Mon, 26 Dec 2005
Running tasks' icons
Yet another article from my "Desktop Rants" series. In the Good Old Days(tm) when there were no "desktop environments" per se, just a window manager with a bunch of apps, the window manager used on-desktop "icons" for minimized applications. Nowadays, probably inspired by MacOS, the icons on the desktop are used for files, directories, and application shortcuts instead. Minimized (or all?) applications were moved to a window list applet on the panel.
With this approach, minimized applications are not usable anymore. With the old-style on-desktop icons of minimized apps, user could distinguish between the icons of the same type from their location on the screen, something that is not possible anymore. Can you tell which terminal runs vim on my .profile?
In GNOME, I can no-longer minimze the applications in a sane way. So I have a huge virtual desktop (3x3 desktops on each of my two screens), and I just move to the next virtual desktop when starting a different work.
And there is another serious problem - some apps used to display an important status information in their icons and/or icon title (the song being played, availability of new security updates, etc.). In fact, some of those applications are designed to run minimized most of the time, and just display their status in the icon image or name. Only when the user action is needed (choosing a different album to play or actually installing a new security update), they can be unminimized, and their window appears.
So the desktop environments went one-step furher and one-step back at the same time - they introduced a "panel notification area", where some applications (such as rhn-applet or various music players) display their status. This is essentially an icon-box from older window managers, except that it isn't. Those icons are not first-class citizens anymore: not every application can have an icon there, it has to be explicitly written for it. Why something different than the old-style X11 window icon has to be chosen is beyond my reach. Fortunately, there is at least a freedesktop.org specification for these "almost-icons", so KDE apps can use mini-icons in the GNOME notification area and vice versa.