posted by Thom Holwerda on Mon 8th Sep 2008 23:23 UTC
IconThe US patent might be a bit daft, especially when it comes to software, but it does offer some interesting insights into what crazy things the big companies might be working on for future products. One such patent emerged today: Microsoft applied in 2005 (and was granted in 2008) a patent which describes how different windows may be coloured differently, or that they may have different transparency settings. This sounds a bit weird, but it may actually prove to be quite useful.

The patent, unearthed by Redmond Pie, goes as follow:

A method for changing a color value and/or level of opacity value of a glass appearance window frame for an application window is described. The method includes steps of determining a defined color value and a defined level of opacity value to apply to a glass appearance window frame and displaying the glass appearance window frame in accordance with the defined color value and the defined level of opacity value. A command may be received to apply the defined color value and the defined level of opacity value to the glass appearance window frame, thereby applying the defined color value and level of opacity value to the glass appearance window frame. Color values and/or level of opacity values may be changed automatically, be application specific, and/or be changed in response to receipt of an input from a user to change one or more portions of a default configuration.

Or something.

Anyway, what this means is that different applications, or even windows within that application, can be colourised differently. This may seem annoying at first (and I'm sure lots of Windows developers will find a lot of extremely annoying uses for this technology), but it may be useful in some places. I can see how an application demanding your attention might change its colour slightly, in addition to, or replacing, the blinking taskbar entry.

Another possible use is aiding in multitasking. You could have all Firefox windows sport a slightly different colour than your Opera windows, or your Notepad windows, or whatever other application's windows, which would make it easier for some to select the right application to switch to. I'm sure others can come up with other possible uses for this patent.

In fact, this patent is already more or less in use in Windows and Compiz today; unresponsive Windows turn black and white when running Aero and Compiz, indicating they might be about to die. Some Compiz plugins also allow you to opacify the parent windows of dialogue boxes, which is effectively another implementation of this patent.

Of course, this is just a patent, one of the ten billion million three-hundred ten that companies like Microsoft and Apple apply for every day, but still, it is fun to theorise over what such a user interface patent could be used for.

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