Thursday, July 10, 2008
360 Desktop: Cool but Not Very Usable
I visit Lifehacker frequently because of all the really useful information that is posted there. When I saw a post for 360 Desktop for Windows, I thought I'd take it for a spin. It certainly sounded like a neat piece of software.
360 Desktop changes the "flat" mental model of desktop workspace into something of a cylindrical one and gives you the ability to add widgets to the desktop, as well. For people who are into this kind of thing (I'm not), this is nice, especially because it opens the door for Windows XP users. The picture at the right, courtesy of UpToDown.com, gives you an idea of how it works. A small slider is placed in a window at the top right part of the screen and an icon is placed in the system tray after installation. By dragging the slider left or right, the desktop pans in that direction. By using 360 Desktop, you suddenly have a lot more desktop space and some nifty backgrounds and widgets to go with it.
It certainly adds work desktop space, and being Windows still does not have built-in support for workspaces like the rest of the world, this is quite helpful for people with smaller monitors. The space taken up by desktop widgets doesn't matter quite so much any more. The panoramic desktop wallpapers were really pretty.
The extra work involved with accessing and navigating the extra desktop space wasn't really worth the benefit it gave. For example, if you have a plethora of open windows strewn across the cylinder, how do you jump from one side to the other quickly. Panning is great for keeping track of where you are, but it's not so good on speed. It's also not very precise. Also, unless I missed something moving windows around the cylinder isn't possible, either, so you have to either repeatedly pan the screen some and then drag the window or close the window, pan to the new location, and reopen it. Either way is a pain. The selection of panoramic wallpapers wasn't very big and most of them were really bright, which looks nice but makes finding icons on the desktop more difficult.
I'd say that 360 Desktop is a nice idea, but it's another case of a nifty demo being developed into a full-fledged program when it really shouldn't have. Some people may really like it, but in this writer's opinion, it just slows you down -- workspaces are much faster by way of the keyboard, much more precise, and the jury's still out on desktop widgets. :)