Friday, January 19, 2007

Computer makers cut down on desktop clutter

Cleaning up the desktop ...

"Not so long ago, firing up a brand new computer was a little like jumping into a virtual flea market: You never knew who would show up to hawk their wares.

The computer's most valuable piece of real estate, the desktop that appears on the screen at startup, would be filled with trial versions of all kinds of programs. A greeting-card creator, perhaps, or a strange car-racing game or that onetime ever-present America Online software.

Although Microsoft owns the Windows operating system on most consumer PCs, the company has no say in what programs come preinstalled. That's left to computer makers, a policy that was reinforced in the company's 2001 settlement with the Department of Justice. Those guidelines will continue with the launch of the Windows Vista operating system, which will be available to businesses at the end of this month and to consumers in January.

But the desktop is changing, trimming away the extras in favor of a simpler experience. Lately, computer makers have been cutting down on the number of icons on computer desktops, analysts say, even though the sacrifice could mean losing valuable revenue as the prices of machines continue to drop.

"A clean-desk policy seems less intimidating to a novice user," said Steve Kleynhans, an analyst with Gartner. But most PC makers still include large amounts of add-on software because those deals can mean making a profit or taking a loss on each PC sold, he said.

The difference these days is that rather than cluttering up the desktop, Kleynhans said, computer makers are tucking those items into the start menu or hiding them behind a single installation icon.

"This allows the PC maker to guide the user through the first steps of the out-of-box experience without simply presenting them with a sea of icons," he said.

Hewlett-Packard displays an average of 10 icons on consumer desktops and notebooks, said Bob Portilla, business-development manager. One program given a high priority is a Norton Internet security package from Symantec; internal research shows that security is a top purchase motivator for PC buyers."    (Continued via The Seattle Times)    [Usability Resources]

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