There is no doubt that the typical icons laying around your desktop could probably be a little more useful than they already are. Some operating systems are trying to dive into that by making the icon a representation of what the file’s contents hold, but I’ve wondered for a long time why so many services have neglected to provide a revolutionary new icon.
Now I’m not exactly an operating system developer, but here are some of the ideas for icons that I have come up with at one point or another:
- An icon that you can flip around and write a note on. This could be particularly useful in trying to find a specific file instead of looking at non-descriptive file names.
- Color-coded icons based upon their filetype. Nothing really extravagant, but a thin colored border around the icon might help you better distinguish what kind of file your about to open.
- Change the size of an icon, and not all of the icons. This would give me the ability to make one icon really large so that it draws my attention more than the others do. When you need to get something done, sometimes it is nice to have a big reminder right in front of your face.
- Pie menu that pops out when you hover over the icon, providing quick links to open the file, open the properties, rename the file, or much more. Face it, pie menus are a lot more efficient than a traditional menu system.
- Stack icons on top of each other. If I had a bunch of related images on my desktop it might be more useful if I could just stack them on top of each other instead of creating a folder to put them in. Then at anytime I could click on the stack and they would pan out like a dealer showing a deck of cards.
- "Live" icons that can be updated much like an icon in the Windows System Tray. That way the same icon that I launch Google Talk with could also display how many unread emails I currently have. Then I wouldn’t really need both a Quick Launch icon and a System Tray icon, since they would serve the same purpose.
Okay, so those are most of the decent ideas that I have thought of at one time or another as ways to make icons more useful. And it looks like KDE 4 (for Linux) will be bringing one of those ideas to life…well, kind of. One thing that I listed was having a pie menu popup when I hovered over an icon, and KDE 4 will present the user with icons in each corner when they click on it. As seen in the mockup above, a music file would have buttons to play the song, add it to a playlist, or show the information for that particular song. Here’s a YouTube movie of this feature’s current state.
It’s not quite a pie menu like I would have preferred, but this is an awesome step in the right direction. Hopefully other operating system developers are trying to brainstorm how they can make icons more useful.
And then there are Panels which hopes to reduce the clutter in the Taskbar. This is done by placing the System Tray and Taskbar icons in expandable Panels that are only shown when the appropriate options are clicked. I’ll admit that this looks cool, but I don’t want to see the KDE interface going to something like this. When I want to switch between programs, I want to do it quickly instead of waiting for a panel to pop out to show my running applications:
I think the KDE team is definitely on the right track, although the Panel thing isn’t my cup of tea. If KDE 4 stays on track it should be available on October 23.