Monday, 18 August 2008

Destination Desktop

Once upon a time, I used to think that icons on the desktop just made a mess.

There's a saying - "Tidy house, tidy mind". Not only do I agree with the saying, I think it extends to computers too. As I've already mentioned, I want my computing experience to be as efficient as possible. Too much clutter on the desktop was counterproductive - especially when the dreaded Auto-Arrange was turned on! I've even gone as far as removing the My Computer icon.

A few weeks ago I started "allowing" myself to add one or two shortcuts to my desktop. Nothing overboard - a shortcut to a folder here, a shortcut to an app there, a shortcut to a batch file over there. But one folder wasn't enough. One app wasn't enough. Soon I needed access to a few folders, a few apps. When I had about 10 shortcuts, I started to cluster them on the desktop. Gradually, completely by accident, my desktop had become a launcher.

Using the desktop has pros and cons.

On the plus side, by arranging my shortcuts into clusters, spatial memory gets to play a part in finding my shortcuts, which could, in theory, speed things up. In a static, alphabetical menu I would have to scan through names in alphabetical order to pinpoint my shortcut, which is fine when dealing with files on a one-off basis, but using the same shortcuts on several-times-a-day basis, can get a little tedious.

Also, desktop icons are larger than icons in the start menu, which makes them quicker to hit.

On the minus side, I have to minimize whatever is in front of my desktop every time I want to access the shortcuts. This can really disrupt my flow.

So I decided that what I needed was an launcher app that could let me arrange shortcuts in a spatially convenient way, that could pop up in front of my other windows on demand.

The closest I found to this was Skil. It's close to what I'm after, but it ain't perfect. I want to be able to place my icons wherever I want - not confined to a side-by-side grid.

So if I don't find an app that does this, then I'll give writing it a go.

Update: 19th July 2008
How ironic. When writing about the cons of using the desktop as a launcher, I considered putting something about windows "forgetting" where you left the icons and "helpfully" auto arranging them for you. But I thought "I haven't seen windows forget my icon positions for a long, long time. Perhaps it's fixed."

I arrived at work today, my machine had crashed, and all my icons had piled up in a mangled mess at the side of my screen.

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