Confessions of a Window Shader

I’ve been a window shader for a very long time. For those that don’t know, window shading causes the main body of a window to disappear, leaving just the titlebar in place. It’s an alternative to minimizing (GNOME 2, Windows), iconifying (OS X), and hiding (GNOME 3). I shade windows by double-clicking the titlebar. There’s a hidden option to enable this in GNOME 2.

Window shading has been around for a long time. It’s not even exclusive to *nix desktops. It was used in pre-X versions of MacOS. I seem to be one of the few remaining window shaders in the modern desktop world, so I want to share my experience. I’m not trying to debate what’s better, and I’m certainly not demanding that designers cater to my whims. I’m just sharing how I use my desktop.

I have no problems with overlapping windows. In fact, I rely on them. I often read something in one window while writing something in another. Shifting my gaze is much faster than changing windows in a window list. This is important to me, because I do it a lot. I have terrible short-term memory. I can tell you what lot we parked in at Disney World when I was 8, but I can’t tell you what I read five minutes ago. Consequently, I almost never maximize windows. I confess, I really don’t understand maximizing windows on large, wide-screen monitors. (Mine is 1680×1050.) It’s too wide to read. My windows are at their natural size, and that size depends on what’s in them.

But when you have lots of small, overlapping windows, it’s easy to lose track of them. I have a fairly static arrangement of windows. I know my web browser and other document windows cascade from the top left. I know my terminals are flush bottoom. I know my smaller utility windows are somewhere in the middle of the screen. I don’t really think about where the windows are, because I have years of habit ingrained in me. Habit helps me.

When I need to get behind a window, or when I don’t want to look at it, I shade it. I could just as easily minimize it to get it out of my way. There’s no practical difference in the hiding act. The difference comes in when I want that window back. And more often than not, I want it back soon.

Window lists and zoom overviews have little to no spatial resemblence to how your windows are (or were) arranged. But shading leaves your windows where they were, just smaller. Because I have strong window placement habits, I don’t have to hunt for the window I want in some arbitrary list or grid. I go to where the window is. It’s in the same place as I left it. And as a result, I spend almost no time looking for windows.

I’ll probably have to change my habits soon, because modern desktops are moving away from supporting this kind of feature. But with all the innovation that’s happening, I’m hopeful that somebody will come up with a new way of bringing back hidden windows that actually takes advantage of spatial window placement habits.

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States
This work by Shaun McCance is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States.