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In Defense of the Left

About GUI design

And I am not talking about just any graphical user interface, I am talking about the BIG GUI: Your desktop windowing environment. This is the user interface we sit in and use all day. And they are all layed out wrong.

Anybody using a unix-like operating system for their desktop uses a windowning environment. Xorg is the defacto choice. On top of that is the window manager (WM). While these come in all shapes and sizes, they are typically small like cwm, fvwm, ion, fluxbox, etc. The bloated desktop environments (DE), KDE and GNOME, include a WM.

Out of the box, none of them set up your desktop with the correct ergonomics. They always put the window minimize, maximize, and close buttons in the upper right corner. Presumably, this follows some accepted standard. But it does not follow common sense or efficient movement.

Look at any application you use. Almost all the action icons and menu choices are concentrated in the upper left corner. That is the 'hot corner' of the screen. To me, it makes sense to put the window buttons near by. It makes no sense to cross all that real estate to the upper right, just to miniminze the window you are using; then cross all the way back over to the upper left; to make a menu choice (or click the Refresh or Get New Mail button) from the upper left in the app below it.

I realized a long time ago that I should set up my windowing environment with the window action icons in the upper left corner of the title bar.


The upper left is where the action is!

Think about it, whenever you reach for your mouse and want to do something, you naturally gravitate to that corner of the screen. You do not have to take my word for it, or your muscle memory. There have been studies done. Google can find them for you.

Not just each window, the whole screen

These same concepts are true for the desktop itself. Along the top edge of my screen is the desktop switcher, then the iconbar/systemtray (all the minimized windows), and the date and time at the far right. It made complete sense to me that if I am going to be at the top of an application window to minimize it, then I will keep my mouse up there and restore a window that may be minimized. It makes no sense to travel all the way back down to the bottom of the screen for the same action.

This is one thing that Apple got absolutely right.


And the new MS Vista still gets completely wrong.


There should be nothing you need at the bottom. Stay up top, in the light.


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