Just what do they think the desktop is for?

The Windows Desktop peaked at Program Manager. Abandoned years ago, but still hiding there even in XP as far as I remember, the Program Manager let you fill the "desktop" with little boxes full of the things you wanted, always in the size, shape and place you wanted, and you could backup the layout and copy it across machines. Then Microsoft improved it, and it didn't remember where you put the folders anymore, what shape they were or how you wanted to see the contents (icons, text, details all could change at random).

For me the desktop metaphor was a good interface, it started to tame the computer. You told it very clearly what you wanted to do most, and put those icons right there at startup to click on. So few people in the world want it any other way.

OK, after the shock of losing the best tool for the job I got used to arranging lines of icon by task on the 95-2000 desktop and that worked nearly as well. I couldn't close down a project and open a different one in its place leaving my other tools intact, but whatever, monitors had got bigger by then so I could leave all of them on the desktop instead. Clearly everyone did this, because the desktop police noticed and stepped in. XP started asking to clear all that clutter off your desktop. Erm, clutter? You calling my desktop scruffy? That's because you took away my ability to organise it, fool. A quick trip to options to hit classic mode and turn off the nagging later, and I was back to enjoying the second class desktop as I wanted it again.

Oh dear, that would never do. Now, Windows tells me I shouldn't have any icons on the desktop at all, it should only be used for widgets. I should organise my projects somewhere else, keep them out of their way when they are trying to tidy up. WTF? Your real desk will have the files and projects you are working on, and the tools you use the most. Maybe you thought about carving a hole in it to put a TV constantly showing the weather channel? No, me neither. Maybe another hole to hold the latest feeds from twitter? No? Sure? Maybe it was just the developer of the widget then. As I remember it, they were around on Mac for years, but not popular enough to spread from there. Maybe you did have a calendar propped on the real desk as well, or like most of us dump it in favour of the one that is there if you click the clock in the bottom corner. Or maybe you even went as far as using a schedule planner application or PDA for a while, then got fed-up with it like everyone else and went back to the calendar on the clock if you click it. I dunno. I do know for sure you didn't banish every scrap of paper and tool on your desk so you could put the calendar there instead of anything else.

But, you say, you always have the choice. If Windows fails you (as if that would ever happen!) you still have your open-source favourite KDE, which you said is much better anyway. It is. It was. Err. Somewhere along the way these people lost the plot. Now you can have folders of stuff on your desktop if you really must, but not icons. OK, can I control the look and feel of the folders like it was Program Manager again? No. Not very much at all, it decides how big they are going to be and how much they show. But, if you want widgets or flashy graphics and spinning effects when you switch programs, sure you got it. I can't just click on the program I normally start most often anymore, because it is now under the scroll bar and I have to go find it first. Then in the meantime other programs are being loaded over it and stealing focus from my mouse. As the wise man once said, sheesh! OK, I have had this before all I have to do is switch back to the mighty KDE 3.5, best desktop there has ever been - apart from Program Manager :-) Error! This is now old unsupported code to be used at your own risk.

Now, flattery, impersonation etc. is fine but this crosses the line. Have these people seen what happens to a windows macine the first time it is used by most people for more than a week? It gets hit with the classic mode theme. They turn off the glitter and go back to looking like Windows 98. This is effectively what I have been doing with each KDE4 release, looking at it, saying "very nice", then switching back to something that works how I want to work. Yes, it looks fabulous, it has better spinny effecty things than Windows, is faster, uses less memory, is more stable. It just has the problem of being like NEW unloved windows desktops instead of the ones that are in use by the vast majority of Windows users. Classic theme is where it is at guys, get an option.

By all means look for the next desktop replacing paradigm if that is what you want. I don't want it. I don't want a car that is just a car, but has had the doors hidden so you can't get in, the pedals replaced with a thought control system that only works if you think like the designer, a windscreen that plays videos so you can't see the road etc. It's just junk. I don't use a computer to play with it, the really important software is in the applications. In the same way as the car is a nice comfortable environment to get from A to B but isn't the purpose of the journey, the desktop is the way to get at your files and data but isn't the ultimate objective. If it isn't helping me do what I want, I see it as the enemy. Desktop developers of the world: when you invent something better I will give it a try, and probably still decide you should stop messing about with it and get some real programs written. But don't try and force it on me.

Get this summary - I have files of data and I have programs to act on them. More frequently I have the browser handling all of that for me. Get your desktop out of my way and let me use my machine as I want. Some of these guys have real coding and design talent, but I think they are wasting it in the wrong place entirely.