provided with virtual desktops, so the point of different workspaces is lost on them even without the spinning cube effect.

    But, there are some features of xgl that are quite helpful in organizing work when you’re dealing with myriads of open windows.  Being able to minimize all running windows to semi-transparent miniatures makes it much quicker to find the right window than sifting through tabs on the task bar.  Plus it looks cool!

    Being able to look behind windows through transparency without minimizing or moving them around is also a time saver. Plus it looks cool!

    The fact that xgl adds all this pizazz without significantly affecting system resources makes it all the more amazing.  I’ve watched the resource monitor….incredible!

    Why use xgl?  Because it’s there and I can!….and because I think the computing environment should be fun as well as functional!

  44. Xgl is cool but it takes more than that