“Wars aren’t real, anyway.” He runs his finger up the front of his flak jacket, sealing it shut with a flatulent hiss. “They’re either made-up, or they happen to other people.”
He dives off the front of the building, doing his best Silver Surfer impression, and swoops down to ground level. He idles for a moment, searching for the right application; then he laughs at his own stupidity and remembers that this is all one seamless ecosystem of capabilities. He’s still accustomed to the Windows world and the faux-3D desktops that horribly missed the point of adding a third dimension to a perfectly good GUI.
He remembers the lecture in Ancient History class: first there was the command-line. Write it down. Think of the command-line as the first dimension: it’s linear. Then the graphical user desktop, the aptly-named WIMP, brought us the second dimension: the ability to arrange icons in two planes, across and down. Point and click brought users closer to their data. Just reach out and touch your file...
So if we are to have a 3D desktop, what fundamental new thing does the third dimension give us?
He shimmies along the street, looking for his target. All along, he’s writing his essay in his head, trusting that it’ll spool into the data-agnostic clipboard until he twigs what he’s searching for.
The third dimension, or Desktop3, is as ephemeral as Web2.0. It can’t be defined in a single sentence: probably that was why it took the boffins several decades of fumbling with nVidia and ATI graphics drivers before they realised they were looking in the wrong place entirely. Simply adding a Z axis to a conventional desktop had the opposite effect of Dimension 2: it moved the users further away from their data. A giant step backwards in efficiency. Users were so entranced by the zooming effects that they barely noticed, for a while, that their PCs had become harder to use. And the only real difference was in the desktop, anyway: the program launcher. Once the program was launched, they were jolted back into the same old 2D world.
Eventually, so many advancements came along at once that they all fell into the Desktop3 trough. Mind computing - “true” William Gibson-style VR – added a third dimension in the traditional, spatial sense. And the merging of applications into a single homogeneous environment added a third dimension in the “beyond what the GUI gives us” conceptual sense. Purists were so shocked that they shat bunny rabbits. Nowadays, the desktop is a single ecosystem in which installing a new application means adding capabilities to what’s already in there. Your media player is also your spreadsheet. Except... there is no media player, and there is no spreadsheet. There are simply documents, the end product, or the song you happen to be mashing up.
His essay is finished – at least, the first draft. Why War Doesn’t Affect Me. Outside world? What outside world? His essay spews out of his clipboard into the crater-pocked street, hovers in midair for a moment, then zips away in a fiery streak to the remote Gnu Gull Apps server.
Everything beyond this street is outside his house. The Internet, to use its archaic name. Not everyone has decked out their own workspace as a downtown ghetto. In the distance he can see a private shaft of sunlight. It illuminates a manicured green hill which is the vestibule to someone’s wildly different workspace. Next to the hill, a giant finger flips the bird at its well manicured neighbour.
At the end of the street, a never ending barrage of malicious spambots, appropriately represented as moaning zombies, leer menacingly and slouch in his direction. They’re incinerated by his invisible firewall, making a nice moire effect in the early evening air.
He shakes his head and grins. So many pretenders to the 3D desktop throne now lay scattered like roadkill along the causeway of history. Politely step over the stillborn carcass of Project LookingGlass ... BumpTop had the crown for a while. But anyone who tried it or saw the demo quickly realised that, beyond the eye candy and the physics, it added nothing new: it could work equally well in two dimensions. In fact, BumpTop was on a 2D plane, just one that had been tilted, like a 3D view of a 2D chessboard.
Then there was Compiz Fusion. Killer candy. But its penguin-luvvin’ posse struggled to find a killer 3D feature that wouldn’t otherwise work in a 2D environment, and which would genuinely make people’s lives easier. Still they ended up with a flat (in all senses) desktop with 3D effects bolted on.
Finally, things got interesting when the first crop of true 3D-perspective monitors appeared, fired along by nVidia’s GeForce 3D Stereo tech. World of Warcraft on steroids. Gaming became huge (again), but for a while people forgot about the graphical desktop.
He changes his theme, and suddenly he’s on a spinning rock with Jupiter dominating the horizon. His neighbour’s little green hill and the “fuck you” finger look kind of out of place here. But at least the attacking spambots have had the courtesy to turn into ugly-mutha aliens squatting inside tiny, Mekon-style flying bowls. They’re still being incinerated, though.
Time to get back to work. He calls for his document and waits for it to fly back. Instead, a message arrives, carried by a spacesuit-encrusted carrier owl (H.Potter in the 25th Century perhaps). The message lights up the sky all along his field of vision. He has to turn away from Jupiter to be able to read it: “Greetings! Gnu Gull Apps has suffered a server meltdown and any changes to your documents made in the last 12 hours will have been lost. Have a nice day.” He rattles off a suitably angry email, drags in a snapshot of his neighbour's skyward-pointing finger, and sends it flying. An ugly dialog box appears in midair: "Connection lost. Please contact your ISP." He's dumped back in his living room, a foisty pair of underpants draped over the back of his chair.
Dammit. Some things never change.