Hiding the cursor++

Back in the day I used to write code for graphic user interfaces.  If you write code like that you develop a eye for details that hopefully are invisible to other folks.  For example I happen to know that when you typing the mouse cursor is hidden and then later when you move the mouse the cursor reappears.  If the mouse cursor doesn’t disappear when I’m typing it causes a bit of cognitive dissonance.

Since I did that kind of work starting in college and then very intensely for the years after the Macintosh was released I’ve had the fun of watching as people tried every possible variation of how they might make a UI work.  I think that search space is pretty well mined out.  Stuff is rediscovered all the time.  Rarely somebody stumbles on a new idea.  Most of the time the computers get faster so things become possible that were just too slugish to do before.

In recent years as I’ve become interested in how we manage our attention I’ve become increasingly interested in UI schemes that help with that problem.  I’m a huge fan of Readablity, a bookmarklet that attempts to glean out only the text you want to read from your web page.  And I like the hack for the Mac Spirited Away that automatically hides applications that have fallen into the background on the desktop for some period.  I desperately wish I could find a similar hack that would replace, on demand, the entire screen with the content area (and only the content) of the topmost window.

Those are all examples of hide the clutter when I’m doing something, and they are directly analogous to the hide the cursor when I’m typing.  There is a dirth of good schemes for automatically hiding when I’m reading.

Anyhow the new scheme that Google recently deployed of hiding the clutter on their homepage until you move the mouse pointer is, amusingly, a direct extension of the hide the standard mouse pointer when typing (and he is typing right?).  My silly brain screamed out “bug!” when I first saw this; complete with a diagnosis that the code for mouse pointer hiding was hiding too much stuff.  The same part of my brain then tried to puzzle out how code got the clutter into the top most overlay which includes the mouse cursor.

Who knows?  Maybe it will become standard practice to hide other clutter, in addition to the mouse pointer, upon typing.

2 thoughts on “Hiding the cursor++

  1. Zack Hyde

    The second time I saw the Google home page do that, I was thrilled, and I still think it’s magnificent.

    Interestingly, Google released Chrome for Mac and Linux recently.

    Could “hiding the clutter” be a hint of what to expect in Chrome? If Chrome provides the APIs that future cross-platform applications use, could “hide the clutter” be part of the structure of the GUI? (I’m not a programmer, so don’t flame me if that didn’t make any sense.)

    Taking that idea to it’s extreme could be the type of real innovation you talk about (new ideas). I like the idea of a browser/GUI/window drawing system that knows how to hide the clutter of itself, and gives developers easy tools for doing likewise.

  2. Zack Hyde

    Cf. Google Docs full screen mode and, interestingly, Hulu’s “Lower lights” option.

    Hulu even has a full-screen mode, so their “lower lights” feature is curious. But it seems to be a real concrete, overt example of the exact type of “hide the clutter” feature you’re dicussing.

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