Hello, Operator!

Your guide to the itemized environment.

Part of the WonderOS project, this is presented as the operating manual that would come with the reader’s first machine running WonderOS. It is an exercise in exploring how people familiar with mainstream personal computing devices and systems would become computer literate in an itemized environment. It is written as though the reader is familiar with today’s mainstream operating systems, and is exploring their first itemized OS.

It is still being written; new chapters are being added and existing ones will be modified as the project’s experiments expand the thinking around WonderOS and itemized environments.

Dots Logo

Hello, Operator!

  1. Operator? Who… me?
  2. Items: The basic building blocks
  3. Item Views
  4. Workspaces
  5. Notifications, and your locus of focus
  6. Keeping organized
  7. (Re-)Composing your system
  8. Now, it’s your turn

Operator? Who… me?

When you go to a restaurant and eat a meal they’ve prepared, you’re a diner. But when you make a meal at home and eat it, although this accomplishes something similar, your role is very different. You aren’t a diner anymore; you’ve created and consumed the meal.

In software today, you’re either the developer or the user. The developer makes the software. It works one way, maybe with some settings to work a little bit differently. The user uses the software, conforming to its best practices and intended workflow.

Similar to the role shift when you cook a meal and eat it, there’s a role shift away from “user” that happens when your OS is made of core primitives which you can modify and recompose. In this role, these “user-developers” are operators of their machines, as they once were in the first few decades of computing. But you won’t be building your system all day; it will grow with you as you use it. In this handbook, you’ll learn how we’ve set it up to get you started. And when you decide something could be changed to support your best work, you will be able to make that change. In this handbook, we’ll also teach you how to make these kinds of changes to your system. Rather than some more-complicated process, it only takes knowing the same fundamentals of itemized computing that you’ll learn to use your new computer. With your new system, you are now the operator.

So: Hello, Operator!

Welcome to your new operating system. This is truly personal computing, which you can adapt to support your best life and work.

We hope it gives you the same sense of wonder that we felt when we flicked on our first personal computers decades ago.

Items: The basic building blocks

Just as our thoughts and languages are structured around things and actions, our itemized OS is too. This lets us interact with our devices more fluidly, and model our thinking more accurately. We’ll cover actions in a few chapters, and focus on things in this one.

In the itemized OS, our things are items. In fact, everything in the itemized OS is an item. A todo list is an item, and so are the todos in it. An email is an item, and so is the contact of the person who sent it to you. Even the day’s weather forecast is an item, which gets updated often as the day approaches.

Three items: an email, a todo list, and a weather forecast.

For those coming from window, desktop, and app-based OSs, one of the early surprises about items is their mobility: you can take an item from one place and put it somewhere else; or you can have it in both places — something that you will find is very common in the itemized OS.

Take the todo list, for example. Say we have a todo list for a project, and one of the todos on it is assigned to a date. In this case, we have an item (our todo) which is “in” two places at once: it’s in the project todo list item and the date item. When it appears in one place, it can also show us the other place it can be found; this lets us see an assigned date when we’re in the project, or see the project this task progresses when we’re looking at the date.

Items can be in multiple places at once — here we see a todo that is in both a project list and a date. A todo item in both a project list and on a date.

Work in progress — Chapters here are still being written.


In a desktop-based OS, you often have the things you need for all of your day’s tasks open as windows in one or more desktops. Even if you’ve committed yourself to arranging the windows and desktops you need with precision, you have to repeat this work whenever you need to continue the task at hand; every time your system restarts, so do all of your personal processes of arranging your things and managing your workspace.

In the itemized environment, you open the things you need to do something within an overarching item, and you can always return to that item and its contents. That item might simply be the todo or project item you’re working on, or it might be a new item — one you might discard once you’re done with a one-time task, or one which you might save within a larger project when you’re working on something you’d like to return to in the future. Either way, the important thing to know is that you can always return to continue work you were handling in a recent workspace, and all the items that were in it return too.

Notifications, and your locus of focus

There are many kinds of things we may want to stay updated on throughout the day: new messages from a close colleague or loved one, upcoming meetings and any changes to them, or what song is currently playing from the speakers on our device or network.

In the itemized environment, you control what kinds of things can interrupt you with a notification, and you define it by what’s on your screen. An upcoming event in your system bar will show a received email from one of its participants. A website that you’re attempting to log in to will show an email you receive with the confirmation code or login link. Keeping a contact item of a colleague or loved one in your system bar will ensure you always see new messages from them (plus, it will give you easy access to sending them a new message or other item).

You have a clear, visually-defined focus at all times, which often assembles as a result of the work you’ve already done in simply managing your workspace and going about your day.

Work in progress — Chapters here are still being written.

Keeping organized

Much of the context and connections among your items happens as a byproduct of your natural actions: adding tasks to a list creates a relationship between the list and its tasks, just as assigning a date to one of the tasks creates a relationship between the date and the task; opening a task as your workspace creates a relationship between the task and the items you go on to use as you work on it, and it creates shared context among those items; simply taking an action on any item gives it some context at that time and on that date, shared with anything else happening then, such as a meeting with a colleague.

Some people prefer to meticulously organize their things, while others like to simply use their itemized system however feels natural and make use of orienteering to find things later, as we saw in an earlier chapter. The itemized OS is great for both: with its capabilities for rich expression of items and relationships, you can reflect your thinking in high fidelity, or you can quickly search and browse your way to needed items via the connections made from paths you’ve taken before.

(Re-)Composing your system

You have control over the components in your operating system, and how they’re composed. You have control over what service your system uses to sync emails to your local device, what interfaces render your inbox, your message views, and your drafts. You can swap views on-the-fly, and freely use any views you wish with any items — like a Markdown editor for your email drafts, or a unified inbox for your messages. You can compose your items together to reflect your thinking, like having an email thread connected to a related event item and a webpage item; and these connections can be a byproduct of how you navigate your system, or they can be made manually.

But you also have control over how all these items are arranged to form the very features of your system. So far, this handbook has covered how we composed this system and its features before we sent it to you.

In the next few chapters, we will explore some ways you can recompose your system — with the skills you’ve already learned from this handbook.

Work in progress — Chapters here are still being written.

Now, it’s your turn

As the operator, now equipped with the knowledge of how to assemble mere items into whole systems, it is now your turn.

You see, everything we have presented in this handbook is simply the set of features of the system as we shipped it to you. But the whole point of this game is to evolve it as you play it, and to share it on. Nothing described in this handbook is meant to be prescriptive. (In fact, some opposing or alternate concepts were presented!) Rather, we’ve put together and presented these concepts simply as a good starting point. You now have the power to lead the charge, alongside any other wonderers and tinkerers out there, to evolve these systems according to the present needs and best ideas.

That’s what we most hope to share with you. Above all else, we hope you take away a style of thinking about personal computing and technology from this handbook, moreso than any specific utilizations described herein. (Though we do hope some specific utilizations inspire you to see the value of this style of thinking!)

People should have sovereignty over their hardware, software, and data. By adopting this system, and by evolving it and passing it on to others, you’re helping esure that people always have access to truly personal computing. Tinkerers — from the past and the future — thank you for taking that charge, and for passing it on.