What is a Desktop?

A place to discuss the science of computers and programs, from algorithms to computability.

Formal proofs preferred.

Moderators: phlip, Moderators General, Prelates

Posts: 658
Joined: Wed Oct 01, 2008 6:04 am UTC

What is a Desktop?

Postby keeperofdakeys » Fri Jul 02, 2010 1:06 pm UTC

I've been thinking recently about the use of desktop space and what kind of job it serves. The two main jobs that a desktop usually performs are the storage of files and/or launching of applications, but when thought about, why implement these functions if we just block them with windows? Of course there is also desktop backgrounds, which allows the identifications of spaces with no windows.

If we take the naming scheme back to their real-world inspirations, we find that the answer is 'nothing', since the desk top is required for things to sit on, so they don't fall. Since the OS desktop is not fully translatable to the physical desk top, their may be no real-world comparison.

One application I have noticed in Ubuntu Netbook, is one that puts an application launcher on the desktop. An implication of this design, which enforced my maximus, means a window is an independent full screen window. The windows almost become independent workspaces at this point (although this is a different topic). The point is, does someone want to switch out from their current window to change application? Does this application allow any easier startup of applications? It seems to me that a popup application starter is more appropriate, or a small Run terminal.

I also don't find the idea of a desktop 'folder' very useful. I end up moving windows to open files from the desktop, when it is probably easier to have a button on a status bar, that will open a 'quick' folder in a file manager in a new window.

At the moment my DE does not do anything to the desktop besides a desktop background. I find it strange to have nothing there, but there is not much that can be put there I would find useful. So what is a desktop and how should it best be used?

Posts: 163
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 3:26 am UTC

Re: What is a Desktop?

Postby Killamus » Sat Jul 03, 2010 4:29 am UTC

A desktop was previously used mostly for common applications (E.G. if you're a student, you might put a MS Word icon on your desktop) - However, with side bars becoming more and more common, the desktop generally does little more then look like a pretty picture. I use mine for when I'm doing a lot of work with a lot of files, and I use it as temporary storage space, or for easy access to a file that I'm in the process of modifying at the moment.

I think a better question then "Why do we still have a desktop" would be "What would we use in lieu of a desktop?"

I can't think of anything interesting, and apparently no one else has. Why move a boulder that used to be a good seat when you now have a chair? What harm is the boulder doing, especially because there's nothing else to put there anyways? Might as well keep it there for aesthetics. Move it when there's something else we can put there.

EDIT: Forgot to mention that a lot of people who aren't as computer savvy as those on these forums still use a desktop instead of a "Start Menu" (For lack of a better phrase). The familiar is easy to rationalize, while change isn't.

User avatar
Posts: 195
Joined: Sat Apr 19, 2008 12:37 pm UTC

Re: What is a Desktop?

Postby Kow » Sat Jul 03, 2010 5:35 am UTC

I usually use the desktop as my working space when I work with a lot of files that don't necessarily need to be in any specific spot. Just throw them on the desktop and when you're done with whatever you're doing, clean it up.

Most of the time, it's just a pretty picture that my windows go on top of.

User avatar
SecondTalon's Goon Squad
Posts: 3038
Joined: Sat Jan 12, 2008 12:18 pm UTC

Re: What is a Desktop?

Postby Steax » Sat Jul 03, 2010 12:58 pm UTC

On a mac, jumping back and forth to the desktop from open windows is easy (either via using that swipe up gesture or simply moving to an empty Spaces screen), so I find it fairly effective for storing shortcuts and the like. That's really all I use it for. I don't waste CPU time to display a fancy clock or anything, just a calendar on the background picture (the awesome wallpapers from Smashing Magazine have calendar options, take a look) so I can swipe to check what day a particular date is, without loading up the dashboard thing.

Applications are launched via quicksilver and the bar thingy, so I usually don't mind about that.
In Minecraft, I use the username Rirez.

User avatar
Posts: 798
Joined: Wed Jan 23, 2008 10:46 am UTC
Location: Now where I want to be

Re: What is a Desktop?

Postby Darkscull » Sat Jul 03, 2010 8:09 pm UTC

In recent years I've used my desktop less and less. In fact, the only use I have for it is psychological - when starting a new task I'll either close all my windows or minimise them all if I still need them for other tasks, before beginning the next thing. That's just a leftover from the desktop-based mentality many people have, and has no real purpose.

When I eventually sort out dual-booting linux on my PC, I'm intending to experiment with using a tiling window manager and no actual desktop.
I'd have a panel at one edge of the screen to have status icons and some application launchers, but apart from that just have the workspace split into sections for various types of window. I'll likely use multiple workspaces as well, having one with a single fullscreen tile for browsing and such.

It may not work at all though, I don't know anything about tiling window managers except what's on wikipedia.
Physicists do it in an excited state.
m/bi/UK/Ⓐ/chaotic good
b. 1988 d. 20xx

Posts: 658
Joined: Wed Oct 01, 2008 6:04 am UTC

Re: What is a Desktop?

Postby keeperofdakeys » Sat Jul 03, 2010 11:52 pm UTC

Darkscull wrote:It may not work at all though, I don't know anything about tiling window managers except what's on wikipedia.

I happen to use a tiling window manager, called awesome. In awesome, the desktop is just a picture, although there may be a way to make it usable. This is not much of a worry though, since when you open a window, it will go full screen straight away; with new windows making everything 'tile' into a predefined pattern. You can make some programs float (like vlc and gimp), but they lack a title bar that you are used to (movement through mouse plus buttons, other commands through buttons). Also awesome uses 'tags', which are like workspaces, but you can view mutliple tags at a time and have a window appear on a second and third tag etc. .

The tiling means the only time I see a desktop is when I switch to a new tag, where I open a new program. This only, really leaves shortcuts for the desktop, but I would prefer the OSX 'dock' over this (of course I only have a run command to open programs, which I am happy with).

User avatar
Posts: 2303
Joined: Fri Sep 18, 2009 3:11 am UTC
Location: Sasquatchawan, Canada

Re: What is a Desktop?

Postby PhoenixEnigma » Sun Jul 04, 2010 12:51 am UTC

The desktop, for me, is basically a handy place to leave things that I can access with a keystroke (Win+D), and is geneally always available to drag-and-drop things on to. It's also a handy place to leave things that I need to remember the next time I log in - I can leave files or folders there to remind myself, and it looks much cleaner than sticking post-it notes to my monitor.
"Optimism, pessimism, fuck that; we're going to make it happen. As God is my bloody witness, I'm hell-bent on making it work." -Elon Musk
Shivahn wrote:I am a motherfucking sorceror.

User avatar
Posts: 169
Joined: Mon Nov 10, 2008 5:00 pm UTC
Location: Just past the event horizon

Re: What is a Desktop?

Postby Vault » Tue Jul 06, 2010 3:09 am UTC

I actually use my desktop much as I use a desktop in real life. When I'm working on things, I save files to the desktop until I can figure out a better place to put them. When it starts to get messy, I go through and sort them into appropriate folders. I also like being able to have a desktop background. It's basically equivalent to having a wall calendar with a different picture for each month.

The more I think about it, the more I think that it's actually a pretty good metaphor (I've yet to see a better one at the very least).

As for tiling window managers, I tried XMonad for a while. It was nice, and I think it probably did make me slightly more productive, but tiling WMs are so alien to the way that I think about computer interaction that I wasn't able to continue using it for very long. I didn't have an issue using it exactly, but for whatever reason, it felt almost unnatural.

I don't have anything against tiling WMs, and I think they're pretty cool, but I could (probably) never be comfortable with one.

Posts: 658
Joined: Wed Oct 01, 2008 6:04 am UTC

Re: What is a Desktop?

Postby keeperofdakeys » Tue Jul 06, 2010 3:56 am UTC

Vault wrote:I don't have anything against tiling WMs, and I think they're pretty cool, but I could (probably) never be comfortable with one.

I've had this feelings a few times, like being marooned on a desert island. Tiling window managers tend to be a bit like the terminal, where you have to know a program exits in order to use it; whereas in most floating window managers it is often easier to find modify system preferences or start an application. I have also found that a tiling window manager encourages me to use a terminal.

Also one problem I have found with the desktop is that I don't want to delete any of the files, so I moved them into a 'loose things' folder. 3 years later and it is nearly 20GB big, but in linux I find a memory filesystem to be ideal for temporary stuff, since it WILL be gone when I reboot. This way I find that I am forced to organise it, whereas a desktop I found the disorganised way to do it.

Return to “Computer Science”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 9 guests