Where’s My Bag of Holding?

In the frolicksome days of my youth, I played too much Dungeons & Dragons. The one have-to-have-it item in the game was the Bag of Holding. What appeared to be a simple leather sack on the outside was capable of holding anything you could get into it, and as much of anything as you wanted. Bear with me when I say that the Bag of Holding is today known as the folder, and it’s the one indispensible have-to-have-it item in the desktop metaphor GUIs we know today.

Go look in your filing cabinet. How many pieces of paper can you put in one of those folders? And how many folders full of how many pieces of paper can you put in there? I haven’t tested it, but you’ll certainly reach a limit. On any computer today running Windows or Mac OS, you can put a million folders with a million files inside them into one folder. This TARDIS-like defiance of the rules of physics and complete break with the desktop metaphor is certainly one of the hardest things for beginners to understand, but as a daily computer user since 1982, I’d sure miss bottomless folders if they were to suddenly disappear.

Bwoah

Which brings me to Bumptop (nothing against YouTube, but if you really want to get a feel for BumpTop, download the full-length video). In light of the last two paragraphs, you might be expecting a harsh review, but my first reaction was simply, “Bwoah.” That’s something like “wow” in German. I’ve never seen anyone thinking that hard about alternatives to the desktop. And not only that, it looks fun. If some software mega-firm doesn’t snap up the recently graduated Anand Agarawala to revolutionise the desktop, well, I reckon he’ll go off and get rich doing it himself.

Piles of Piles?

You can see how much thought’s gone into Bumptop for yourself. I know it wasn’t the focus of the thing, and it wasn’t meant to be a 360° solution, but the second thing I thought after “bwoah” was “where’s my bag of holding?” Bumptop’s only unit of grouping is the pile, in other words the 3D paper-like icons can be stacked. I take quite a few photographs. Imagine every one of the approximately 7,500 photos I have on my drive in a pile. Even if I were to split them into year piles, and those into month piles, the resulting piles wouldn’t leave an inch free in that cute little blue room. Defining limitations is certainly a part of making a good interface, but “you can only have as many files as fits in the visible space” is a limitation I wouldn’t be willing to live with.

Look Out, Behind You!

There’s something pleasingly simple about a one room 3D interface. Bumptop’s all about reusing concepts and feelings we know from the real world, so what’s wrong with a work room and a junk room? Imagine you’re throwing around, piling, shuffling and spreading out your files all day. But what to do with that large pile which you want to keep, but won’t be needing it for the next week? With a pen gesture on that pile, you rotate 180° to face the wall behind you, where a cabinet covers the wall. In this view you can bundle your stack together (possibly compressing it in 3D space to a manageable size), label it with handwriting recognition, and shelve it. The shelves could roll away behind the walls infinitely to the left and right, and could themselves accept handwritten labels. Need to find that stack of photos from your grandmother’s birthday party? Write “grama” on the wall and the shelf scrolls back to that stack. Want to get back to work? Gesture, spin around, and your archives are out of sight, and for now out of mind. Just like in real life.

Save Us Anand!

To be honest, I hate the desktop, and have often wished someone would have a killer enough idea to knock it out. Judging by the response in the web, Bumptop could be the beginning of something. I’ve signed up for the beta and look forward to slinging around files in the near future. And Anand, if you like the shelf idea, you know who to make the royalty checks out to.

Update

I’ve stumbled onto a few other opinions of Bumtop recently:

  • Merlin Mann wouldn’t replace his desktop with it, but would use it for special apps.
  • What do we need Bumtop for, when we already have it on our desktops?
  • Adaptive Path dissed Bumtop without reserve.