Rethinking Hollywood OS (Lame Depictions of Computers in Movies may not be so Lame)

Poking fun at hollywood depictions of computing is an old favourite on the net – compilations of dumb computing scenes outshadow even mentions of anomalies in the star trek universe. Meet The Hollywood Operating System (AKA the Movie Operating System, Movie OS). You know it well:

The Hollywood operating system, or Hollywood OS, refers to any fictional computer operating system clichéd in movies and television … These systems usually share common functions with real operating systems, but tend to be able to perform these functions at faster speeds with a more aesthetic graphical user interface (GUI), and are exceptionally more functional than today’s software. For instance, a Hollywood OS may have be able to download extremely large files in mere seconds, display error messages in large, flashing red text … They also tend to have sound effects unnecessarily accompanying every event, no matter how trivial. Some versions do not make use of a computer mouse, with virtually everything being done by keyboard or alternative input device.

I’ve often joked that it would be fun to have a job producing those systems, but recently I’ve been wondering: What’s so funny about Hollywood OS? This is not April 1 and I am serious when I say Hollywood OS has things to teach us (though I do find most of these depictions funny as well!), much as “serious” applications can be informed by video games as well (see Brenda Laurel’s The Art of HCI). In fact, Hollywood OS has two key virtues:

  • It’s an idealisation of how computing should be, and maybe one day will be. The Hollywood OS is not only easy to use due to its natural language and clear UI, but it’s also more aesthetically pleasing than the 2007 junk you’re looking at right now (even if you’re on a mac).
  • It’s a powerful abstract representation of what’s going on inside the computer and network
  • Many times, modern OSs and apps are too detailed. In contrast, Hollywood OS provides a presentation that’s not entirely accurate or precise, but conveys, at a level the user cares about, what’s going on. Just like the revolutionary London Tube Map, which foregoes precise locations in favour of a simpler view of the network and connections. Helpful Distortion principle. I could even imagine using these styles of animations in a tutorial on a given computing topic.

Let’s revisit the wikipedia definiton above – do you really think Hollywood OS sucks?

“tend to be able to perform these functions at faster speeds”

Good – it’s an idealisation of what should happen and also a compressed representation of what’s going on

“with a more aesthetic graphical user interface (GUI)”

Macs and Linux are prettier than Windows, but they Hollywood OS owns them all, and eye candy is nothing to sneeze at.

“exceptionally more functional than today’s software.”

Idealisation

“download extremely large files in mere seconds”

Good

“display error messages in large, flashing red text”

How many times have you missed an error message because it was buried in 12pt times roman on a boring blue dialog, the same dialog that asked you 5 minutes ago if you feel like checking your mail. If it’s critical, large, flashing, red text would seem to be exactly what’s required.

“interface with any computer, whether terrestrial or alien (as in Independence Day)”

Actually this is pretty much possible anyway nowadays.

“They also tend to have sound effects unnecessarily accompanying every event, no matter how trivial.”

As with the visual effects, some of these sounds are actually pretty neat and help build the user’s mental model of what’s happening.

“Some versions do not make use of a computer mouse, with virtually everything being done by keyboard or alternative input device.”

Right, like the way DOS or Unix or ATMs work?

More Links What code doesn’t do in real life

3 thoughts on Rethinking Hollywood OS (Lame Depictions of Computers in Movies may not be so Lame)

  1. Pingback: Linux, the mainstream, and market penetration « Don’s House of Fine Patisseries

  2. well i have seen the same negative words in other post and the only i can see from these is the low knowledge of the theme from what i see on the posts the fact that you don’t have it or you can see it didn’t mean that it doesn’t exist

    there are other post were the creators of movies shared their experiences in the develop of the movie

    antitrus used linux die hard 4.0 bsd and linux

    and one you dont belive its iron man and it wasn’t windows

    some times they use their own computers

  3. Pingback: The Future of Computing « blog.elevenseconds

Leave a Reply