Today I read James Hague’s post, An Irrational Fear of File on the Desktop and I completely agree.
I am a big user of the desktop for my work processes. I make use of “My Documents”, but mostly for archival use. I also have a “work” folder where my checked out and version project reside.
But, stuff I have on the go, or that I need to access constantly, often reside on my desktop. I set browsers to download files there rather than some “Downloads” folder tucked away somewhere. If I have some text file of notes or some SQL query, or maybe excel document of scratch work, it sits on the desktop until I’m done with it, at which point I archive it or delete it. I do this because seeing it right there in front of me makes me deal with things often, rather than have to remember to periodically clean out my “Downloads” folder filled with downloads no longer needed (installers of installed things, archives of libraries now included in projects) or my “My Documents” folder filled with stuff that was only needed temporarily.
With it right there, it can annoy me and make me clean it up properly.
I also agree that it is often looked at as unorganized and a sign that I am not an adept computer user. This is particularly true from a few of my friends and colleagues using window managers that don’t even let you have files on your desktop. I appreciate the arguments for cleanliness and keeping things in their proper place, but for me the desktop is a nice staging area before I put things in their proper place. I could do this with any random folder, but the nice part of the desktop is that it’s right there whenever I close or minimize my windows.
Though, all of this being said, I find the new(ish) re-acceptance of the desktop as a application launcher rather than a workspace to be interesting. From Windows 95 onward Microsoft tried more and more to push your documents and then you shortcuts off of the desktop: the windows start menu (with a recent documents folder), libraries and the improved start menu search in Windows 7, etc.. All of these things were to help users organize and get their stuff off of the desktop. And as I mentioned, there are many other desktop environments that have had the same “clean desktop” philosophy. But the current trend, brought back to us by touch screens, is to move the applications back there. SpringBoard in iOS is essentially a desktop filled with launchers and in fact the folders used to group and organize them came as a new feature several version in. Android is the same. Then Launchpad in OS X Lion shows up and brings the iOS-style desktop of launchers to Macs, despite the presence of the Dock and Finder and Spotlight. Even more recently we have Windows 8, with it’s new launcher interface. Maybe documents are still “supposed” to be filed away somewhere, but applications are becoming more and more front and centre.