Enso: Back to the future

January 16, 2007 ⋅ 1 Comment »

Humanized is a company in Chicago founded by Aza Raskin, the son of the late Jef Raskin. Jef is famous for being one of the original designers of the Apple Macintosh, and more recently, for his excellent book The Humane Interface. I got the book for Christmas a couple of years ago, and read it cover-to-cover before the end of the holidays. It’s a really insightful and practical — not to mention enjoyable — treatise on the design of interactive systems.

The guys at Humanized seem to be picking up where Jef left off. They just released a sneak preview of their new product, named Enso:

Enso is a our new idea in computing that brings true universality to interfaces. It makes Windows, and everything in it, more humane. It breaks down the walls of applications.

Based on the trailer, Enso looks like Quicksilver for Windows. It’s a secondary command interface that can be used to launch applications, control windows, and perform various operations on the selected text, such as spell checking. Enso “continues and extends the vision of Jef Raskin”. The interface is definitely inspired by many of the ideas in The Humane Interface. Enso seems to be a way to bring the core concepts of Raskin’s “Humane Environment” to Windows applications.

One of the most interesting aspects is that it is (effectively) a command-line interface. I’m assuming you bring up Enso using a hotkey (like Ctrl-space) — then, you begin typing commands. As you type, you begin an incremental search through the set of commands, and other commands that are a close match are displayed below.

Jef Raskin believed that this kind of command-based interface is a more humane way to deal with computers. It’s a pretty contentious viewpoint — I’m not sure how many people are willing to go “back to the future” and ditch their WIMP interface for a command-line. Since Enso is still in private beta, it’s too early to judge how well it works, but I’m anxiously awaiting the public release.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in Raskin’s ideas, you can check out Archy (formerly known as “THE” — The Human Interface). Unlike Enso, Archy is a stand-alone application. Today, it’s pretty much just a text editor, but in the future, it will be “capable of doing everything that now requires applications and files scattered about your desktop.”


  1. Dubroy.com/blog » Back to the Future Part II - February 7, 2007:

    [...] Over at 43 Folders, Merlin gives a demonstration of Stikkit. Merlin gives an example of Stikkit’s “magic words” — commands that Stikkit parses from each note. After my post on Humanized’s Enso, I’m starting to notice a trend here — it looks like the command line is making a comeback. A post at Lifehacker earlier this month noted that search boxes are also command line interfaces. [...]