Digital Minefield

Why The Machines Are Winning

Optimizing Windows


Optimizing windows is a bad idea. Not Windows the operating system (although I could give good reasons for that), but the concept of windows employed by every graphic user interface (GUI).

I’ve used the term “optimize” a lot in recent posts. So much that I began to wonder if it’s the right word. Compare this definition, “to make as perfect, effective, or functional as possible” to this one, “to make the most of.” The first was for “optimize” but the second was for “maximize.” Not much difference.

In WindowsSpeak, to “Maximize” a window means to enlarge it to fill the display. To fill a window with content is to optimize it’s space on screen. Or you could say this was maximizing the content.

Two points: One, the intent of early GUI designers was to have many windows on screen. Two, every bad web page designer wants his window to fill the screen and to fill that window with content. Why bother with windows; just call them screens.

The idea of a windows-based GUI (or WIMP: window, icon, menu and pointing device) began at Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center) in 1973. Apple’s Mac system showed up in 1984, followed by Microsoft’s Windows the next year.

There have been a score of GUIs. Many, like the Unix-based X Windows, were far superior graphically. At the time, the displays on our desktops could not compete with those of main-frame terminals.

Since they lacked the real estate and the resolution, early PC programmers needed bigger windows (i.e., more of the screen). Now our screens are easily the equal of those earlier terminals in resolution and size. But PC programmers, especially web page designers, still—unnecessarily—want it all.

It’s like a war: Every window (program) for itself. And all clamoring for your attention. Almost every morning when I boot up some program wants my immediate attention. As if what I might want to do could not possibly be more important.

At one end their arsenal has endless upgrades. At the other end are endlessly annoying pop-ups. (How long have we been trying to kill pop-ups? I forget.) No program can win this war. All this conflict achieves is ever-worsening computer experiences.

To ask some programmers not to optimize is an affront to their egos. Yet, optimizing desktop web pages is why other programmers must create entirely separate and independent mobile web pages. This takes twice the effort (and more than twice the cost), but don’t ever ask ego-driven programmers to settle for less than all the pixels.

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