BumpTop makes me sad.

BumpTop is a 3-d, physics-enabled desktop environment, where you can smack icons into each other like billiard balls, throw documents into messy piles, pin sticky notes to the walls, etc. “just like in a real desktop!”.

I’ve actually met a guy or two who worked on BumpTop, and they were good people who were obviously smart and hardworking, so I feel kind of bad dissing their software. But they missed something really obvious, which is that the “desktop” in GUIs is a zone of zero productivity. You don’t get work done there. You don’t receive useful information there or even play games there. It’s a place you go to launch an application if you can’t find it in your Dock or Start Menu, to search for a file if you can’t find it in the Open dialog box, or a place you go to manually rearrange your filesystem if you’re obsessive about that sort of thing. Interacting with the desktop is generally a last resort after other, faster methods of getting to your data have failed you. About the only useful thing you do there is copy files between disks.

Therefore, you want to minimize time spent on the desktop and maximize time spent in applications having fun or being productive. I believe the way to “improve” the desktop is to eliminate the need for it by making it easier to instantly access any of your data in any of your applications.

Dressing the desktop up with goofy animations and physics is completely beside the point. You can make it act more like a physical desktop, but why? The fact that my physical desk is covered with messy piles is a bug, not a feature. BumpTop is a case of taking a computer metaphor too literally, as well as a case of doing something just because you have the technology for it. It looks cool, but I have yet to hear anyone, even its creators, describe a single compelling advantage to using it. So it makes me sad that skilled programmers have put a lot of time into this thing.

Anyway, BumpTop has now been bought by Google, so good for them, I guess. There has been a lot of speculation that Google wants their expertise for developing some kind of multi-touch interface for Android phones or tablets. I wish those guys well and hope that their next project is something a little more practical.