The desktop metaphor is stupid

My girlfriend is showing me images on her computer (she uses an Apple because it’s “simple”). After we view all of the files, which are scattered across her computer’s desktop in a random pattern, I watch as she grabs one with the mouse and drags it onto the corner of the desktop. She then drags one file after another onto the same spot, making a pile. Later, she’ll move them one by one out of that pile in order to look at them again.

Pretty much every window manager uses the desktop metaphor of overlapping documents in a messy pile. The desktop metaphor was a dumb idea when it was introduced, and it’s still a dumb idea now. Computers allow us to interact with documents in much richer, more powerful ways than pretending that they’re a mess of overlapping papers on our desk.

Why do we allow icons and windows to overlap? Why would anything ever overlap? It’s a useless functionality. When one window is overlapped partially by another, it’s usually the case that enough content is hidden by the overlap that it makes the visible content useless and just wasting screen space; you can read half a sentence, but the other half is hidden behind the focused window. You have to switch back to the partially-covered window anyway in order to continue using it, so why not just keep it entirely hidden?

We know that this is suboptimal, yet we continue to use it. The computer interface should maximize the usefulness of the information it presents to us. Windows should try to take up as much screen space as they can without infringing on other windows. Don’t overlap the windows, but try not to leave any wasted space, either.

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