TED: Bumping up desktop design

MONTEREY, Calif.--Last year at the Technology Entertainment and Design (TED) confab, New York University professor Jeff Han caused attendees to laugh in awe when he illustrated a new way to interact with the desktop without a keyboard and mouse.

This year at TED, this high-profile audience similarly let out a hopeful giggle when software developer Anand Agarawala demonstrated his new desktop-interface software, BumpTop. Originally his master's thesis at the University of Toronto, BumpTop software lets people push and pull icons on the desktop, rather than point and click them.

"We're still at the cave-painting stage of computer interfaces," Agarawala said. Sure, he said, you can create a "lickable Mac" but "it's really the same old crap."

With BumpTop, he showed how the user can stack icons like a deck of cards, toss them into a pile, create shelves of items on a virtual wall, or crumple icons like paper. Because a physics simulation underlies the software, users can also add size and weight to an icon, which makes it heavier than smaller items. A large icon, for example, could blow away less weighty icons. Photos can be handled similarly. "It's a much more rich way of interaction," he said.

TED conference organizer Chris Anderson asked when BumpTop might have a product ready. Because Agarawala had left the stage, the question went unanswered. The BumpTop Web site says to stay tuned.