A few thoughts on multitasking and multi-window computing

multitasking - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here

You might have noticed that there have been a few more posts than usual over the last few days. What changed? I simply logged off of everything that was distracting me. IM services, social sites, and a few forums for good measure. It’s amazing how quickly things get done when you don’t have to reply to people on various services all the time, or refresh your Google Reader every 10 seconds to see if something interesting happened since the last time you did. Tablets, and the iPad in particular, is quite limited in doing this sort of multitasking and none of them can do several open windows on the same screen (except for widgets). At times that’s a problem, but other times it’s a real blessing.

Women tend to say that men can’t multitask. Obviously they haven’t seen the taskbar on my computer. I run a dual-monitor setup and the iPad on a stand beside the rest, so essentially 3 displays craving attention. It seems that no matter what program I’m using on the computer, at least two others are blinking in the task bar. Incoming IM chat, incoming Skype call, Windows wanting to update itself or just my bloody anti virus popping by to say that it just finished updating by itself. If you can update by yourself, why do you feel the need to involve me when you’re done? And why, in the name of Thor, does that “Windows will automatically reboot in (choose option)” thing still not have a “never” option? I turn off the computer every day, if you can wait 4 hours you can wait 10.

At least social services can be closed, as long as you remember to do that when you need a bit of peace. I fully believe that if you’re logged on, you can’t blame people for thinking you’re available, but it’s still a pain to see those blinking windows when you’re trying to get something done. Closing the program right when someone talks to you is just rude, so then you’re stuck- and it makes it a pain to resume the conversation later when you actually do want to chat but deleted all the messages by closing the program.

Even when everything is closed and put away and your full focus is on what you were supposed to do, it doesn’t take long before something happens. The classic here for me is that everything gets really slow because I forgot to close Photoshop when I edited those article pictures and it has now joined up with Firefox to eat up the rest of my RAM. Another classic is the iPhone’s (and iPad’s) push notification system, which just had to beep a little to let me know some random thing just happened in some random app. For the record, I disabled that feature. I’ve also made the mistake of letting people know I can fix computers…which seems to generate just a few less emails and phone calls than putting out an ad in the paper saying you’re giving away money to anyone who wants some.

What I’m getting at is that while a full computer experience can certainly be more productive because it’s inherently a more powerful system, it can also be a pain in the ass when all you want to do is focus on a single task. That is why I’ve started to gravitate more and more to the iPad, simply because it doesn’t have all that crap going on everywhere. It can multitask (sort of), but it’s not the same as a computer where everything has full access to bug you constantly. You get one window, one app to concentrate on at a time and sometimes that is all you want. Unfortunately tablets are focusing more and more on multitasking as well, and for me that is not good news (though I understand people who think it’s great).

Another thing I’ve never been a fan of is widgets. The recent Honeycomb event showed off a lot of widgets on the Android home screen, and that is just another thing that I disagree with most people about the usefulness of.  For me, it’s enough that the email app shows how many unread emails I have- I’ll read them as I see them anyways, so I have no need to see the subject in a widget filter anything. If I want to know what the weather will be, I’ll check the weather app once- I don’t need to see it every time I’m at the homescreen. With dozens of RSS feeds to catch up on I certainly don’t want to have those cluttering my display, as I wouldn’t get anything done with a new story popping up every few minutes. Distractions, distractions, distractions- just like on my PC, and I don’t want it on my tablet.

I realize I might be the odd one out with this hatred for anything that remotely resembles a computer experience on tablets, but so be it. All I know is that I’m far less stressed when I’m, doing something on my iPad than when I’m doing something on my computer. This is also true for school, where I now use my iPad instead of my laptop. When you can’t just pop over to Facebook for a second every time the lecturer stops to breath, you end up paying more attention as well. This is why I think tablets are better choices for schools than laptops, because it will make it so much harder for students to pay a little attention- either you’re all in, or all out. Then again, I’m a man, so it might just be that the women were right all along.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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