It'll be interesting to hear what the original Mac OS purists have to say about Exposé, the new window management technology announced today as part of Apple's forthcoming OS 10.3. Just from the demo alone, it looks to me to be one of the most useful and innovative interface enhancements to come out in quite a long time. And one that seems true to the original principles of the Mac interface: it looks genuinely useful, intuitive, and cool all at the same time.
As I type this post, I have about twenty separate windows stacked open on my monitor: five or six in the finder, a dozen email messages, three web pages, a MS Word document, the iTunes browser. But I can see only a small fraction of them. I'd like to be more organized about closing or hiding windows that I'm no longer using, but after fifteen years with my Mac, I've learned that this is just not who I am. The idea behind Exposé is basically that you can let the screen get as cluttered as you want, and with one keystroke the OS will give you a big picture view that puts everything into perspective. Once you've found the window you're looking for, the screen switches back to the old cluttered view, with the desired window now front and center.
Exposé is one of those interface elements that's better to see in action than hear described, but basically what it does is zap all active windows down to smaller, but still legible versions of themselves, distributed across the screen so that none of them overlap -- not unlike a contact sheet of photos. (Another keystroke highlights only the active windows for a specific application, graying out all the windows belonging to other applications.) It's a great visual effect, and unlike some of the other OS X design elements, it harnesses our visual memory in ways reminiscent of the original Mac interface. Most of the time, I have a general memory of the shape and coloring of the window I'm looking for; I just can't see the window because there are fifteen other ones stacked on top of it. Because Exposé preserves the relative shapes of each window, and includes shrunken versions of their contents, picking out the window I'm looking for should be a breeze.
I say "should be" because you never really know with these things until you actually start using them. Some interface tools sound incredible, but you never end up adopting them in any regular way. But I'd wager that I'll use Exposé dozens of times a day, and be thrilled with it every time. Maybe that will be some consolation for having to put up with that irritating brushed metal look that 10.3 is apparently adopting across the board...