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Could screensavers be part of the solution, not part of the problem?

Yesterday I came to work to discover John Williams music blaring from the cubicle next door. I pushed the door open and saw a Superman screensaver running on a Windows machine with spinning "S"es from the various incarnations of the Kryptonian hero. Turned out my officemate had left his headphones unplugged, so the rest of us got a free concert.

Last night I had a number of long running jobs on my mac mini, and I got to thinking of what a pain it was to understand the status of the machine. I was processing mail, washing dishes and doing other domestic tasks while checking in on the status of the process of copying files from a DVD-ROM to an NAS storage unit over the wireless internet connection, a process that takes about an hour.

It was annoying as hell that the progress indicator was this tiny little box that easily got lost in all the other windows that were open.

It got me thinking... We're starting to see that the WIMP interface was a step backwards in many ways, and we're moving towards more task-oriented interfaces.

Why can't we make a screensaver that's useful? The idea is to make a screensaver that works like the dashboard in Mac OS X... Something task-oriented that lets you get an immediate sense of what your machine is up to. (Just walk up to the computer and you can see at a glance)

The big thing you'd need for this is some kind of hook into the progress bar mechanisms that would let the screensaver display progress bars for running applications: this could be a big selling point for Gnome and KDE apps if they had their progress bars implemented into this. (Doing this in general would be tough... How would you get progress information out of Azureus? Such a scheme would need to be supplemented with a "top"-like display, network traffic monitoring, maybe even something like lsof, to be able to say something about applications that aren't smart about reporting status...

Paul A. Houle
Digital Library Programmer/Analyst
Library Systems
Olin Library 503
(607) 539-7490
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