October 28, 2007
I'm of two minds on the desktop.
If you're really using your computer, your desktop should almost never be visible. Your screen should be covered with information, with whatever data you're working on. I can't imagine why you'd willingly stare at a static background image-- or even a background image covered with a sea of icons. Unless you consider your computer a really expensive digital picture frame, I suppose.
The desktop background, as I see it, is completely superfluous. My desktop "background" right now is plain black. And that doesn't bother me in the least, because none of it is visible. I have browser windows and programs-- the things I'm actually doing -- covering all three monitors. When I'm using a computer, I make it my goal to never see the desktop background. Every time the desktop background is visible, that means I'm making poor use of my monitor pixels. Whenever the desktop background peeks through, I treat it like a reprimand.
I won't lie to you. I don't always achieve my goal. The desktop is sometimes visible when I'm working. But I do try my darndest to cover all my monitors with something useful, and a static desktop background just isn't useful.
That said, it is fun to have a unique desktop background. Even if you rarely see it. In the above official screenshots from Apple and Canonical, the desktop background images were picked quite intentionally. I've done this myself; when I put together those pictures of the monitor arms, I specifically chose an interesting desktop background to show it off.
Sometimes you just want to show off, even if it's only for yourself. When I graduated to my first triple monitor configuration, back in 2004, I used this 3200 x 1200 image of the entire first level of Super Mario brothers as my desktop background.
But I felt very, very dirty afterwards. I worry that if we spend too much time obsessing over our desktop backgrounds, we'll start treating our computers like fashion accessories instead of tools. We should be filling our screens with information, not distracting ourselves with pretty frippery.
However, if we do it responsibly, if we keep reminding ourselves that our desktop is not a destination, it's OK to obsess over our desktop backgrounds a little bit. The desktop is like an aesthetically pleasing airport we must occasionally pass through before arriving at our real destinations: a web browser, a word processor, an IDE, a graphics editor, etcetera. You know, the places we really want to go. A good-looking airport gives every traveller a positive feeling about where they're going, so feel free to spruce it up. Just don't go so far that you become one of those weird people who hangs out in airports.
In my original research, I ran across a lot of sites with great wallpaper resources. There's a heavy emphasis on extra-wide wallpapers here, as I run triple monitor configurations at home and at work. If you, too, rock a multi-mon setup under Windows, you'll need a utility to get different background images on each monitor, or to span a single image across all your monitors. I use Ultramon which does this and much more; Display Fusion does less, but it works for this, and it's free.
Personally, I don't care for photographs on my desktop. I prefer abstract backgrounds. This must be an unusual preference, because most desktop background websites are completely dominated by photographs. Still, I found a few sites with good abstract backgrounds, even though I had to sift through a lot of photographs to get to them.
For abstract backgrounds, I had the best luck with Flickr and InterfaceLIFT.
If you spend the next hour searching for the perfect desktop background, don't blame me. I tried to warn you. I'm hoping you don't see that special desktop background of yours too often.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
I subscribe to the "desktop-as-a-workspace" philosophy. Anything I'm 'currently' working on that I want persisted through reboots I put there as a to-do reminder. Since I like to keep a 'tidy' desktop, I'm always processing/filing stuff on it to get it off.
I also like having a spacial perception of where stuff IS such that I can arrange it like a tac board. Unfortunately, it sucks when you change your resolution (via remote desktop or graphics driver updates) and your icons get completely rearranged.
Ultimately though, I hate the usability standard that the current Windows Desktop is stuck in. It's so... Windows 95. Microsoft has completely dropped the ball on developing the functionality of the desktop + toolbars.
No one should have read this far down... Go back to work.
My desktop is a photograph I took on my honeymoon and then photoshopped a bit. Frequently I see it when I'm switching between windows. Since it was a picture from a very good day and it's very a peaceful picture; it helps me maintain that zen-like calm that is needed then running around like a chicken with its head cut off.
This is exactly why the Windows Vista Sidebar is a useless feature.
I like Wallpaper Master Pro for multimonitor desktop, and it does loads of other cool stuff. It's probably going a little over the top if you find the desktop completely useless though!
Personally I like art and photos on my desktop, and as it changes every 10mins it never gets boring.
That Ubuntu Background is actually the default background. It was not picked specifically for the screenshot.
I personally never bothered with desktop backgrounds. I usually leave the default because you should see your desktop only during startup anyway.
I love my desktop... It's my best friend! Not because I like looking at static wallpaper art (I have a job.. and and life) but because for me the desktop is the perfect application launcher.
I have my most used apps (and many not so used apps) positioned in groups according to their basic function i.e. Development, Office, Multimedia, System, Reference etc.
My brain is now naturally programmed to just hit "windows key" + D and then my app launcher is there to lauch the required app. This really doesn't work on auto-arrange which is something I hate to see on other peoples monitors! Arrrh! :)
See my work PC screenshot as an example...
It's also one of the most accessible folders on my computer (using XP tablet PC edition since I don't have the kind of time to tweak linux for tablet usage) - Win+D to access a folder, Win+D to put all your windows back.
This is precisely how I use my computer. I have, uh, 13 windows open right now, but I can get to my desktop with one key combination, and then a double click to launch one of my most active files.
In comparison, a filed document is: start menu click or keypress - start menu shortcut click or keypress - appropriate folder click (possibly with scrolling) - double click on filename.
I *never* go to My Computer when I'm working. It spins up the DVD drive, which costs me valuable seconds.
For me, the desktop background used to be something that was visible when my machine was locked. With Vista that's not even an issue anymore.
I don't even like any icons on my desktop. Keeping things on the desktop is a perilous road to travel, and can lead to all kinds of organizational problems.
I've got my Visual Studio layouts configured to cover every pixel with some kind of information about the project. Very often, it bothers me if I have to alt+tab as well, because that means that something wasn't on a monitor that should have been. Maybe I need more monitors...
Gidday Jeff from New Zealand,
Well I totally get what you are trying to say, and to be frank I held a similar view til about three days ago.
Now my backdrop is set to black with my all the folders I use along with a few sparse most used applications on the backdrop. The whole icon arrangement is a mindmap of sorts with areas which a related next to each other.
I just press Win+D and quickly select what I want to get to.
If this take anyone interest I'll send them a screenshot. :)
asturneresquire at msn dot com
For really cool fractal desktop backgrounds including multi-monitor backgrounds, a href="http://exoteric.roach.org/"http://exoteric.roach.org//a.
They are truly beautiful - you can study their intricacies for hours if you want, but equally they can be non-distracting abstract backgrounds. Also, they appeal particularly to computer geeks as they're testament to the beauty of computing power applied to mathematics!
P.S. Despite the blatant hard plugging, I'm nothing to do with the site - I just love the backgrounds and always use them on all of my computers.
On Windows, the desktop is just a painful reminder that you had to logout or reboot for some reason. For example, maybe you can't connect to a network share at work because your password expired and you need to log out and back in again to change it. Another possibility is that the program you were working in crashed, which is also annoying.
Also, what's wrong with the sidebar? Isn't the whole point of the sidebar that it pops up over what you're working on, but then goes away?
I tend to use most of the desktop for apps, but I have some program icons I use a lot (for several purposes) stashed on left/top side of desktop. Those icons might be visible only for few pixels worth, but that's because I tend to use several programs to edit some same files. This way I can quickly drag drop file to program I want (not default app. for that filetype) and get it open as fast as possible...
You don't need an extra tool to have a single image span multiple monitors. Just set the background "position" to "Tile" in the display properties of Windows, and an image of the proper resolution will be displayed as you would expect. I have a panoramic view spanning two monitors as my background, and don't have UltraMon or something similar installed.
I was expecting a post on the attempted desktop-to-web covergence, i.e. conversation around Mozillas recent Prism announcements (do we really need to break down webapps into desktop icons?). Fancy diving into that one, Jeff?
I thought long and hard about what folder I open up most, and decided it was my documents. So I junctioned/sym-linked my desktop to my documents folder. I now get some vague use out of it.
Hi Jeff, I disagree completely. The desktop serves exactly the same purpose as a clean whiteboard. It is a clean slate from which to start working and is therefore a necessity.
In fact you could think of it as a "destination" - the one you go to when you need to start from scratch. As such maybe it is better to clear it of all images and icons.
Then again maybe it is also an area of calm in the blitz of information and as such should have some calming wallpaper.
One of my qualms with Vista, it is very rude in terms of desktop, dafault reard giant icons and that thing on the side that takes up a 7th of your desktop to display a clock, I know they are things that can be corrected but its just too much damn hassle.
I never have program shortcuts on my desktop, they are all in quicklaunch which is in a bar along the top of my screen, along with my computer giving me quick acess to any drivers, the desktop is covered in some documents and media files i am working on or with atm but its not an issue because i never see my desktop, unless i am acessing one of those files.
it is fun to have a unique desktop background
Yep. Totally agree. That's why I always create my own backgrounds.
Right now, it's totally black, with the orange outline of Hurricane Polymar Logo (old japanese anime...)
If your desktop should never be visible and is not "a destination", then doesn't that mean that the whole desktop metaphor is failing us?
If we tried to be true to the real-life desk metaphor, then the documents/files that you are currently working on would be sitting on your desk (next to your calculator, coffee mug and photo of your kids).
In real life, writing a new letter means placing a blank sheet of paper on the desk and getting your pen out. Only when it is finished would it be placed in the filing cabinet.
Likewise editing/reviewing existing documents means going to the filing cabinet, taking the files out and laying them out on your desk.
However, the "correct" way of working with documents on a PC means that they should be immediately filed to "My Documents" (or your fileserver) and subsequent edits performed from there.
This might make sense to the mild OCD/Aspergers-like minds of us geeks, but to Grandpa Joe the physical metaphor has completely broken down. Why would you sit inside the filing cabinet to write letters, while your desk remains empty?
This is why we see so many novice PC users with desktops covered in clutter. As usual its not "stupid users", it is "stupid interface".
And no, I'm not suggesting that Microsoft Bob was a better interface. I think rather that we have outgrown the desk and filing cabinet metaphor.
Is it me, or is the default Ubuntu background very reminiscent of the Apple Aqua images, coloured brown?
Thanks for pointing out the Flickr groups; I do a fair bit of photography on top of being a geek, and I make my own desktop wallpapers quite a lot (having something you've created yourself as a wallpaper can be quite inspirational...) Anyway, I've now started contributing a few of my wallpaper-worthy images to that group :)
I tried that displayfusion thing but I like another freeware .NET wallpaper app "John's Background Switcher" for local nested pictures. It also has direct integration with Flickr like displayfusion. This is for my home system.
At work, no "switchers" allowed so I go with a default XP pic and Sysinternal's "BGInfo.exe" which writes network interface information statically on top of your pleasant background. I like to see my uptime right there.
I suppose you would be interested in those gadget/widget applications. I tried putzing around with Samurize, which seems to pixel-level customizable.
I'm also a no-icon-on-desktop person, but that's probably because I like to see them wallpapers.
I also prefer a clean desktop, but you might be proselytizing a bit much here; sometimes what you're working doesn't fill up even one monitor, much less three, in which case you're better off having a lot of exposed desktop than opening random applications to fill up the screen with noise. Make effective use of the screen real estate available, but don't fill it with stuff just for the sake of filling it with stuff.
There's a false dichotomy in your post as well: computers can be both tools *and* fashion accessories, kind of like what mobile phones have become. There's nothing wrong with making a tool look and work just the way you want it to.
Finally, you found some good resources for desktop backgrounds, but there's one really good site you didn't find: http://customize.org/ has been around since 1998 and includes, among a lot of other things, a great wallpaper repository (13,000 and counting).
It's all about personalization. I love great wallpapers on my desktop as they serve as an inspiration and reminder of great things. Example, having a USAF background, I love fighter jets. It's motivating to rotate through great wallpapers (example: see http://freewidescreenwallpapers.blogspot.com ).
Jeff- This post should be required reading for every idiot working at software companies (especially those companies that make installation software) who thinks it is a good idea to shove their icons on my desktop. I either end up fighting the installer or I'm forced to go back to the desktop and remove the icon after the fact.
Two things about Macs: First, using Leopard, your desktop images influence the way your menu bar looks, so they do have an always-visible influence. Second, using Expos, you can quickly get all windows out of the way, which will show your desktop picture.
I use win Vistas dreamscape.
Its all living flowing water in the background making the screen 3D.
Finnaly I am happy watching deep underwater fishes at my desktop without the need to load a video.
I albait admit, I dont use the computer to much for tools, its most for fun ;)
I wished they added a fireplace dreamscene, so I could bring out the marshmallows. Nothing beats a fire in the woods and a pan of coffe.
The desktop IS a destination, albeit a temporary one. I thought the analogy was relevant, and I use my Windows desktop like I use my physical desktop. It's where documents live after I first create them and while they are most actively being worked on. After that, of course, they're filed away in a good folder scheme (though even then, I most often use Google Desktop search to find them).
To me, the desktop metaphor is complete bull (a legacy from the past, when people needed a desktop metaphor).
I'd rather have system info and smart shortcuts instead. Let's call it a 'Control Board'. You can have your task manager available, 'my documents', 'My Programs', etc. Just dump the bleeding Desktop, it's not needed anymore.
Yes, I feel strongly about this. I hope you noticed.
I use a plain, black desktop too. I don't see it often and when I do, it's to click an icon. Having a desktop image makes the icons harder to sort out. This may not be the case any more, but wasn't desktop wallpaper a machine resource drain too?
I feel rather the same way, but felt that as the desktop metaphor is so ingrained in the modern OS and is essentially unavoidable, it's worth using that space productively. My current wallpaper is a table of ascii hex/oct/HTML codes. I think if you have a concise cheat sheet that you find yourself referring to frequently, the desktop is a fairly good place to put it -- Win+D to refer, and Win+D to return to your task.
On my Fedora VM I even found a way to hack a few config files to get a desktop which was an instance of Firefox! That was groovy...
it seems at all you don't use much your desktop.
I personally use it a lot, to create/delete/organize/launch stuff.
For me the wallpaper, must not be too distractive,
and at the same times not "too" uniform.
I think the "non uniformity" help the eyes to position easier icons,
and at the same times it's less boring.
Also, colors have a psychological impact, and I would find depressing to always have a black background.
Some ideas for replacing the current desktop-as-a-directory paradigm:
1) A "persisted" application space. That is, I could take an application(or a group) running on the taskbar, freeze its state, and save it for a later time (and have that be visually represented on the desktop).
2) Desktop AS explorer. It would behave somewhat like a maximized explorer window so that whatever folder you click on moves the desktop into that context.
Window managers like wmii and ratpoison are great for exactly this reason:
With regular windowing systems, I spend a fair amount of the time dragging windows around so they are not overlapping, ratpoison/wmii are tilling window managers.
With wmii, if you want a new terminal open, you hit alt+return, the existing windows in the column are shoved up, and the new one is created in the space. You don't ever see the desktop (Well, unless you float the only window you have open, which is only necessary for applications like "GIMP")
I really wish there was such a tiling system for OS X - I've compiled wmii to run inside X11, but since I can't run OS X applications inside X11, it's fairly useless.
Oh, wmii site: http://www.suckless.org/wiki/wmii
Jeroen Bouwens is correct about setting an image's position to 'tile' will allow a large resolution image to stretch across multiple monitors without distortion.
I'd agree with Andy; my laptop's desktop works like my physical desktop does: it's a KIV location for latest files, things I intend to look at later, or things which are meant for a quick look-and-throw.
It's also one of the most accessible folders on my computer (using XP tablet PC edition since I don't have the kind of time to tweak linux for tablet usage) - Win+D to access a folder, Win+D to put all your windows back.
The desktop background thus serves a similar purpose - to decorate my KIV folder with whatever image I'm obssessed with at the moment. It's definitely not overated, I don't want to have a desktop that's so cluttered I can't see the bottom!
I find that this article relates to your previous article on blogging. In fact this article (for me) relates to any task that you might set out for yourself - be it a software project, blogging, weight loss, ... etc.
To say it simply, when I plan to do something (anything) I write notes. I put down bullet points and _see_ what I'm thinking. Somehow doing that makes mt thoughts clearer - my brain is stupid like that, as I find just thinking in my head to be rather a poor way of thinking. Then I'll clean my notes down to a handful of key points that I can use to guide my in my task.
How does this relate to desktops? Well I take a plain image and write these notes on them. On startup the background is there - reminding me of my goals. Since I use a Mac I can hit expose and show my background. With the notes there I can then remind myself of them at idle moments.
Having a desktop with no information seems like a waste. The desktop might be obscured most of the time which is why a bullet point list of your plans and goals would be perfect as this is something that you only need to see ocasionally.
I use my desktop as just that, a desktop. It holds shortcuts for frequently used applications, temp files/downloads, etc. I also have a background picture (of my wife). If I need to access something quickly, I just press Windows+D, and double-click.
So, yes, it is a destination, just as my real desk is. Once the temp item is used, it's trashed. If it needs to stay longer, it gets moved from the desktop to a permanent place (My Documents or somesuch).
My boss has got IT to set a desktop background and it's configured to disable background customization by the user. It's a custom design that says, "If you can read this you're slacking off!"
So, I guess he agrees with you Jeff...
I see your point, although personally I think that too much information (browsers etc) on my desktop is as distracting as any desktop wallpaper I've ever had. In fact, probably less so. The reason we (yes, I do it :) ) like to change wallpaper is because we realise it's become invisible and needs a change to make us see it again.
I'm not a multi-mon user (yet), but it's not too much trouble because I'm better when I only have one thing to focus on, so tend to maximise *everything* and use alt-tab to navigate around. More than one task at hand makes my eye wander and I then start the long road to procrastination. Now, that's not to say that sometimes the task at hand would make use of more than one monitor, but as long as only the thing I'm working on is what I can see, I'm fine.
Silly post (trying to keep up with your 4 per week?). It's personal preference -- and sometimes people close their windows to reduce mental clutter while they think.
There is an option in some operating systems and desktop environments to run programs in the "root window", that is, the desktop layer.
For example, some people run Fluxbox with no desktop icons (the default) and a command shell as the root window. "Minimize all windows" is then equivalent to "get me to a shell".
I enjoy the waterfall that comes with Vista's dreamscene.
And you are wrong. You can't ALWAYS stare at information. Your brain needs a rest and your subconcious needs something to keep your front brain idle on occasion. Some times you just need to sit and THINK. Then, information can be worse that an distraction.
I believe that I mentioned to you that I have a fish tank by my desk that also works towards this goal.
Plus it gives me something else to look at, and constantly changing your visual focal distance is very, very important for people in our profession - it keeps your eyes healthy.
And remember. All work and no play makes Jack a nutjob.
I do agree about the icons however. I use my desktop as a scratch pad. Things may go there for work, but eventually they need to find there way into a more permanent archive or the trash can. I can't stand a desktop with a trillion icons on the desktop that you'll never use.
My desktop is completely void of icons. I don't even have a recycle bin icon. My boss pointed out how silly it was to have to minimize everything I was doing to launch a new application and I haven't gone back since. Pin your most used applications to the start menu and use the quicklaunch bar for anything that you would like to launch from a single click. That's what those two features are for in the first place.
Oh how I long for the ability to change my desktop background. But the gov't sees fit to lock down my PC (and those of my employees) to the point that we can't even access the date/time control panel... or any control panel for that matter.
So, every PC in the office has the XP Bliss background, and we all get the standard USDA screen saver of pictures of Ag products...
When I want to install a new component in to VS or add a plug-in to eclipse, I am supposed to get the Net Admin to do it for me. The government is full of ways to waste time and money.
I pay much more attention to my cellphone background than to my computer.
Like you said, I barely see my Windows desktop. But since my phone has translucent menus and applications, even when I'm doing something I still see the background.
It's actually pretty nice to look at.
The best desktop I've found so far -- and I've been using it for almost a year now -- is gray and white diagonal stripes:
(At the moment, I'm using a version with lighter-gray stripes)
It's perfectly balanced in terms of luminosity, texture, distracting-ness, aesthetic appeal, and visual cohesion.
Make your own here: http://www.stripegenerator.com/
There are utilities to do this, but the only use I have for the background is the server name so I don't "forget" which server I am using. Saved me and colleagues from installing the new untested patch/software/driver on the PROD instead of DEV!
You'll notice that when you go to the 'Display Properties' and select 'Desktop', that the wallpaper selection is labeled 'Background'.
Yes, that's right, 'Background'. It's contrast, it's subliminal, it's decoration. Personally, if I find my desktop covered by anything other than a program window it just means I'm behind in my work.
After all, the desktop is a terrible place to put anything that needs proper organization.
I'm not a big wallpaper/desktop fan either (although at the moment, I have a photo of a moray eel I took from about 2ft away). I used to have a nearly solid background, in a color that complemented my color scheme. The non-solid part were rectangles of arbitrary sizes, centered and docked in each corner. The 'arbitrary' sizes were 640x480, 800x600, 1024x768. Of course, that was more useful back in the client-server days, than it is in these days of browser-based applications.
Using a leaky analogy here: compare Fitt's law for interfaces with your desktop for the file system. It's simply a folder you can always see with what you need within direct reach. Each icon has a fairly large clickzone (unlike Quick Launch), each icon can be found quickly - no need to keep a window with Recent Downloads open, and it's trivial to clean up the mess once in a while. Also, it jumps in your face every time you boot; there are few better reminders of "these were the things you were working on yesterday". Yes, it's too bad that it's on the system disk instead of on a separate disk so if the computer tanks your files still may be safe, but hey.
What's the faster way to download content, study it, then file it away? To put it in a download folder means an extra click. Few put it in the right place the first time, because it also means more work; navigating to the right folder.
As for applications, I agree; it still takes work to sort out favorites that are immediately put in the start menu.
I'm aware that there's Launchy, but the usability of it goes away when you have to search through large masses of documents.
Also, wmii - ye gods, I'm glad I don't have to use that. It works for code. I don't see it working that well for say, making music with plugins.
Although I feel similarly, I have found that (under Mac at least) I can get a great desktop use with GeekTool (http://projects.tynsoe.org/en/geektool/). You have the best of both worlds: a nice background, and plenty-o-data, albeit, not always usefull, makes me feel less guilty. IIRC, you can use Samurize to do the same under windows. Another tip is to make icons on the Mac's desktop 128x128 and select a nice icons for your drives. This makes sure I never get too much clutter, as 'too much' is 6 icons, and keeps my scripts' outputs visible.
I use kdesktop to change the background every 2 mins, the randomly selected pool includes xkcd, Garfield, and some random imagery I stumbled upon on the Net, e.g. Lena.
Actually, since the desktop is easily accessible (button ShowDesktop in the QuickLunch or other toolbar, or Win+D) it makes sense to put there something useful, e.g. I have a bitmap with a map of the USA with the state names/abbrevs, cities and time zones, codes for entering some chars with Alt+0xxx (like — etc), calendar for three months.
If you want to stretch a single image over multiple monitors in Windows, you don't need Ultramon or anything like that. Just set the image to "Tile", and it should do the same thing. Works for me in Win2K.
One thing about shortcuts on the desktop is it takes a whole lot less mouseclicks and time to access them.
You could even add a fourth monitor to your setup and just use it to access them.
Come on, you really really want to have 4 monitors don't you?
I don't have a 'Desktop'. There is no point in it.
I run dwm which launches irssi and firefox at startup.
Programs are launched through shortcut keys or dmenu.
I find the desktop background is a great office chatter point. I typically have my background set to something "interesting" and it sparks many a conversation when people see it.
I enjoy dual monitors and pixel real estate as much as the next nerd, but I see wallpaper as place to kick start your creativity. Sometimes I'll minimize everything, look at my bg and get an idea. Other times, it's the conversation that stems from my background that generates the ideas.
Of course, I'm also the guy that has the lost Toys R Us aisle in cubicle. Enjoying my environment is just as important to me as enjoying my work.
...and if you're looking for some sweet simulated walnut finish for your desktop, this is the place. See the Woodn'U set.
The desktop as we think of it may not be such a great idea, but it was originally made to serve a purpose: to give you a working space.
That need is still there. GUI Junky just mentionned something about the need for a 'Control Board', smart shortcuts and quick access to system info. That need of a "desktop" is still there; it just isn't served very well.
Perhaps we really should replace the desktop with a bunch of windows organized around a a href="http://www.google.ca/search?q=mondrian"mondrian/a pattern. This would make the future of the desktop look into a grown version of that a href="http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/000928.html"WinSplit Revolution/a utility you mentionned earlier.
Dear Lazy Web, wouldn't it be great if your desktop was a grid you could snap any window in? You could snap in a clock, a mail reader, application monitors, a command line, a phone, or any other widget of your liking. You could switch between grids when you move from an entertainment center to a development environment. What else could it do?
Do you also hear the sound of necessity is calling?
I want my Mondrian Gridtop.
I'm not a big photograph background fan either, but abstract stuff sometimes gets boring.. A good compromise is HDR photography http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HDR . Look it up on flickr. It's surreal enough to not be distracting, but complex enough to be interesting.
Regardless of your desktop philosophy, a background image is a nice thing to have when you lock your pc. A locked pc shows the background image so I see my background image every time I sit down at my desk and everyone else sees it when they walk by my empty desk.
I currently have 178 wallpaper images (after some pruning), which switch out randomly every 15 minutes. I don't think I'm spending too much time obsessing about my desktop. It's frequently visible when I'm navigating files, but I don't feel like I'm wasting space. It's not like I need all that space to find a file. When I'm browsing the web or using some other application, I generally fill the screen with it. It's not because I think the desktop is wasted space or anything. It's just that I need as much space as I can get, and I have a small 12.1" 1024x768 monitor.
Isn't this very entry just another way of obsessing over your desktop? If you weren't, you'd just leave it alone instead of always fiddling with it like you describe. I've set mine the way I like, and it does it's job. I don't have to bother with it anymore. I do occasionally drop another image in the queue if I happen to find one I like, but I'm not staring at my screen and figuring out how I can make the best use of my pixels. Instead, I waste that time on the Interwebs.
Mike Johnson -- According to an old post, The CAPTHA is always the same because it is still stopping bots. Until they figure it out Jeff has said it will stay like this.
*Correction*, half a year. :)
Desktop backgrounds are especially fun on my media center PC, especially now with my new 46" TV :) Right now it's using a cropped-to-16x9 version of the new E92 BMW M3 from the website. Vroom vroom drool ...
Following this theory I shouldn't be able to see the wood grain on my real desk top or my chopping board pattern as it has food on it or even my bath as it has water in it (with bubbles).
In fact we don't need a desk top, just call it something else like "carpet" or "tv screen" and there you go, the nightmare's over.
Rob - You could extend that logic to the fact that you can still see the carpet on the floor as an inefficent use of space. Apparently messy people are just more efficent. Who knew? Any argument can be taken to the absurd extreme. Amazing how little distance that can actually be.
1. I doubt seriously that desktop fiddling causes many people to waste much time, especially as compared to the perfect time-wasting machine of the Internet. (and blogs like yours -- damn you!)
2. It can actually be useful to clutter your desktop up with random files that you generate in the course of one task or another. Then they're in your face and you realize that you should delete them. Just depends on your own workflow.
You don't need an extra tool to have a single image span multiple monitors. Just set the background "position" to "Tile" in the display properties of Windows, and an image of the proper resolution will be displayed as you would expect
True, I should have mentioned that. But Display Fusion and Ultramon also offer a "stretch" option for images that aren't exactly the right size.
If your desktop should never be visible and is not "a destination", then doesn't that mean that the whole desktop metaphor is failing us?
Exactly: a href="http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/000595.html"http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/000595.html/a
Most people just drop files there, which is quite honestly more efficient than opening up Windows Explorer and looking through folders for stuff
Sure, using the desktop as a scratch area is OK, but that means you have to keep some fragment of it visible-- it's sort of a catch-22. I'm not against this, I do it myself, but I wonder if it's just a throwback to the bad old days.
My desktop wallpaper is a picture of my daughter. Which changes as she does. It's nice to be able to hit window-d or F-11 and get an instant battery recharge.
We usually install a desktop wallpaper on the servers we have to manage. (I say 'we', I mean 'people I currently work with and people I've worked with in the past). Each server gets it's own color and the wallpaper has the server name + IP + any relevant contact information about whoever owns that server. Makes it easy when you are using remote desktop to know you got the correct servername/ip when you clicked "connect". Linux/Unix/OS X servers get a specific MOTD.
Mac users actually get to see their desktop every now and then. There's this handy F11 key which when you hit it slides all your windows to the edges of the screen with about 10 pixels of each window left visible for visual identification. So when you need to grab something from your desktop, you just hit F11, grab this something, hit F11 again and drop it into your app. Or you can immediately hit F9 and drop it into another app through Expose. Or (in Leopard) you could hit whatever key activates your Spaces and then hit F9 to show Expose in all spaces or F10 to show all windows of active application (again in all spaces). It's very nice.
Myself, I like to keep the projects I'm working on in folders on my desktop, or if they consist of a single file right there on the desktop. All because of F11/F10/F9 magic.
I'm a fan of turning the last image that left me in stitches into my new wallpaper.
Another tip to make your desktop a destination in Windows: Windows + M key combination. It minimizes all of your active Windows so your desktop is revealed. Very handy if you want to dismiss all the clutter and have no intention of returning to the active task with Windows + D.
On my Linux machine at work (and soon on my Macs at home, as soon as I get 10.5 installed), I make heavy use of virtual desktops/workspaces. I usually have different apps in different workspaces (not necessarily one app per workspace, but bunched together by functional group), and some of those workspaces just have some terminals or other non-full-screen apps, so my background image peeks through.
I think of my desktop as a staging area. I've got a couple app shortcuts that I might choose at startup; I also put shortcuts to often used files there and it's the target for my downloads.
It does take some vigilance to keep it clean but since it's "in my face", I tend to stay vigilant. When I used to think like you and try to keep everything in "My Documents", it turned into crap because I was rarely reminded of how many worthless files were out there.
Also, I keep a recent photo of my son on my desktop because it's nice to be reminded of priorities during especially stressful days.
The tile option works if your primary display is on the left but it transposes the left and right sides of the photo if your primary display is on the right. That's why apps like Display Fusion are still useful.
i think lcds are more efficient at displaying white. make your desktop all white to save on electricity when some of your desktop is showing. that way you dont have to feel as bad about it :)
(missed the point on purpose)
I agree the desktop is not a destination however it is my starting point. Its what you start the day with, every day. I like to see something personal that will put me in a good mood, so that I'm in the right mindset. I change me background almost weeks to keep the feeling fresh.
I use the desktop as a dumping ground, downloads, samples, videos, random white papers or a tool I'm trying out. But i have a rule. Anything found to be useful gets placed somewhere. I periodicly select all and delete everything on the desktop about once a week. Anything that is on my desktop that hasn't found a home isn't worth keeping.
This post somehow reminds me of Microsoft's Active Desktop :) Probably the biggest failure after Microsoft Bob :)
The desktop for me is like an easy to access temporary storage space, like my real desktop. It contains things that I'm currently working on, or things I need to deal with. For example:
- Items recently downloaded
- Email attachments which I need to read / modify and email back
- Photos which I've recently downloaded from my camera
Once I've installed my downloads / read my attachments / sorted out good photos from bad photos from my camera, then I file them away into the hierarchy which is the My Documents folder.
A few notes:
- The desktop is not an app launcher. That's what the Start Menu, or the app launcher bar next to the Start Menu and Task Bar, or keyboard shortcuts, are for
- I only ever maximise my windows when they need to be maximized and those windows which aren't, I always try and leave the left hand side of the desktop showing, which makes it easier to deal with recent downloads, etc
I find the desktop metaphor frustrating to use.
On a normal physical desktop, you will pull out a file, start working on it from your desk, then once you're finished put the file back in.
This would be stupid to do on a Windows machine, simply because no one I knows will take a file from a folder (eg. My Documents), move it on their desktop, work on it, and then move it back. It simply easier to jump straight to the file. But wait, what if I have hundreds of files in neatly organized directories:
- How do you find a particular file I wanted?
- How do I find the album/music I purchased off iTunes yesterday?
- What if I didn't know the file I wanted (e.g can't remember the name), but wanted to search for specific words regardless of format of the file (e.g. OpenOffice, Word, etc)
This is where tools like Google Desktop and Vista's Index service come in as they try to tackle this problem that we all have to much information on our computer to manage.
For me, I want to access information instantly without having to think.
Just use wmii or a similar window manager (xmonad, dwm, ion3...) and you'll never see your desktop's bottom again.
I periodically replace my desktop wallpaper with an image that relates to my current main project. It reminds me of what I should be focusing the bulk of my attention towards, which keeps me on schedule.
Thanks for the links. Anyway, my desktop contains stuff I need to get done. That's it!
For a mondrian-grid-style desktop with no background, try a tiling window manager; there are several available. I use rfigura's branch of dwm (which is one of the most beautiful C programs I've ever read).
My desktop background is frequently visible for this reason: nosy co-workers who 'stop by to chat' when really what they're interested in doing is reading whatever is up on my screen (be it personal email, a web page, code, etc). When anyone stops by my cube I minimize everything.
I have a minimal amount of icons on my desktop, but have access to them in a unique way. I simply created a 'toolbar' on my taskbar which links directly to the desktop. I then minimize the space it takes up by pulling it tight to the start button, allowing only the word 'desktop' to be showing. This allows me to access the desktop (and anything I choose to put on it) by pulling up a 'drop list' of its contents. I can also use it to search through 'my computer' without opening any folders. It takes a bit of maneuvering to situate the toolbar beside the start button, but it is definitely worth a test run.
"I worry that if we spend too much time obsessing over our desktop backgrounds, we'll start treating our computers like fashion accessories instead of tools. We should be filling our screens with information, not distracting ourselves with pretty frippery."
I've been thinking about this attitude a lot lately. Why is it exactly that you worry about this? Especially worry that /we/ rather than just /you/ do this? This is a persistent attitude in my home country (USA) and it seems to me to have very deleterious effects on the moral of the populace.
I also find the argument that utilitarian objects are somehow mutually exclusive with pleasing objects to be specious. In your linked essay, you have the bit about screwdriver vs. outfit. I like to use nice tools. What is wrong with tools that in addition to being highly functional are also pleasing? What, at base, is wrong with "pretty frippery"?
I think this attitude suffuses american business and culture so thoroughly that it turns a lot of daily experience into drudgery. I'm honestly curious about your attitude.