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The Desktop Metaphor and Computer Operating Systems

RT Cunningham | December 17, 2020 (UTC) | Computers

desktop metaphorWhen you read or hear the term “desktop metaphor”, it almost always refers to the graphical user interface for one operating system or another. The term was coined in 1970 and one of the first computers to use it was the Commodore 64 in 1983.

All modern home computers use an operating system that employs the desktop metaphor in one way or another. Servers tend to employ command line interfaces only.

The Desktop Metaphor on Windows, Macintosh and Linux

I’m not familiar with anything concerning macOS and Macintosh computers, but I can look at Google Images as easily as anyone else. Just like Windows and Linux, there are components that exemplify the desktop metaphor.

The one thing that irritates me is when bloggers and writers use the desktop metaphor incorrectly, trying to say which Linux desktop environments are more suited to former Windows users based on their preconceived notions. In my opinion only, the Cinnamon desktop environment is one of the easiest to use, and I like using it. I’m not a Linux beginner.

Modern smartphones use the desktop metaphor as well, even if it seems like they don’t. Like the desktop environment of Windows 10, the Android and iOS desktop environments are needlessly complicated.

Desktop Environments

Desktop environments include familiar desktop components, even if they’re hidden behind menus. The text editor can be equated to writing paper or stationery of the past. The calculator mimics one in the real world. If you look through your applications, you can probably find more.

Some items perform the same functions, regardless of what they’re called. The panel, taskbar and dock serve the same purposes. Some people use more than one. You can place application shortcuts on any of them, as well as the desktop screen itself. The start menu can be called anything, but menu alone would be the simplest. Unless you use an off-the-wall environment, all of these can be hidden until you trigger them into view.

Various desktop environments offer applets, desklets, extensions and widgets to enhance various applications. I can’t tell you which are which except for Cinnamon, which employs all of those except widgets. I don’t like desktop environments like KDE or Windows 10 because everything I need to do should be no more than two clicks or two taps away.

That’s why I like Linux Mint and the Cinnamon desktop environment. Linux Mint offers alternate desktop environments, Mate and Xfce, but Cinnamon is their flagship environment. For me, Cinnamon rocks when I change the layout and replace things.

I use the Cinnamenu applet for my menu instead of the one provided by default. No applications are pinned to the panel, and they only appear in the left zone when they’re open. The standard system applets are on the opposite side. Other applets I’ve added appear in the center zone. I keep nothing on the desktop screen itself, so I never need to minimize the windows. I just alt-tab through the ones that are open until I close one or more of them.

Photo Attribution: Dvortygirl, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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