[Usability] How do you organize your desktop environment?

To Jason:
Always on top is inefficient if it potentially interferes with another application's workspace. You also can't assume that the application always on top is on a side of the screen. Also, having the system automatically go to full screen when there are no windows in the task bar is also naive. Imagine the scenario, "GAIM goes full screen". Ugly ugly ugly...

The visual habit that is developed to opt to the right side of the screen for a side-application is created by a comfort level we have with the mouse. I would assume that you are right-handed. As for people who are right handed, it is easiest to move the mouse away from you instead of towards you, opting you to initially start using the right side of the screen. When there is more than one side-app, the left side of the screen is generally used as opposed to lining up next to the other side-app. This is because we would like to focus on the center of the screen rather than the sides. Our eyes have a tendency to be attracted to light, having our center of focus decentralized would cause us to catch the space that is next to our monitors which would cause us to feel awkward when trying to give it our attention (our monitors do not emit light outside of their screens). The side-app we give the most significance too will probably take the right side of the screen.

These techniques of organizing for users are common for multitasking. Several applications have been built to be side-apps, and the way we organize our desktop environment using them removes usability of some of its features. The most obvious one is the maximize feature. If you maximize your central task window, you will cover your side task window. There are also difficulties in optimizing space allocation of a side task. Namely, overshooting the screen and optimizing space-allocation (taking up the entire side of the screen).

Certain features such as snapping have been developed in certain Windows applications (ex. Winamp, Trillian) to overcome this problem of ease of space allocation. You can also see it used internally in programs such as Adobe Photoshop. If applied to all applications, however, snapping could become frustrating. It has uses in side-applications docking to the side of the screen and smaller windows attaching to each other.

Snapping to the border of the screen should make the space taken by the side-app ignored by maximizing another application. If someone's trying to get away from your addicting side-tasks temporarily, they might want to use the full screen. This problem is already answered by having multiple workspaces (thank god).

It is my opinion that side-docking (this may include top/bottom) and maximizing within side-apps should be developed. The problem has been stated, now how would we go about solving it?

-snap-to-edge while moving+resizing window (like trillian or winamp)
-individual dock-to-left, dock-to-right, etc. buttons on windows
-a docking function that is activated by some sort of mouse and/or keyboard activity, or some button, and while holding the left mouse button down, a side for docking is determined by the mouses location relative to a static point. (This idea came after the prior two, but before I started writing. In my opinion this outdoes the prior two).

So what I've discussed for this have been the desired functionality (specialization for side-applications), brainstorm of interactions to use desired functionality, and quite limited consequences of desired functionality.

The most important part of this message is that we recognize the side-application vs. maximize functionality problem. The new question is, how do we solve this problem?

I bet you thought that was the only issue I was going to discuss. Actually, I'm going to discuss every issue that can e discussed.

Users usually end up clustering smaller windows outside of side-applications together. The problem is that each window is treated independently. Wouldn't it be nice if you could cluster a set of small windows and treat them as one window, or be able to minimize or view them all at the same time? With tabbed applications I'm running into this problem less often, but separate smaller windows are still good for comparison purposes.

What's most important about this is that we identify a tendency of group-dependency (users like clustering them) for smaller windows.

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