The concept of full-screen apps seems archaic.
An application that eliminates the OS, including the time, you handy email notifier, and everything else that helps you get your work done. It wasn’t since the eighties that computers could only run one piece of productivity software at a time, isn’t this why Windows was created in the first place? However, just as it’s valuable to redefine a concept, it’s important to re-evaluate that paradigm.
I remember when I was about eleven years old, watching my mum type a document in Microsoft Word. She made a spelling mistake, which it helpfully highlighted with an underline. She ignored it and kept going, so I helpfully pointed out ‘Mum, you spelled that word wrong’. She (calmly) said that she knew and that she would deal with it later… and she refrained from highlighting how irritating I was (thanks Mum!).
Software has become a lot like an annoying child, interrupting and pointing something out to you.
Even if it doesn’t point something out to you, it offers you treats and delights. Like a bowl of snacks, each individual bite seems harmless, and every time we check Twitter, Gmail and Facebook it seems like such a tiny bite size time investment to be superficial, but it can kill creative flow.
So, in turn, I’m excited to see a small push from Apple towards ‘full-screen apps’ with the Mac App Store, as well as its own full-screen mode in iPhoto. The iPad, too, helped to exhibit how nice applications could be in full-screen, and I think we’ll see some nice developments in this area.
As I type, I’m using ‘Dark Room‘, a windows based clone of WriteRoom on the Mac (Dark Room is free, Write Room is $25, I use both). These applications present plain text against a black background, and that’s all (although you can run them in a window too, if you prefer). I dabbled with these applications for a long time, but only this year did I really appreciate how the distraction free interface helped the creative process. It’s not as though I’m a loss for words (anyone seasoned with forums and email tends to be almost too handy with verbal diarrhea), but I know that until this task is done this is all I will be looking at, and all I will be thinking about.
It’s not a matter of using redundent technology in order to be cool or different. It’s not a fixie bike for hipsters, I can still go up hills.
Over the years I’ve come to love full-screen modes in software. When web-browsing in Firefox/IE/etc, on the PC you just tap F11 for full-screen joy. Zoom with Ctrl -/+, makes certain content all the more pleasant. In Photoshop, once you’re used to the shortcuts, it can be wonderful to tap F a couple of times and go to full-screen mode. If you’re shy you can just tap TAB to hide the menus.
The important part is that the user is already comfortable with the interface, so losing the GUI and main OS is not intimidating. Meanwhile, software like Zbrush forces you into full-screen against your will, and has a peculiar approach to GUI in general! Similarly, 3D Studio Max features an expert mode that almost all amateurs stumble into by pressing Ctrl X, a common shortcut for ‘cut’ in other software, sending them tumbling into an inescapable abyss.
It’s not relevant in all cases. Even video-games benefit from the multi-window approach sometimes, such as playing puzzle games whilst still keeping an eye on social networks, or indeed using spreadsheets and FAQs when playing RPGs. Sometimes we just want to have the TV on, sometimes we want to be fully absorbed by a movie.
My hope is that software improves to make working in a distraction-free environment more appealing. Avoid stripping the interface so far that the user is uncomfortable, but reduce things so that creative work has the opportunity to be akin to curling up with a notebook on a settee with a cup of tea, rather than being hunched over a desk covered in papers.