A review of BumpTop, the 3D desktop


I’ve used the BumpTop 3-D desktop (Mac version) for a day. It’s a promising start, but not worth using, or paying for.

BumpTop’s visual metaphor is a 3-D desktop surrounded by four walls. It works with OS X’s Spaces, so each Space can be a 3-D desktop. This means each virtual desktop now has five surfaces (the desk and four walls) for icons. Application windows can exist only on the desk, while icons can be there or on any wall. This is useful, if you need more space for icons.

So: Think of an application window being attached to a Space, and a BumpTop 3-D background being attached to a Space. BumpTop represents your desktop icons. The application window and BumpTop aren’t aware of each other.

You can move icons (except for one kind, the “pile”) to any surface. You can swivel the view to bring any surface to the fore. (E.g., double-clicking the right wall will bring the right wall front and center.) You can slide an icon into a wall and watch it bounce off — Ooooo, physics!

You can group icons into “piles.” As the name implies, a pile is a pile of icons. This metaphor is intuitive and visually appealing. But, alas, piles can only exist on the desktop, and not the walls. WTF?

And that’s all BumpTop does

An open application window is displayed in 2-D. It looks and operates like application windows always have, which looks odd in BumpTop. And so the 3-D metaphor breaks as soon as you open an application, which, you know, you sometimes do on a computer. Broken metaphors don’t help productivity.

BumpTop comes with its own primitive version of Stickies, so you can post stickies on walls. It’s less capable than OS X’s Stickies, except for being post-able on a wall, which Stickies can’t do because BumpTop is starting to tick me off they’re windows.

If you pay $30, you can get unlimited stickies, the ability to flip through a pile of icons, premium support, multitouch gestures (which should be in the free download, you clowns), and another useless feature I can’t be bothered to remember.

Here’s the deal

This is a very promising start on a 3-D environment. It’s definitely, absolutely worth keeping an eye on for future developments. But it’s not yet worth your time.

I’m unconvinced how useful 3-D’d application windows would be. The 3-D metaphor’s appeal is that it maps to the natural world, and is hence more productive. I don’t know if only having 3-D windows would be sufficiently compelling, or if we need something beyond that. Many people far smarter than me are working in this area. But I do know a 3-D icon + 2-D window environment, where some icons go on walls but others cannot, isn’t a win.

In summary

Try BumpTop 3-D desktop only if at least one of these is true about you:

  1. You enjoy eye-candy, even if it doesn’t help you work better.
  2. You have a lot of desktop icons, and would like to group some of them into piles. By “a lot,” I mean multitudinous, numerous, countless, innumerable, numberless, uncountable, unnumbered, untold, sundry, manifold, multifarious, myriad, uncounted, untold, endless, infinite, unlimited, vast, or many. You have a shitload of desktop icons.
  3. You want more than 16 virtual desktops, and limited mini-desktops only for icons appeals to you.

I’ll watch for future versions.

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1 comment
  1. owen-b said:

    Couldn’t agree more, dude. It’s completely and utterly pointless. Only one type of person will have even the remotest use for it, and that’s the sort of weird creature who dumps dozens of icons, files, apps, whatever all over his desktop. Frankly, I don’t think such people should be allowed to use computers. There’s an intricate, well-thought out filing structure that comes free with every Mac and PC in the world. It’s called the Operating System. File your stuff away inside that!

    What a waste of these guys time. Nice idea though. Sort of.

    /deletes app

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