Symphony OS

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The funniest thing about Symphony OS is the posts you’ll sometimes see asking if its Mezzo Desktop can be ported to Linux.

The reason it is funny is that Symphony most definitely is Linux – it’s based on Knoppix and nobody is even trying to hide its Linux roots:

SymphonyOS is based on a pure Debian “unstable” system.

( http://symphonyos.com/wiki/)

It’s just that Mezzo is so very different, both in initial looks and usage. You can see screenshots at http://symphonyos.com/gallery/main.php (I have found the entire Symphony site to be extremely slow at times, so have patience).

Mezzo does away with menus and uses the corners of the screen as click points to bring up desklet applications. These apps are simple scripts that output html snippets; that ultimately gets drawn on the screen by Orchestra. If you know Perl and a little HTML, you can produce your own desklets in seconds.

Why is Mezzo so different? Blame or praise Jason Spisak. He based Mezzo on his own ideas about interface design, which he wrote about in an article entitled “Laws of Interface Design”. I had a heck of a time finding this on the web and in fact could only find it in Google’s cache. I’ll just quote a small part of it here:

1.Fitt was right and no one listened. The four corners of the screen are sadly under-utilized causing users to constantly mis-acquire important interface elements…and get pissed off.

Mezzo Solution: Corner Targets. The Corner Targets in Mezzo explicitly force Fitt’s Law into practice. All of the oft-clicked menus are able to be accessed by ramming the mouse into a corner. So easy, it hurts.

2.Nested menus are evil. A good user interface will eliminate nested menus since humans have a hard time targeting menus in the first place, let alone panning up, then scrubbing to the right or left in a 20 pixel wide corridor.

Mezzo Solution: Desktop-wide menus. Mezzo banishes the nested Start Menu and Apple Menu concepts in favor of the expansive desktop-wide menus launched by single-clicking the Corner Targets. These menus eliminate the pan-and-scan method of finding the proper information in a menu, and cut down on the user accidentally missing the nested menu, and having to go back and re-drop the menu to try again.

If you can find this (try googling for “www.symphonyos.com/uilaws.html” and use the cached copy if it is still there), it’s worth reading the whole thing.

I can see setting up a kiosk with this or customizing it for a computer-challenged person you want to drag into the Internet age. It’s beautifully simple and intuitive, and best of all very easy for you to customize to your needs. It would be a fantastic way to distribute simple html based applications: for example, I could put my Skills Tests on this very easily (note to self: not a bad idea). I threw them a $30.00 donation just because innovation deserves reward and if I actually use it for something I’ll definitely send more.

Fun stuff, worth putting up with their sometimes slow web site to get a download.

*Originally published at APLawrnece.com

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A.P. Lawrence provides SCO Unix and Linux consulting services http://www.pcunix.com

Symphony OS
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