is an ongoing research project exploring how the future of personal computing might substantially increase opportunity, agency, curiosity, and creativity.
There are many pieces to the puzzle of personal computing, and its operating systems, that need further exploration. My work focuses on the interfaces we think with. As such, WonderOS is focused on experimenting with future user environments, of hardware both known and imagined.
More specifically, WonderOS experiments with an itemized user environment. The item is an alternative boundary for our digital things which may let us interact with our devices more fluidly, and reflect our thinking more accurately, across our entire personal computing domain.
Items are separate from the interfaces that render them and the services that supply them, allowing operators to have the final say on how their systems work, how they interact with their things, and what services bring new items into their systems.
The entire system is composed of items, allowing it to think about well-known features in new ways. It can also be rearranged at will, in big ways and small. As a result, WonderOS has “operators” rather than “users” — in growing computer literacy, operators become able to use, modify, and evolve their systems.
This project is explorative, not prescriptive.
The higher aim of this project is not the creation of some body of code or the proliferation of one set of ideas. The higher aim is to highlight the importance of asking the kinds of questions it asks, and to demonstrate that better answers await exploration; that if even these ideas represent improvement, then ones better still may lie ahead. This project is meant to help spark new and renewed thinking about personal computing’s role in our lives and in society.
As this project progresses, it will generate a handful of different outputs. Here are the ones that have come out of the work so far:
Environments & other experiments
Many of the core WonderOS experiments are alternative user environments for existing devices, like the Mac, iPad, and iPhone. They take over the host device’s screen to present complete itemized user environments, reifying the concepts developing within my Lab Notes and other works. What I learn from this process goes back into the Lab Notes.
These WonderOS environments also serve as itemized testbeds for more specific or more divergent experiments. This is something an itemized environment does quite well: it makes wide experimentation easy. (Besides helping me in my explorative work, this implies that it would help future operators of such systems evolve them for their own times and needs.)
One such experiment is OLLOS, which organizes your things on the dimension of time. It also experiments with a “spaced review” system that uses spaced repetition with items that you may want to pick back up on in the future. An early demo of this experiment is currently available in a member update.
Hello, Operator! is the operator’s handbook for WonderOS. It is presented as the manual that would come with the user’s first itemized personal computing device.
This handbook is an initial exercise in exploring how computer literacy might be attained by society at large with systems of this type, and how people might learn to use the core primitives of itemized, malleable systems to evolve them for their changing times and needs.
You can sign up for my newsletter on my website, where I'll send updates as the project progresses.
As core concepts develop and evolve, they land in my Lab Notes, where you can read more about the ideas behind an itemized OS.
Early demos and works-in-progress are published in member updates, to members of the Little Lab. More complete demos will be shared publicly over time.
A special thanks to Steve Krouse (Val Town), a sponsor-tier supporter; and to all the members of the Little Lab for helping to make this work possible.
Header photo by Lorenzo Herrera. Be sure to check out the linked Commodore PET project.