Saturday, 23 August 2008


Every time I press Windows-D (show desktop), I think "FAIL".

I've laid out my shortcuts on my desktop. The shortcuts are there because they are the quickest way still available of getting to what I'm after. I say "still available" because the absolute quickest way, in my experience, is a WinKey shortcut, but there are only so many apps you can assign to obvious keys before you start having collisions.

Now for better or for worse, the layout of the stack of windows on my desktop, usually ties closely with the stack of tasks I have in my head. If I have 10 windows stacked on top of one another, chances are the topmost is what I was most recently using, the next is the next most recent, the one after that is the next most recent, and so on.

Ok, admittedly, 10 windows is a bit excessive, and I'll probably only remember two or three things that I was doing. But at work I use three monitors, so with plenty of screen real estate, spatial location of windows can also help me with remembering what I was working on and where it is in my mental stack.

Unfortunately, undoing "Show Desktop" doesn't work. The window stack is all messed up, and so now I have to spend time working out where I was. It may have only been for a few seconds, but if I was concentrating on something it could take a while to pick up all my trains of thought. If I'm frequently running the various shortcuts from my desktop, that's a lot of shoving my brain in and out of context. This is why I think of a "Show Desktop" as a FAIL.

I want to run my target app as quickly and seamlessly as possible. From this thought comes the seed of my idea for CloudLauncher.

As I've already mentioned, the most efficient way of doing something depends on your context. If I'm sat back in my chair, with a cup of coffee in one hand and the mouse in the other, there's no way I'm going to start typing a command to run an app. Similarly, if I'm in touch typing mode with both hands on the keyboard, it's going to slow me down to reach out for the mouse to click on a shortcut icon. Depending on context, Winkey, Quick Launch, or even the Start Menu may turn out to be the quickest way to achieve my goal. And when I happen to be in keyboard and mouse mode, Windows-D to show desktop, followed by a double click on an icon on my desktop is usually the quickest.

However, since showing the desktop (or hiding everything, as I like to think of it) has fallen out of favour with me, I'd like to write an app that can fill the gap - so a keyboard shortcut to launch my launcher app, then a click (or double click) to launch my target app.

I experimented with Skil, which almost does what I want, but it looks like you're constrained to an auto-arranged grid, whereas with the desktop you can place your shortcuts wherever you want.

Various ideas went through my head, such as a radial menu, where you group items at one level, then when you move through the group name it expands into another level of groups and shortcuts.

To save on desktop real-estate, the items could move relative to the mouse, similar to apple's dock.

Some shortcuts are useful when you first set them up, but become less useful over time. Laziness usually keeps me from cleaning up unused shortcuts. So I was thinking that shortcuts could gradually migrate towards the edge of the screen until they drifted off completely. (This is where the name Cloud Launcher came from).

But then I decided all of these can wait until version 2! You can fit a heck of a lot of shortcuts on one screen. Let's think about saving screen space when it actually needs saving!

I'll post more on how I'm getting on.

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