Scalable Fabric: Flexible Task Management

George Robertson, Eric Horvitz, Mary Czerwinski, Patrick Baudisch, Dugald Hutchings,Brian Meyers, Daniel Robbins, Greg Smith

Microsoft Research
One Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA 98052

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Our studies have shown that as displays become larger, users leave more windows open for easy multitasking. A larger number of windows, however, may increase the time that users spend arranging and switching between tasks. We present Scalable Fabric, a task management system designed to address problems with the proliferation of open windows on the PC desktop. Scalable Fabric couples window management with a flexible visual representation to provide a focus-plus-context solution to desktop complexity. Users interact with windows in a central focus region of the display in a normal manner, but when a user moves a window into the periphery, it shrinks in size, getting smaller as it nears the edge of the display. The window “minimize” action is redefined to return the window to its preferred location in the periphery, allowing windows to remain visible when not in use. Windows in the periphery may be grouped together into named tasks, and task switching is accomplished with a single mouse click. The spatial arrangement of tasks leverages human spatial memory to make task switching easier. We review the evolution of Scalable Fabric over three design iterations, including discussion of results from two user studies that were performed to compare the experience with Scalable Fabric to that of the Microsoft Windows XP TaskBar.

Keywords: Task management, multitasking, spatial memory, interruption and recovery.

In: Proceedings of Advanced Visual Interfaces (AVI 2004), Gallipoli, Italy, May 2004. ACM Press, pp. 85-89. (pdf)

Download the Scalable Fabric prototype

Scalable Fabric is a prototoype task management system for the Windows desktop. Please note that this is a research prototype, not a polished product. Nevertheless, we've been getting some good feedback from people who have been trying it out. When running, a central focus area, defined by you, contains windows that behave in the traditional way. When you drag a window into the periphery, it becomes smaller and continues to get smaller the closer you get to the edge of the screen. This makes it possible to keep windows open all the time, and change "minimize" to mean "return to the periphery". Groups of windows can easily be created to represent different user tasks. Switching between groups is done simply by clicking on the task marker flag.

We'd love your feedback on the prototype:

Scalable Fabric prototype showing the representation of three tasks as clusters of windows, and a single window being dragged from the focus area into the periphery.

Adding a window to a task, via dragging the window into a task cluster.