Widescreen Wishes

A suggestion for improving the usability of widescreen displays

Ready for a new paradigm? No, honest--I think I've got an idea that might add new value to the Windows GUI.

Display technologies haven't interested me for a while. I don't have the time to play graphics-intensive games, and I typically watch DVDs on my DVD player rather than my PC. I've never found much use for the zooms, fades, wallpapers, and other doodads endemic to modern GUIs. In fact, until this week, I would have argued that anything larger than a 1024 x 768 screen was merely CPU-wasting frippery.

But then I got my hands on a new laptop with a Wide Ultra Extended Graphics Array (WUXGA) screen. What a great acronym! Not only is the screen wide and extended, it's also ultra! I wonder what might be on the horizon--would a 3000 x 2000 display be a Hyper Unbelievable Graphics Extension (HUGE) Array?

During the past few years, I've watched reasonably priced video resolutions steadily increase from 1280 x 1024 to 1600 x 1200. With each increase, I've thought, "Hmm, that's nice, but it doesn't let me do anything I couldn't do before." So, new pixels have never really impressed me. However, after I started using this 1920-pixel-wide screen, I realized that I now have nearly two 1024-pixel-wide expanses on one desktop! (I know, I could have had this epiphany the first time I worked with a 1600-pixel-wide desktop, but for some reason 1600-pixel-wide screens left me bereft of epiphanies.)

WUXGA width strikes me as full of potential because it offers the promise of a computer screen that can hold two desktops' worth of windows, side by side--Microsoft Word on one side and perhaps VMware or the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) Active Directory Users and Computers snap-in on the other. However, when I tried to use my desktop that way, I failed.

I started by opening Word and sizing it to about 800 pixels wide. Then, I dragged the application's window to the left edge of the screen. I was now looking at a big patch of desktop on the screen's right side--more than 1024 pixels. When I started applications, I would drag them to the right side of the screen and resize them to fit in a 1024 x 768 area. The procedure didn't really work. Some applications don't remember where on the desktop you last used them and therefore start up at random locations every time. (Thankfully, Word's screen memory is good.) Other applications seem fixated on opening in the center of the screen. I couldn't find an application that would automatically open against the screen's right or left side. I thought of trying the tile function, of course, but tiling just divides things up equally--not what I wanted.

I propose a simple way to make wide screens significantly more useful. My solution involves just three components. First, imagine a vertical line drawn down the middle of my screen, dividing my desktop and creating two "desklets." (You might want to draw horizontal lines, or both horizontal and vertical lines, and therefore create many desklets, but for the sake of simplicity, let's just consider two side-by-side desklets.) Second, the way that the window-management software works would need to change so that whenever I click the Maximize button, the window would maximize to fill the desklet--not the whole desktop. (Because a program's window might lie across pieces of each desklet, the window-management software would simply determine in which desklet the program window occupies more area.) Third, if I click the Maximize button a second time, the window would maximize to the whole desktop. In short, I just need a way to draw a line across my desktop, and window-management software needs to recognize two levels of Maximize. Surely, a service pack can deliver such functionality!

In all seriousness, I've seen tons of features touted for Microsoft's next Windows version (code-named Longhorn), but I can't say that the idea of an administrative workstation whose desktop requires 3-D video hardware to run excites me very much. But the ability to divide my desktop into multiple desklets and corral different sets of programs in each--now that sounds like a productivity tool and a reason for networkers to buy big screens.

What do you think? Drop me a line at [email protected]

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.