User friendly Free Software Desktops (Oberon)

Josef Dalcolmo dalcolmo at
Tue Jul 17 12:58:28 UTC 2001

Since we are on the topic of ignored desktops ...

I tried the Oberon system S3 for a while, as well as its predecessor V4 (I 
know the naming is confusing). Although they have probably separated 
themselves too far from mainstream, and their user interface needs really a 
bit of getting used to, I believe it has a lot of interesting ideas, mostly 
ignored otherwise.

For example, any menu item in any menu in the Oberon system can simply be 
edited by clicking in it. So one can rename menu items, add new ones, change 
the association etc - wonderful. Writing a menu becomes as simple as writing 
the menu items in a text file and associating commands with the names - and 
all this can be done on the running system without recompiling or whatever!

The Oberon system features another neat idea: a program which can be used to 
inspect interfaces of practically any piece of program in the system. Point at 
the module and the program will tell you what the interface looks like. You 
can then even change attibutes dynamically etc. Since free software is aways 
claimed to be about freedom to understand what the code does, this would be 
really great for free software. Unfortunately the idea is probably too much 
bound to the availability of a language (Oberon) that supports well-defined 
interfaces (unlike C), making it unsuitable for the current state of affairs.

Finally another interface gag I really liked: set a marker in a file (actually 
"view" in Oberon) and you can copy text to it by selecting and mouse clicking.
That allows to quickly assemble text, much faster than the ordinary point and 
click method, where you have to switch continuously between source and target.

I would not overload the mouse keys as much as Oberon does it, rather would I 
suggest to use the mouse together with the keyboard (pointing with the mouse, 
actions with the keyboard). That allows for much less finger acrobatics, much 
more different options, the possibility to allow the user to define the 
keystrokes (mnemonics in his/her language) and avoiding to jerk around the 
mouse while trying to press buttons. I used once a CAD program that used a 
similar interface (under DOS) and it was a joy to use it.

Unfortunately the Oberon system never got very popular, perhaps because it 
isn't truly free software. See

- ok, i got carried away - Josef

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