Many principles of architecture apply to computer programs. What you see on a computer screen affects you in the same way buildings do. Like buildings, computer programs create the environment that we exist in. Computer programs give us a space to live in and to work.
Computers first of all act as tools. But they are also much more. People have emotional relationships with their computers as they would with their house or car. Look, for example, at how much value people place on iphones. Computers have become an important part of our environment.
Like buildings, a lot of thought needs to be put into how people relate to a computer. The part of an operating system that shows the windows, scroll bars, buttons, text, etc. and which lets you type and move your mouse around is called the the GUI, short for Graphical User Interface. The part that shows the desktop is the shell. The shell on a Windows operating system is explorer.exe.
To understand what a shell is, press ctrl-alt-delete on your Windows computer, go to "task manager" , click on the "processes" tab, right click on "explorer.exe" and select "end process." Your desktop start-bar just disappeared. That's what it's like without a shell. To bring the bar back again, go to the applications tab, press the new task button, type in explorer.exe in the box, and press OK.
Do you remember how difficult it was to use DOS? DOS had a primative shell. It only showed text and accepted simple commands. The introduction of the mouse and buttons in Windows, the entire concept, changed everything. Remember how much better it felt to use OS X (on newer macs) or Windows XP after Windows 98. Windows XP and OS X felt better because it looked more lively. Its graphical user interface was more sophisticated.
What a shame it is that something as great as Linux was long ignored because no thought went into its "architecture." Linux was really well designed but few know about it. Android is an OS built with Linux as its foundation and a new, better shell. The Android shell made people fall in love with their phones.
What makes Apple products so special? How does it make you feel? What about this product makes people feel like that? Steve Jobs made sure Apple put serious effort into their "architecutres."
The GUI in OS X give the computer a sense of life. The launcher bar at the bottom moves in a fluid motion whenever you touch it with the mouse. The icons similarly jump up and down. More transparency adds to that fluid, crystal feel. The buttons look like some kind of magical crystal. It has an expensive-looking gloss just by in increase in the brightness in a rectangle-shaped area. The buttons have a physical, glowing look. Acceleration rather than constant speed makes the windows more appealing, especially when minimalizing. The shadows and reflections from windows and the desktop gives you a sense of room and personal space.
The computer is a good example of how principles of architecture apply to other fields of design. Industrial design is not too important to program. What is really important and overlooked is functionality and ease of use, timeless principles that historically tied technological design with architecture.
-Guest post by Christian Blankenbehler
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