31 May 2013



On desktops

In the recent craze over smartphones, tablets, and what I'll term webbooks (think ChromeOS machines), many companies seem to have forgotten the greatest achievement of modern desktop operating systems, namely the ability to multitask. Smartphone OSes originally either did not have this capability built in or did not expose it to the end user. This was understandable, as smartphones operate under different constraints with respect to power and screen space. Even tablets, with their higher power envelopes and bigger screens, are ultimately presented as consumption devices. They are not intended to produce media any more complex than perhaps minor touchup of pictures taken using a phone or tablet's builtin camera. The problem we now face however is many companies believing that this single purpose application usage model can be translated over to the wider desktop. The reactions of power users, IT admins, and developers has been one of incredulity.

For many of us in the above three categories, when we sit down at the computer we are doing much more than watching Youtube or checking Facebook. We are liable to have many terminal windows, text editors or IDEs, browsers, and perhaps even a VM or two all running at the same time and are constantly switching between them. For us, what we need is a better way to organize all those open windows and easily display several at once to make this multitasking easier, not to be restricted to only one window at a time. The side-by-side feature allowing two Modern applications to be displayed at once that Microsoft is so proud of is a sad joke to those of us that rely on the multitasking capabilities of a desktop OS. The more disturbing aspect is that Modern is being sold as the future. The only people that would be satisfied with such a confined future are those that do not do work that requires multitasking in the way us "producers" do. An interesting implication about the decision makers who are responsible for Modern's promotion.

The above situation leaves us producers in a bit of a bind. It seems that many companies are doing their damned best to kill the desktop as we know it, either in chasing smartphone/tablet users in the case of Microsoft or trying to outright eliminate the desktop in the case of Google. As for Apple, well, they are closer to Microsoft in how they are treating the desktop market, but have not managed to bungle it nearly as badly. This is still bad news for us producers, since all of the movement is towards less flexibility and more restrictions.

For us that rely on the desktop, what we want is something to run our existing applications on without that something intruding or interfering in our workflow. We do not want a giant splashscreen covering up our entire screen when we are trying to quickly launch a new application or search for a document. We do not want to have to constantly switch back and forth between multiple applications when they could all easily fit on the screen side by side. And because we know what we do not want and what we need, we are in a position to do something about it. We developers are the ones that use the desktop most for productivity purposes and we are the ones most capable of rolling our own to circumvent attempts to herd us away from the desktop. It is perhaps time to show the world that capability.

Comments (7)

  • Black_Fox's picture

    >The side-by-side feature allowing two Modern applications to be displayed at once that Microsoft is so proud of
    They have improved in Windows 8.1. Now you can have three of them.

    May 31, 2013
  • Swyter's picture

    Looks like they are in a race of constant simplification and specialization for the average user.

    In the long run, I think that people won't be as inclined to learn new things like programming or tinkering when their platforms are just limited to content consumption instead of creating stuff. That was one of things that sparkled creativity and advancements in the PC-era, having a really flexible workstation for everyone.

    Even if you just use your home computer to read the newspaper every morning, your son may invent amazing stuff using it for literally any other matter.

    I can't see myself programming, designing, drawing, or just learning by breaking stuff with any of the new Frankenstein devices that are coming out lately, your son will be limited to watch Youtube, applying Instagram filters to photos of dubious quality, or play Angry Birds, and that's just plainly sad.

    Jun 01, 2013
  • anon

    @who_said_completely_agree:Actually they are making their locked post-IBM PC with secretised designs.

    Jun 04, 2013
  • anon

    And so Launchy has found a purpose again!

    Jun 25, 2013
  • Zc456's picture

    I honestly miss the days of hearing the latest and greatest on what's new in the desktop and laptop worlds. While I've been mixed about Microsoft since day one, that hasn't stopped me from using their software or operating system, but I just want slap them silly for literately force feeding people their latest touch interface on desktops and laptops even when the hardware isn't there. I mean, the last thing I want to deal with when using my operating system is buying a stupid launcher that is nearly identical in both look and functionality to the one that use come built into the system for three and half decades. But, alas, with Microsoft switching gears, I do hope this project speeds up.

    Sep 07, 2013
This blog post represents the personal opinion of the author and is not representative of the position of the ReactOS Project.