Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Taskbar positions

It's interesting that there's some things about computing that you rarely think about. Like taskbar position. I mean, tell me the first time you used a Mac or Linux you weren't at least the slightest bit confused by the top taskbar. (That's assuming that you were raised/used to Windows, but please, just run with me on this, Mac-children.) I'll admit I was. I know this sounds pathetic, but it's actually what made me most resistant to Linux (and Macs, for that matter). When I was younger, I thought "A computer that has the taskbar on the top instead of the bottom? This is madness!" and I automatically assumed that the system would be so different from Windows that I would never be able to use it.

Obviously since then I've evolved a bit. The first time I was exposed to a top taskbar was when I dual-booted Ubuntu with Windows XP on our family PC. That really don't go over with me so well and I only used Ubuntu once or twice. (Come to think of it, I wonder if it's still installed upstairs.....hmm...) The next change came when I got my netbook. If you own a netbook (especially one smaller than 10"), you realize how valuable screen space is, and furthermore how valuable vertical screen space is. Because most netbooks screens are widescreen [ok, that is a complete assumption. Of the ASUS EEE netbooks, I'm 75% sure that all are widescreen.], your vertical screen space is very limited compared to horizontal, which is why most netbook users use Firefox addons like TinyMenu or Meerkat, hide the bookmark toolbar, or do anything else to get the most out of their vertical screen space.

So eventually I realized that I could add quite a bit if I flipped my taskbar vertically. The problem with this is that when the taskbar is horizontal, you have space for the application titles, whereas that's not necessarily the case with vertical taskbars. Anyway, I did end out flipping and I even shrunk it to where all that showed was the application's icon (so 16px I think), and I even added a toolbar filled with shortcuts to my favorite apps.

That was kind of a big transition for me. If you use a computer long enough, your muscles even seem to remember where things are. On my cash register at work, I automatically click things on the screen before they even come up because my hands know where they'll be. For a Windows-raised user like myself, I would default throw my mouse to the bottom left corner to reach the Start Button. It took a little while until I finally retrained myself to realize that it's at the top of the screen.

Finally, there's my latest position on my first build, which is also my first desktop PC. When installing this, I actually went with a theme (which is weird because before now, every chance I got, I used the Windows Classic theme to conserve resources). So since it no longer looked like the Windows 2000 theme I was used to or the Microsoft-zombie "Luna" theme, I decided to put it on top, to "train" me for Linux.

The thing that I find interesting is just how dis settling it can be to change something as simple as taskbar position. I can remember one day walking into work and thinking "Man, it's dark in here. Did someone forget to turn on the lights?" and I couldn't put my finger on what it was. (I even asked my coworker why we didn't have a specific set of lights on "like we always do", to which I was told "We never have those on".) And it turns out, one little square of lights had burnt out, but it threw off my whole day. I was used to seeing everything in a certain amount of light, and even though I saw the exact same objects, it seemed foreign to me.

So tying that little rabbit trail into nerdy stuff, I find it interesting how we are used to things, specifically in terms of computers. If you want proof, go try to use a new program, like someone switching from IE to Firefox (or Opera, Safari, Chrome, etc...) for the first time.

Another interesting thing I found was how much less appealing it is to try new things if it's linked in with familiar things. Take my netbook for example. Using a netbook is quite a different experience than using a desktop. So in that sense, it made it much easier to "unfamiliarize" myself with the situation and try something new because I wasn't necessarily expecting it to be a certain way. The same goes with my current PC. Getting a new theme helped me adjust to the top taskbar because I wasn't used to how it looked, so it "assigned" the new taskbar position to the new theme in my brain, instead of thinking "This isn't right, my Windows 2000 taskbar should be on the bottom". At the same time, too much new can be frightening, like me trying Ubuntu for the first time. I honestly think that Ubuntu might be more appealing to Windows users if they put the taskbar on the bottom for default. Yes, it's an incredibly small detail and yes, it might actually make Linux users outraged, but it would probably make Windows users feel more at home.

This might be the dumbest post I've written (which is saying something). If you're a true nerd, you're probably thinking "Wow, who writes an entire post about taskbar position? I never even thought about it twice." But then I'm not a nerd, now am I? (Well, not yet.) Besides, I have grown a bit. Now I can use a system with the task bar anywhere, comfortably, and I don't assign position to OS in my mind. (Besides, I've since figured out that some Linux distros have the taskbar on the bottom. Come to think of it, I think that's mostly KDE....maybe Openbox as well...)

Either way, it's kind of an interesting idea, on a very basic level. I think the next time I'm in an awkward silence with someone, I'm just going to ask "So where do you like your taskbar?" Sure, that might be taken as an inappropriate innuendo, but at least that's better than awkward silence..............right?

"Where do you like your taskbar?"
-Bry

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