Canonical is investing in making its desktop more appealing and usable. Kudos to Mark Shuttleworth for taking this initiative. It is not very often that open source projects exclusively talk about appeal.
However, I am a bit disappointed, or maybe disillusioned, with the way our desktops are being made usable. While we are adding more bells and whistles, it is perhaps driving us towards more and more inefficient use of the desktop. For example, is the list of active windows really so important? I feel that the standard taskbar and the dock occupy prime real estate of the desktop carrying information which need not be in front of our eyes continuously. Whether it is the applications menu or the system tray or the windows list, they serve more as distractors. I believe the desktop area itself can be more effectively used for this, without distracting.
Then I have been fiddling with this task-based desktop idea. People use computers to do tasks, and our application-oriented interface and usage introduces a lot of friction in there. Wouldn’t it be better if our interface with the computer was designed as per our lingo and tasks!
I am still trying to make a concrete idea out of this, but in short, I think the users should be able to work in terms of their tasks, without having to invoke applications and windows or manage them. For example, without worrying whether my email client is active or not, I should just be able to write a letter without worrying whether the application is open or not, creating a new document and choosing the letter template. And then why not just send this letter to my friend without having to worry about my email client. Some tasks might include working with multiple applications, and this is where I think that the desktop can play the role of a hub, and then display status of the tasks to me.
I also wonder sometimes if we can in fact do away with the concept of applications altogether.
I have started XFCE because it quickly gets out of my way and lets me do things without intruding. This “light-weightedness” makes it more usable. It will be interesting to see how our desktop designs evolve, and in the mean time, I will keep working if I can get something concrete out of my ideas.