Is Sun's 'Project Looking Glass' More than Mere PostureWare?

Project Looking Glass (or LG3D) was announced to a surprised, if slightly indifferent, world a couple of years ago by Sun Microsystems, creators and current stewards of the pervasive Java programming language. LG3D was a surprise because it represents – potentially at least – a big step forward in the PC desktop UI. As its acronym suggests, LG3D is ostensibly a 3D desktop. I say “ostensibly” because despite its three-dimensional powers, Looking Glass is, at heart, a two-dimensional desktop. (I’ll write about why I don’t think it goes far enough in a future blog post).

If Sun is merely using Looking Glass as a way of raising its profile, of gaining press attention, then LG3D might well be doomed to linger in an obscure, long-forgotten corner of Sun’s website until the respirator is finally, mercifully switched off.

The developers involved in the project, of course, are hugely energetic, and hopefully some of this enthusiasm will rub off on Sun’s top brass – this means going beyond mere “look what we can do!” press releases, and announcing useful new products that are designed primarily for Looking Glass.

The project is still in its infancy, but – when it’s ready – wouldn’t it be great if Looking Glass became the default desktop for Solaris?

If it were to hit all the right notes, the LG3D/Solaris combo could quite conceivably give Apple a run for their money in the “niche alternative desktop” wars. I know, it seems ludicrous that a company like Sun, whose “bread and butter” is mainly server hardware, could master the infinite subtleties needed to create a truly usable graphical desktop. It would take a serious in-depth understanding of what user-friendliness really means. And Sun have demonstrated on numerous occasions that their formidable skillset lies elsewhere. For LG3D to stand a chance, they need an influx of highly opinionated usability gurus. Basically (with tongue in cheek), they need to buy Apple!

(But not if Intel gets there first, of course...)

If Sun are really taking Looking Glass seriously, they’ll absolutely want to get it to a state where evangelical Mac users would consider using it in preference to OS X, say.

For Looking Glass to get to such a state of readiness – or even to get to a state where people don’t just view it as an academic oddity, consigned already to the dustbin of moot history – some serious changes need to be made. Check back in a couple of days when I’ll describe what I believe needs to be done. . .

About the Author

Matt Stephens is a senior architect, programmer and project leader based in Central London. He co-wrote Agile Development with ICONIX Process, Extreme Programming Refactored, and Use Case Driven Object Modeling with UML - Theory and Practice.

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