What would you do with improved window resizing ?

It has appeared to me some times ago that my long-term goals of resolution and screen size independence, with apps dynamically adapting themselves to input&output resolution along with the amount of screen estate available, could have big implications even on classical PC hardware, like say a 15″ laptop screen with a usual optical mouse.

Take, as an example, window tiling. It is a thing which has always fascinated me. It just looks like the right solution to everyday window management problems. Imagine this : most applications start maximized (or with black borders around them) as a default setting, in order to make maximal use of screen estate and help you focus on what you’re doing, with special UI tweaks being used to ensure that this maximization does not hurt usability. Suddenly, you want to see two windows side by side. Without even thinking, you hold the Ctl key and click the corresponding entry in the taskbar. Instantly, the two windows are automatically displayed side by side in an horizontally tiled layout. Want to go back to the first window ? Click its entry, and it switches back to full screen mode. Simple, useful, efficient, and consistent with other mechanisms like file selection.

However, in practice, tiling already exists in the mass market, as an example in the form of Windows 7’s Aero Snap feature, and it doesn’t really work. Why ? Because most applications’ windows don’t work well when resized to the size of a tile taking up half of the screen. Toolbars take up too much space, content must be scrolled, and so on. What’s more, the Windows 7 implementation of tiling is fairly crude and doesn’t allow Ctl+clicking in the taskbar, nor easily redistribute the space taken by each tiled window. The tiling is not customized per-application in a way that applications displaying lots of content may get more space than apps displaying only little content, or that apps with a fairly horizontal layout are automatically tiled vertically instead of horizontally.

In short, I think the tiling concept needs more love, but has the potential to become much more than a geeky thing, turning into a more comfortable way to manage windows than the overlapping mess. If windows got adaptive layouts that work well on a wide range of size, I’d like to experiment with a tiling window manager as a part of the default desktop environment.

And you, what would you do with window resizing that’s not completely broken ?

5 thoughts on “What would you do with improved window resizing ?

  1. Justin March 28, 2011 / 5:10 am

    One thing that annoys me about windows and resizing them is those pesky toolbars and menu bars. They’re treated _as_ “toolbars” (must be bar shaped) and “menu bars”, separate entities. Why can’t they be treated as ways of reaching an action? By simply providing the user with a means of achieving an action, in any way, the window can be fluid to its size. Of course, since it’s just a dream of mine, and an experiment in my OS (once I actually get around to doing the GUI), it could very well be a usability nightmare.

  2. Hadrien March 28, 2011 / 11:21 am

    Well, for me the distinction is here because a toolbar is for quick access to most frequently used functions whereas a menu is here for comprehensive access to every functionality.

    On the other hand, I agree that in some complex software like word processors, toolbars have become so complex that they could almost be called menus on their own rights, so maybe a change is needed :) On my side, I’m interested in the “panel” approach of GIMP and Photoshop, which sounds more flexible and more suited to wide screens where height is a critical resource than toolbars. If attempts at merging toolbars and menus together are of interest to you, you should have a look at the engineering blogs of Microsoft where they explain how they designed office 2007’s Ribbon (don’t remember the URLs, though).

  3. Daniel Nebdal May 20, 2011 / 2:06 pm

    What would personally make me happy is if adjacent window borders snapped together and could be dragged as one – so you could move the splitting border around with a single click+drag. It would need some obvious way to detach/reattach windows from each other, of course.

  4. Hadrien May 20, 2011 / 2:12 pm

    Actually, this is something which some *nix windows manager can do, I think. I’ve always wondered why it’s not possible to easily move the splitting border around with Windows 7’s Aero Snap, by the way, just looked like an obvious feature to implement to me.

  5. Anonymous May 22, 2011 / 4:54 am

    Haiku has this. “Stack and Tile”. It should be in the latest Alpha 3 I think.

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