Canonical's Christian Giordano has posted details of what he believes could be the future of user interface design in Ubuntu - a system that detects physical context.
Designed to be paired with a webcam or other sensor system, the concept is that the computer is able to detect where a user is in proximity to the display along with an idea of roughly what he or she might be doing. Using this information, the operating system - in this case, Ubuntu Linux - can automatically make changes to the screen layout.
In an example given in Giodarno's post on the Canonical Design blog, when the system detects that the user has leaned back in his or her chair, the system automatically makes the currently playing video full-screen. Lean forward again, and the video returns to its previous windowed mode.
Another example is for notifications, which the system currently places at the top-right of the screen. If the operating system were to realise that the user isn't in front of the computer, it could instead place them at the centre of the display and make them persistent until he or she returns.
These ideas are relatively simple, and could make computing a far more intuitive and natural experience for many - but it's the next concept that might generate more interest. A "windows parallax" mode allows the desktop to become truly three-dimensional, even on a traditional 2D display. Lean to the side and you can 'peek' behind a window, and simple gesture recognition means that you can even launch applications or return to the desktop with a wave of your hand.
Giordano hasn't put a great deal of work into the principles outlined in his post, but was nevertheless able to mock up a prototype interface in just a few hours using the open-source programming language Processing - and was more than happy to share a video of the system in action to those wanting to see what future user interfaces could look like.
Sadly, it's likely to be a while before we see the technology featuring in an actual Ubuntu release.