posted by Matthew Donofrio on Wed 27th Apr 2005 21:31 UTC
IconWhat can we do to make the Windows desktop GUI more efficient? I admit that I'm addicted to "tweaking", which is what I consider to be finding new ways to make myself most efficient with standard tools from Microsoft.

In this opinion, with a few simple changes, the Windows GUI feels must more usable and efficient. Just a side note, I’m not speaking of adding 3rd-party applications to increase usability. If for no other reason, most security-conscience users are not going to want to install these applications to accomplish things that these users can adapt to without too much hassle, but that’s for another topic.

Let’s start with the taskbar. The quick launch toolbar is far too small for it to be effective. Most people rarely know it’s there and very few use it. This is a huge disadvantage for users. Research has shown that users recognize pictures, whether they are metaphors or idioms for a program, extremely quick. A change that I encourage users to make is to double the height of the Taskbar, and put the quick launch toolbar on the top. Change the icons size to ‘Large Icons’, which can be tricky to find (unlock the taskbar, and right-click on the separator closest to the Quick Launch bar. Go to View, that the check ‘Large Icons’.) Since our resolutions have become so crisp and allows for so much data on the screen at once, this doubling the task bar does not devalue screen real-estate space.

Next, with multiple windows open, how does one access files on the desktop? The ‘Show Desktop’ button is an acceptable answer, however, sometimes windows do not restore to where they were originally; but more importantly, we shouldn’t have to minimize all windows to do this in the first place. Instead, add a ‘Desktop’ toolbar to the taskbar and squish it so that only the ‘Desktop’ label is present. Now, if you want to access items on the desktop, simply click on this menu to access it.

Next, Microsoft PowerToys is a program that most users don’t take full example of. There are many tweaks that a user can do in there, and I won’t comment on them all but I will mention one which I think is crucial to improve usability. That change is ‘Activation follows mouse (X-mouse)’. If for no other reason, most people I’ve showed this to love it because you can type a Word document while watching an Instant Message window. Again, I believe that this change reflects a usability model that we use on a daily basis; mouse-over to select, click to execute, and right click for properties. That model is the World Wide Web.

Single clicking on hyperlinks has been the default standard for using the Internet for as long as I can remember. If most people use a computer for the Internet, it would probably be smart to have consistent models across the entire computing platform. Why do we double-click on things in the first place? How did the double-clicking come to be the standard? My only guess was that since it used to take a long time for applications to open, accidentally clicking one could be costly. This isn’t the case anymore though. So, by changing your system to a single-click system that imitates the web, the computer feels slightly easier to use. Again, we follow the WWW model for selecting an object, execution, and properties. To me, it seems as though the GUI is more efficient, or at least consistent, since there are very few programs that ever needed a double-click to complete a task.

To add some more snazzy-ness to the desktop, download ‘Alt-Tab Replacement’ from the Microsoft site. It adds a nice little screenshot of the document you want to switch to. I also use ‘group similar items’ on the taskbar because I like to keep consistency with my applications. Since applications developers have moved to a Single Document Interface (SDI) from Multiple Document interface (MDI), opening extra instances of that program (ex. Mozilla with tabs enabled) should still be grouped in ‘Mozilla’ even though they are two separate entities.

Some of these little tricks cause some hang ups here and there, i.e. single-clicking causes a headache when trying to select multiple files NOT in order (which I have some great thoughts about how to fix it if anyone is listening) but there are ways around it.

Does anyone else have any tricks that they feel allows their GUI to be more usable then the default installation? I'd love to hear from Mac and Linux people too.

e p (0)    119 Comment(s)

Technology White Papers

See More