back to article The secret history of Apple's Stacks

Now almost 35 years old, the desktop metaphor is so enduring, it's even migrated to the smartphone era. Some people call their home screen a "desktop", even though nobody has ever carried around a 3 x 5-inch miniature wooden desk on which they stick things. It's absurd. Back on the personal computer, something else …

  1. Missing Semicolon Silver badge


    Patents aren't renewable things. Patented in 1992, expired in 2017. End of.

    1. Christian Berger Silver badge

      Re: "Renewed"????

      Well actually to have your patent last the maximum amount of time, you need to pay regular fees. Otherwise it will run out much earlier.

      However often with Patents you try to get 2 patents for essentially the same thing. Checking isn't very strict and patent lawyers are here to talk any patent clerk into submission. So essentially they might have just made a new patent about some other aspects of the same thing.

      It's a bit like patenting a new use for a fork, you cannot patent a fork, but you can patent a way of brushing your hair with one.

      1. matjaggard

        Re: "Renewed"????

        I'm going to assume your description of patents refers to American patents. Other countries do better.

  2. malle-herbert Silver badge

    I had 'piles' once...

    They went away after I got some special ointment from the doctor....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I hate it when there's piles...

      Is this where the jokes about pR0n go?

  3. big_D Silver badge


    I must be OCD, because the only icon on my desktop is usually the rubbish bin.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: OCD

      My computer desktop is almost always covered by application windows. It's never felt natural to replicate on it the "nearest available surface filing system"* I have on my real desktop and I get really annoyed when apps default to storing stuff on it like MacOS does with screenshots.

      ML works well when it has easy to understand principles, it is after all just an extension of a rule-based approach. For example, the photos app does a good job of creating automatic retrospectives of trips even if it seems to hammer the CPU when running it.

      * A Pratchettism, of course.

    2. JeffyPoooh Silver badge

      Re: OCD

      My home 'desktop' doesn't even have the Recycle Bin. Just pure Wallpaper.

      My work computer has about a hundred applications, shortcuts and folders.

      Different situation. Content consumption vice content creation.

    3. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: OCD

      Shoot, I'm using FVWM and it doesn't even have icon support.

      It's configured so it doesn't even have the usual max/min/close decorations on the windows... if'n ya don't know the magic keystrokes, yer screwed. Which sure as hell keeps co-workers from using my machine!

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: OCD

        It's configured so it doesn't even have the usual max/min/close decorations on the windows...

        In the Good Old Days, I ran uwm on RT PCs with AOS (BSD) 4.3 and RS/6000s with a similar configuration. No window decorations except a 1-pixel border. No desktop GUI controls; everything was mouse buttons + keyboard modifiers. "Minimizing" reduced the window to a shortened title in a small italic font - just a little colored rectangle with a small bit of text, in place of the normal-size window for that application. (You could drag the minimized windows around if you wanted.)

        Excellent use of screen real estate while minimizing WIMP condescension.

        Alas, uwm eventually disappeared from the X11 distribution and I never got around to recreating it. Now I spend most of my time with Windows and hardly ever run X, so I probably never will. (A lot of the code I work on runs on Linux and various UNIX platforms as well, but they require much less attention than Windows. When they do, I just ssh or telnet into the appropriate box; there's no need for a GUI. If I'm using X it's probably for my Kali VM.)

    4. LateAgain

      Re: OCD

      Which reminds me....

      I heard about an IT person who migrated (or rebuilt - long time ago) a desktop and got it in the neck for losing all the documents.

      The user had them all neatly in folders. In the trashbin. When asked he said it was the one place that could always be found.

  4. RobThBay

    Stardock is still around?

    I didn't know Stardock was still in business. We used to use their programs on OS/2 v4 back in the late 90's.

    1. Stu Wilson

      Re: Stardock is still around?

      Best Windows software ever, Start10, converts that rubbish tiles menu back into a usable menu and gives you control over the shyte Cortana search (aka off thank you very much)

      If only it could put back all the settings menus into actual useful apps instead of the crappy windows touch enabled widget thingys i'd be happier

      But then I'm glad I can turn it all off and use OSX instead, the advantage of virtualisation :D

      1. Steve Evans

        Re: Stardock is still around?

        So like Classic Shell, but not free...?

  5. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    Desktop clutter

    Desktop clutter is just the same problem that most people have - not having an organised way of keeping things. We all do it to some extent, say the "downloads" folder that fills with all sorts of stuff and eventually you have to clear it out to recover many GB of space.

    Some companies have well-structured systems, typically a network share and some corporate standard for how projects, contacts, invoices, etc, are all to be organised and stored in a hierarchical system. That is why directory trees are so good. Also good to have it centrally backed up.

    But it takes either a very organised mind-set, or someone high up clamping down on folk, to get that done. Instead some places in the local file system (like the desktop) become a cache of recent or possibly useful stuff. But it hardly ever gets tidied up in the way you might have to do each week in an office, etc.

    Is there an easy solution? I doubt it, as things like stacks, etc, are just attempts to make an ad-hock file grouping (e.g. folders, directory tree) to do what is not being done by the person. But even the claims of AI to help are unlikely to work well. The other approach of removing the desktop (the sort of move loved by the muppets behind Gnome, for example) is really a bit if intellectual fascism - deciding how you *must* use *your* computer because we tell you so.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Desktop clutter

      I just save on the network and use shortcuts on the desktop. It works, until Windows mixes up the icons.

      DesktopOK in a workaround until MS deigns to fix that problem, in about a decade from now I expect.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Desktop clutter

      "That is why directory trees are so good."

      Yes. But somehow my employer's system is limited to a total pathname length of just 240 characters. And the brain trust that set up the initial directory structure used extremely verbose folder names at multiple levels, leaving only about 80 or 100 characters in which to organize multimillion dollar projects.

      That count includes the filenames, where the other organizational instinct is to keep adding words and dates as filename modifiers, poor man's CM. So the pressure squeezes the middle (the project structure) to death.

      It's hopeless, and nobody involved seems capable of seeing even three steps ahead.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        Re: Desktop clutter

        Map/symlink to a project-specific folder further in?

        While some Windows APIs have a path limit of 260 chars, NTFS itself doesn't. So you can map a drive letter to partway into the structure and cut out the crap you don't need.

        The downside is that you won't be able to navigate in using the "raw" path anymore of course.

      2. JLV Silver badge

        Re: Desktop clutter

        Ouch, but did they commit the ultimate sin and include spaces?

  6. de-em

    Like Windows 3.1 program groups then? (albeit without the 'smart' aspect)

  7. Daniel von Asmuth Bronze badge

    home screen? root window!

    Oh, if any one anything lacks, he'll find it all ready in Hypercard stacks

    [Gilbert and Sullivan]

  8. cutterman

    Unfortunately development of ClassicShell has ceased - I really like it, particularly the old-style 98 cascading menus.

    StarDock's Fences are better than nothing but how in the name of @#$% do I find an app without scrolling through all the crap that I have installed.

    With Classic Shell I could group stuff on the start menu (like Text Apps, or Image Apps and get to them easy) but with Fences I still have to minimize everything to see the furshlugginer damn Fences


  9. Gene Cash Silver badge

    1st image: stack open/closed

    Is that caption backward? or is it just THAT confusing?

  10. TRT Silver badge

    There's one very good reason for keeping a clear desktop...

    And that's simply the number of times that "always needing to be ready to come to the foreground" display redraws and recaches itself. Sucks CPU cycles away trying to achieve a pseudo-responsiveness. Leave the files in a folder that only goes through the whole thumbnail cache refresh business when you open the folder.

  11. vtcodger Silver badge


    How do Stacks/Piles/Fences compare to Workspaces -- which Unix/X-Windows has had for about three decades? Personally, I think I'd find using a PC without workspaces (virtual desktops) or something similar to be extremely confining.

    1. matjaggard

      Re: Workspaces

      Unless I've missed something, they're utterly different.

    2. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: Workspaces

      I think I'd find using a PC without workspaces (virtual desktops) or something similar to be extremely confining.

      Windows has virtual desktops - has had since NT4, actually, though Microsoft didn't actually expose the capability to users for a long time. Even now they don't go to any effort to publicize it.

      You'd probably still find it pretty confining, though. Windows has a way of making everything seem meager.

      But as another person has noted, virtual desktops are nothing like Piles / Stacks / Fences.

  12. aziiff

    better than nothing?

    the danger is false negatives and two many false positives. If you can navidgate that line then this will be awesome. On either side of that line it may be problematic. But i think I'd prefer missing things than having too many things in a pile.

    1. LeahroyNake Bronze badge

      Re: better than nothing?

      Just like the last Windows 10 update ...

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019