Adaptive user interfaces for focused attention

The goal of the search strategy I outlined the other day was to find Mary Czerwinski, a Microsoft researcher, and interview her for a podcast. I did find her, and the resulting podcast is here. We had a great time talking about ways that adaptive user interfaces can leverage spatial and temporal memory, about ambient awareness of team activity, and about the proper role of interruptions in the modern work environment.


In the course of the conversation I mentioned WriteRoom and the notion of a distraction-free desktop. Lately I find myself powerful attracted to Zen simplicity, and I wondered how that impulse might square with the new Office ribbon. It’s a great improvement over the conventional menu systems, but I wondered if there were a quick and easy way to suppress the ribbon when you want to achieve the WriteRoom effect.

It turns out that there are several ways to do that, and I documented them in this short screencast.

Now that I’ve learned how to use the ribbon selectively, there’s one piece of unfinished business. In Vista as in Windows XP, you can hide the desktop icons by right-clicking the desktop and choosing View->Show Desktop Icons. But in order to really incorporate this feature into your workflow you’d like to have it on a hotkey, like WindowsKey->M which instantly minimizes all open windows.

Jeff Ullmann had written to me a while ago with a solution based on the Windows Scripting Host, but the registry layout that it depends on is different in Vista. So, how can you make a clean-desktop hotkey in Vista? I’ve seen the question asked in various places but as yet have found no answers. If you’ve got the recipe I’d love to see it.

3 Comments

  1. Jon, you seem to have ~25% “blank space” tacked on to the end of your screencast. Otherwise, good demo! I find myself wanting Office 2007 where previously I wasn’t interested. But I like the clean look.

  2. “you seem to have ~25% “blank space” tacked on”

    Ah, thanks for pointing that out. There was excess audio track with no sound in it. Should be fixed now.

  3. I spent some time looking at the Vista hotkey thing, but I’m not confident it’s a simple registry change anymore. I used ProcMon to watch registry values change as I turned desktop icons on and off, and they’re the same ones from Jeff’s script. Manually changing the registry values doesn’t hide the icons, though. It looks like there’s an API call to trigger the desktop to redraw.

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