MovieOS — Part I: The Good.

Don't let the Anal Nerd Squad put you off: MovieOS is great.
In fact, it's probably one of the best hopes for the otherwise sclerotic field of computer user interfaces to ever improve.

This is Part 1/3 of a short series about the relevance of MovieOS to designers.
Links to Parts 2 and 3 tba.

For those who are behind on their nerd jargon, MovieOS is the umbrella porte-manteau blanket label (picture this !) that applies to the peculiar logic ruling over all things computing, and notably user interfaces, as depicted in movies and TV shows.

Why you shouldn't hate MovieOS.

MovieOS is generally blamed by the Anal Nerd Squad for its lack of "realism" and technical soundness, in view of what is deemed CommonSense™ about computers and user interfaces.
It says more about the lack of imagination and insecurities of computer nerds than anything, except maybe for their cluelessness about story telling.

MovieOS generally does its job, which is that of a prop or plot device, meant to tell us somehing and further the story line.
As a believable operating system and user interface, it is usually out of touch with the state of affairs in RealWorld™ computing, and that's exactly why it's interesting to this armchair designer.

What MovieOS can do for us, already.

User interfaces, like all things human, are the product of their history, and it shows.
To this day, even though the available memory, computational and rendering power of most computers and appliances exceeds by far the requirements of spartan implementation, we're generally stuck with interfaces that say a lot about their ancestors and about the culture of the nerds and marketing drones who botched them, yet have little relation to what the user intends to do with the software/hardware, nor how she'd like to do it.

MovieOS, on the contrary is all about the user intent, purposes and ways: its form is supposed to let us know all we need to learn about function, because it is mainly through MovieOS that we will experience the impact of the protoganist's actions on the computer/traffic light/giant combat cyber-bunny.

So... MovieOS is all about usability, with iconic representations, symbols and metaphors which anybody in the audience can relate to and intuitively grasp.
...yeah, that's pretty much what you'd expect from a good OS/GUI.
— Except *in reality* computers don't work that way ! (object the 1337 nerds)
— Guess what ? It's a damn shame they don't, for the most part. (counters I)
Precisely that which irritates the ANS is what makes MovieOS a great bootstrap for reflexion on user interface: it's designed "backwards".

Let's dive in...

What MovieOS can do for us, almost.

A frequent objection to MovieOS is how it often performs seemingly impossible/ludicrous feats, like infinite image enhancement from a grainy CCTV/satellite shot.
Without pulling the Advanced Technology≈Magic joker card, we already have software that can provide us with results of seemingly finer granularity than the sample item provided as user-level reference.

While the classic "magic endless zoom" of Hollywood movies may be overreaching, what is within reach already (in some areas), is the possibility to pull pinpoint geolocation for a target from a satellite shot, and poll all relevant CCTV data from the immediate surroundings and timestamp.
If we assume streaming video pooled from multiple angles, even at low res, we end up with a solid base material to build a full 3D image, possibly in higher resolution (interpolated) than that of any individual witness camera.

With SmartDust sprayed in the wild or embedded in wall paint, no place is safe from such visual recompositions.
For a nice example, of SciFi-grade tech turned RealWorld™ product overnight, check this.

Another of the archetypal fallacies pointed by its detractors is MovieOS apparent predictive capabilities:
How comes the M-I laptop knows in advance Tom will need to bring up a satellite view of that specific area in Chile, to have it at the ready just on cue ?

Because there *is* a cue: It's scripted, stupid !
In some ways, MovieOS bashers, for all their technical superiority posturing, are just like 5 year old kids who can't help themselves and yell at the actors on the screen: Watch out ! He's behind you !

Because we can tell from MovieOS display what the protagonist just did, that's clue enough for us to guess her likely next moves, one of which will be confirmed by MovieOS eye-candied display.

Believe it or not, it's not too hard for a contemporary expert system to guess, either.
It's not a walk in the park, but provided enough background and context, it's not far-fetched to imagine automated systems making educated guesses, or responding fast enough to complex situations to seem like they anticipate.

For a RealWorld™, relatively mundane example, see trajectory correction, anti-spin/drift and electronic gear shifting systems on high-end cars: some of those rides would make you think they actually use the onboard GPS to tell the next curb in advance (they don't), and notice the pavement is wet and slippery before you did (they do).

Give an expert system enough history about your typical behavior, some good heuristics to turn that into meaningful context, keep it available as a portable/ubiquitous and non-obtrusive resource, and you got yourself an OS that will be one steap ahead of you 80% of the time.

Before anyone gets shot: no, Microsoft Office Assistants and various Wizards are not a step in that direction (because they ask you too many questions, too early, in a context with too many options in the decision tree anyhow), but the "recently used items" in Windows™ Start Menu are.

Wrapping up the goods.

Not encumbered by the software designer's set of aesthetics prejudices, moviemakers certainly overlook a number of technical objections, and generally make horrible mistakes, but no one among the large number of me is saying we should use MovieOS as a literal blueprint for an OS/GUI (although I'm a huge fan of Galaxy Quest).

Instead, we should see MovieOS for what it can be to us, a strong source of inspiration for usability, as it gives us a hint of how people who aren't software designers — yet know a thing or two about getting a message across — imagine what an OS/GUI should look like for a given application, and how it should perform.

Those of us willing to break the ranks of the Anal Nerd Squad and look beyond the superficial (and irritating) misrepresentation of hacking and engineering may realize this kind of fantasy tech data can be mined for gold.

[To be continued in Part II: The Bad.]

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