Don’t abuse the Desktop.

If you’ve read any book on design patterns, prospective memory is bound to come up. A lot of folks may read it and go “ahh, nah, i don’t know what to do with that” and i state this as i constantly wonder as to why applications continue to hassle users to “Save this to the desktop”.

The desktop inside windows in my mind is like your desk in your office. It’s your surface area where you keep things that you can recall at a later date - “I’m going to put that TPS report in the upper right of my desktop surface, so i know where it is later”.

Problem today in software land is everyone keeps asking you to keep their TPS Reports on your desk and either you’re too lazy to agree/disagree or you didn’t notice they just did it. Pretty soon your desk is cluttered with lots of paper and it’s hard to find your chosen items vs.. everyone else's.

Don’t abuse the desktop.

At present I’ve not seen an installation experience that tackles this problem other then a weak check box that is default checked (like somehow its important that you clutter my desktop) and that’s essentially your way out of this installation spam.

It doesn’t work really, as firstly you’ve got to be conscious of the fact that the checkbox is asking you “Would you like me to add to the clutter” and secondly making things “default checked” is an assertion really, much like “Push Polling” – it casts a prejudice up front and rarely have i seen actual self selection work.

Instead we should approach it differently. Instead of approaching it as a default checked item, allow the users to opt in manually and educate them on the power of the desktop itself and why it exists – as often I'd argue folks assume its simply part of the vortex of “things i don’t understand about my computer”.


Would you like to save this application shortcut to your desktop? Yes/No

The desktop is where you keep important information on your computer that helps you remember where things are – treat it like your desk in your home/work office.

Something like that anyway.

I’d argue the desktop today has fast become the wasteland of “icons that i’ve long forgotten” or “those icons that get in the way of viewing my desktop background”.

Comments (4)

  1. Keith Farmer says:

    "The desktop is where you keep important information on your computer that helps you remember where things are – treat it like your desk in your home/work office."

    Dear god, no!

    I know what my desk is like.

    The desktop’s a pretty bad idea, I think.  I’ve never seen it become anything other than a dumpster.  Not on my machine, not on anybody else’s.

    Same with My Documents — every app decides they need to have their own, special folder, even if it’s poorly placed (sometimes, as we all know, in the program installation directory, or at the drive root).

    The Libraries feature in Win7 is a good first step toward fixing this problem, but no third-party app is going to make series use of this, I fear, for a long time.

    I’d also like to see the taskbar problem addressed.  It’s not a task bar — it’s a window bar (and, in Win7, a launcher).  There is no "task" there.  Tasks span application boundaries, and applications span task boundaries.  I want a task bar that focusses on a single task consisting of multiple windows from multiple applications, and a desktop environment that caters to multiple, seperate tasks.

    Not unlike, for instance, virtualized desktops.

  2. Hey Mossy!!!

    I totally agree with you on the use of the desktop space.

    I’m a complete stickler for keeping it tidy with only relevant information or short cuts available.

    I even go to the length of only keeping short cuts there – eg. if i had said report that i needed to locate again in the future, i’d still put it under my documents, but have a link to it on my desktop.

    For areas where i need access to folders, i use the Toolbar, rather than the desktop, again in an attempt to keep it free of clutter.

    i see far too often people having icons, literally filling their desktop in a huge mess…the chaos makes it completely impossible to find what you’re looking for….and god forbid you accidently sort everything by name or type.

    It also comes down to managing your start menu as well…it’s a tool that can help you be productive, but people don’t pay enough attention to it often enough and it becomes a clutter of installed programs, failed uninstalls etc etc..

  3. Keith Farmer says:

    I’ve occasionally wondered what it’d be like making corrals for icons.  You could model it to some extent by imagining semi-transparent explorer windows always open on the desktop, which contain sets of icons or files.

    It would help organize, though it wouldn’t really help with clutter.

    In the end, I think we just need to have a complete rethinking of what a desktop should be, and use that thinking to regulate how it gets used.  The third-party shell folks have some ideas toward that end.

  4. Stephen Williams says:

    Two staff users on my school network have 13gb stored on their desktop – one complained that his profile took over an hour to load!.  

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