Designing the Desktop

What’s on your computer’s desktop right now? Custom picture? Widgets? A million icons? Maybe even…nothing?

My current desktop has a panoramic screenshot from Fallout: New Vegas. This is mainly because I found it online somewhere, liked it, and because it reflects a topic currently on my mind it became my desktop’s wallpaper. But I’ve realized something: I almost never actually see my desktop.

Google’s Chrome OS is built for someone like me. Unless I’ve just restarted my computer, there’s usually a web browser opened (Google Chrome nowadays) and maximized. Most likely due to my years of experience with the Windows operating system, being able to maximize a window and have it take up the entire screen, wasting no space to anything that isn’t the app at hand, just seemed natural. Even when I moved to Macs at home in 2007 I continued to do this. Apple’s design philosophy on OS X seems to be more of a “open the window as much as is needed to display relevant information” rather than Microsoft’s “TAKE UP ALL OF THE SPACE NO MATTER WHAT” vision. I’d say it definitely has more to do with the app you’re running than an either/or question, but in general I like to maximize the canvas in which whatever app I’m running uses to display its goods.

This means I rarely see my desktop. Except for the Recycle Bin there aren’t even any icons on it, so it’s a virtual ghost town. Why do I even care what the wallpaper is? Shouldn’t I just run a default solid color option, saving precious processing cycles from having to refresh all of those multi-colored pixels in whatever picture suits my fancy of the current time period? Why have any widgets running when they’re most likely just going to be covered up by a maximized app in the foreground? A solution I cherish is OS X’s menu bar that always sits at the top, showcasing small monochromatic icons with information about the time and my Adium status and the work being done by my Core 2 Duo CPU. It’s simple and elegant, even if it isn’t information-packed. And it sits on top of my maximized app, so it’s visible at all times and useful. On Windows, except for the taskbar with my apps running and a clock, the rest of the screen is taken up by apps.

I suppose the horsepower needed to keep my Fallout wallpaper running behind the web browser or Photoshop or Visual Studio is negligible, and occasionally the desktop is used for some minor organization exercises, so I’ll see it then. 99% of the time, however, it’s hidden and essentially nonexistent. I guess we all just want to be able to shape our environment, even if it’s not practical. I know I’ve spent many minutes designing an avatar in Rock Band only to rarely even notice him on-screen because I’m too busy following note charts. The felicity acquired while designing him was still fun.

Oh, right. Designing the desktop is fun. Now I remember why I keep doing it.

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