Friday, November 26, 2010

Virtual Minimalism...

Desktop Detritus...The joys of removing it...

  As an electronic technician with experience interacting with a wide array of communications equipment and a mind numbing variety of consumer electronics, I began to understand and appreciate the importance of a well designed "user interface". The most superbly engineered and robustly constructed  device could be looked upon as a piece of junk if the operator can't easily comprehend how to use the darn thing.

Even on old analog equipment, a well laid out series of buttons and knobs dramatically affected performance and usability. Putting a dedicated camera button on the keyboard of a cell phone for quick access can be extremely helpful in certain "need it now" situations. ( ever miss a great photo op while wading through layered menus to activate the camera? )

 You've most likely had an experience with a television, dvd player, cell phone or other some device that had a ridiculously confusing or complicated "on screen menu" or poorly laid out remote control. It can make or break the experience.  In my opinion, the simpler the better. Getting ticked off every time you want to make an adjustment or activate a certain feature probably isn't what you bought the P.O.S. for in the first place.

 The computer desktop is the principal interface between the user and all of the programs and functions the system is capable of, and you actually have control over how it's laid out. (to some extent anyway).

  For myself, this means finding a balance between optimum functionality and maintaining a neat minimalist appearance. The ability to have quick, easy access to the most used programs, websites and functions without the desktop looking like a confusing  jumble of 100's of seldom used icons splattered about. I know more than a few folks who have a desktop containing the icons of every single program installed on the system since "day 1", including all the trialware, bloatware, and every single added program since then.

             This type of obfuscation of the desktop borders on the criminal...

 You can do a couple of things here. Use the desktop clean up feature and delete all the unused or seldom used icons and  put the rest in categorized folders on the desktop.( aligning the folders in such a way as not to obscure the artistic intent of the underlying wallpaper, for crying out loud.) Keep in mind that deleting a desktop icon will not delete the program itself, it's still accessible via the Windows programs list.

If you like the old school "icon" style desktop but would like to get things organized, you might try Stardock's "Fences" program..

                               "Desktop with Fences and Objectdock"

 My personal solution is to get rid of them completely. That's right, you heard me... Just right click any unused space on the desktop ( if you can find one ), mouse over "View" and uncheck the "show desktop icons" box... Aaahhh, that's better don't you think?

The Dock:                             

 It's no wonder docks have become so popular, they're a very simplistic and straightforward way to interact with the system. An Apple fanboy I'm not, but as an early proponent of the dock style interface on the Mac's OS X,  as well as the amazingly intuitive controls on their other products, I think they're on to something here.

"Objectdock" is a current favorite for Windows and the newly released 2.0 free version has some functional improvements such as an integrated battery meter and the weather docklet now updates reliably and displays the correct days of the week, although the menu system seems a bit more confusing than the previous version. A dock is basically an aesthetically pleasing, customizable and more robust version of the Windows quicklaunch toolbar.

One admirable feature of the dock is the ability to easily select icons that have some personal recognition factor or meaning to the user. There are tons of nice custom icons on the net, or you can make your own. Just select an image, and with a few minutes cropping and resizing ( sometimes longer ) and you've got it. The majority of my personal icons were created this way...


Desktop Backgrounds:

 The foundation on which your custom interface is built. Your own personal artistic statement. From a favorite photo to one of the zillions of beautiful desktop backgrounds available for free on the net, the options are limited only by your imagination.

A couple of Peabody's favorite wallpaper sites :

A). Digital Blasphemy : Ryan Bliss's computer digital art is just incredible. He's been around for many years now and he just keeps getting better. "DB" offers a selection of free wallpapers, with a subscription service to access the rest of his vast collection of brilliant work. ( a must see in my opinion ).

                                              "Digital Blasphemy"

B). InterfaceLift :  A really nice user generated wallpaper site where you can upload your own artwork and photos. A well laid out web page, with desktop themes and custom icons. 


The Clock:
 1. Clocx :  A computer desktop needs a clock, (everyone's with me on this, right?) and this little program provides quite a few preconfigured clocks and has a number of adjustment options including size, opacity and the ability to click through. A nice program if you want a large selection of clocks without a whole lot of effort. 
                                        A few of the many" Clocx"...

 2. Vector Clocks : I just recently came across this program as a solution to having multiple time zones displayed on the desktop simultaneously. While there are a number of programs available that offer this function, I just wasn't happy with any of them. It comes with 10 preconfigured clocks and allows for placing as many clocks as needed with different time zones and the ability to label them as you choose.

                                  The default "Vector Clock" collection

They also offer a program called "Vector Clock Designer" which gives an amazing amount of flexibility ( almost limitless ) in designing your own custom clocks. ( a really nice "free" program here )...

                                     Building the "Peabody Clock"

 Widgets and Gadgets :

 If you think you have a widget problem, then you probably do.

                        Probable "Widgetaholic"... contact W.A. for help...

However, even the most minimalist of desktops should be allowed the occasional widget or two... here are a few that are worth looking @...

"Pandora One" : The absolute "must have" widget in my opinion....period...

"Launch Control" : An amazing little task launcher with lots of customization features that does... well, just about everything..

"ProWeather Gadget" :  A neat compact weather gadget that expands into a slick interface with practically everything you need to know about your local forecast.

"Clear View Gadget" : A cool little gadget with weather, clock, calender, cpu meters and media player. Each individual component can placed anywhere on the screen and independently turned on or off. Created by Richard Mohler, check out his other stuff @ Wincustomize and deviantart.

Dvd/Cd Rom tray open/close : A useful gadget if you have a hard to open cd tray on a laptop...


 One of the nice things about personalization of the desktop interface is that there's really no wrong way to do it, if it works for you, then it's the right way. There are an infinite number of ways to get things the way you want them, it's a totally subjective concept....  ~ Peabody ~


Youth is not a time of life, it is a state of mind, it is not a matter of
rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees, it is a matter of the will,
a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions;
it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.

Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity,
of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.
This often exists in a man of sixty more than a lad of twenty.
Nobody grows old merely by a number of years.
We grow old by deserting our ideals.

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.
Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust.

Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being's heart the lure
of wonder, the unfailing child-like appetite of what's next, and the joy
of the game of living. In the center of your heart and my heart there is a
wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer,
courage and power from men and from the infinite, so long are you young.

When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with the snows of cynicism and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at twenty,
but as long as your aerials are up, to catch the waves of optimism,
there is hope you may die young at eighty.

~Samuel Ullman~