ITGS Syllabus

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Topic 40

Language independence of GUIs, making computers accessible to a very wide range of users, including those with special needs, and very small children by Raymon

We need language everywhere in our daily life. Most of the time this is not a problem – It's not like you need to be tri-lingual to read a book or read a manual. Besides, to not use language and still get the point across, you need symbols or colors, and this is still a language. It would definitely be nice if there was only one language in the world, as well as only one currency, one unit system (We almost have this one, except for the United States), and one of each of all the other formats and standards.

Some of the other things may be possible, but language is hopeless. It is simply too big of a thing, too hard to teach and spread. People have attempted to make such languages, (see Esperanto: and although these languages sound very useful on paper, few people go to the trouble to learn them, and they are not taught widely.

However, I digress. On books and similar applications, language is required; this is not so when using computers. Anybody who has used a computer must have noticed that the interface has no full sentences and few words. This is intentional, so that the interface does not become cluttered with words everywhere in such a fashion that one cannot understand which button to press. Any words or sentences directly on the interfaces are only for explanation.

The more words there are, the more trouble it is to translate the bugger into another language and the more time it takes to use since you have to read all the text - Bad language can make a button seem like it does something else if you don't real the whole description ("Close this window" and "Cancel and Close the program")! Thus, people have moved away from words.

Are there still too many words on the interface though? Task bars and option windows must be translated and read, and all but the simplest of programs are unusable to small children and foreigners who cannot read what is written on the screen. And yet, too many proprietary icons are even worse; it is a serious chore for the user to do anything, even if they canread the language!

Does that little star-shaped paper icon with a pencil on it mean "special paper effects", "automatic paper cutting", or "build star shaped building with a pencil - shaped tactical missile"? You cannot tell unless you slide your mouse over it to get the little help ticker - if it's a cheap program, you might not even get the help ticker! And this does not help children use the program either.

What we really need is a set of standard icons, colors, and better help than tickers. There are already a few icons that are pretty much standard; the opening paper file is load, the floppy disk is save, the flying envelope is send as email, and the ugly printer is print. If there could be more standardized icons, then the learning curve for moving between different programs is much reduced.

To solve the language barrier and to make certain button's functions immediately apparent to foreigner and child alike, colors must be used. Instead of "Yes", a green button with a check; for "No", a red button with a X; for "Options", a yellow button with a wrench; and for "Help", a blue button with a question mark. Such a conversion of the most used buttons in computers today would make cross-language use of a program much easier and would probably result in less looking for buttons.

Many gestures are common throughout the world today – nodding your head, shaking it, tilting your head, and a little twisting of the hand and such. If such gestures could be utilized in using a computer, it would have a profound impact on office life. The guy in the opposing cubicle would be nodding his head , the guy beside you shaking his, and the guy across the hall smashing his monitor in to get his message across.

It would be another step in actually communicating to your computer, and a child could easy do it intuitively, as well as a Frenchman on an English computer. A simple form of international sign language involving the head as well as the hands would seem to be quite easy to create and immediate to learn and would greatly expand this possibility of gesturing to your computer. It may even be a start on that international communication language discussed earlier.


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