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3D desktops

Unconventional computer desktops use 3D graphics to add unique functionality.

Screenshot of the Beryl 3D desktop
Beryl gives you four desktops to mess up.

While we all wait for Windows Vista to bring the "Wow" and Apple Inc. to drop its Leopard, it's a good time to examine what might make a next-generation computer desktops really cool. One thing is certain; your next desktop will be more 3D and have task-juggling capabilities to satisfy even the most ADD among us.

BumpTop is a physics-based desktop prototype meant to behave as much as possible like an actual desk. It debuted last June but is getting renewed attention from the developer's presentation at Demo Camp in Montreal. With BumpTop, files can be thrown into loose piles, tidied into neat stacks, or fanned out like a deck of cards. BumpTop looks like good fun, but the Type A part of my personality shudders to think that my computer's desktop could look just as messy and cluttered as my physical desktop.

If you want an experimental desktop to play around with now, you can install a Linux-based operating system called Beryl that goes absolutely nuts with 3D. This is a multitasker's dream platform that not only uses an OS X Expose-like method for juggling windows but goes a step further by letting you juggle four distinct desktops across a 3D cube. There are tons of Beryl 3D videos up on YouTube (that's right, popular videos of people showing off their desktops), but here's one with a soundtrack and a presumably caffeinated user.

Will we see features like these in a conventional Windows or Apple operating system? Maybe not. Will the alpha geeks among us take up the cause of tactile 3D computer interfaces and 3D desktop systems in an effort to impress the girls? Undoubtedly.