Conserving Screen Height: Killing “Height Cruft”

With the onset of HD, monitors are now wider than they are tall. Great for video, but not for computing.

If you’re a developer, consider screen height a limited, precious resource. Conserve it. Trade width for height. Kill height cruft. (Can I coin that?)

Button bars: traditionally horizontal at the top of the app. Can you make it vertical, to the left or right?

Even the traditional menu bar (“File Edit View … Tools Window Help”) crowds you down by its height.

Case study: Amazon’s Instant Video in Internet Explorer. IE adds menu items and multiple button bars at the top. Then amazon’s web-site adds its headers across the top. The video winds up a tiny fraction of its potential size, squeezed by all the height cruft. Not to blame Amazon: there’s a “full screen” button, and F11 in IE takes away a bunch of stuff (if you know about it).

The lesson: when every layer adds its own, it compounds.

Software developers take heed.

As a user, there’s lots you can do to conserve height.

Did you know you can put the Windows task bar to the left or right? I put mine to the left, as narrow as possible. You lose a little of the icons’ descriptions, but mousing over gives them back. It flushes out some bugs, too: some programs start in the upper left corner, winding up under the task bar. (To move the task bar, put the mouse on the middle top edge and drag it to the middle left.)

Most software today lets you move menu bars, and the best ones let you dock them to the left or right, making them vertical. Very nice, though they can truncate text menus. Your word processor has several: don’t live with them crowding you. It’s worth retraining your eye to work with them vertically. (Convince your complaining co-workers, too.)

For working with source code, height is particularly valuable. Source-code flows down, and seeing more at once is better. I have a two-monitor set-up on my desk-top, and my cheap, last-generation NVidia video card lets me turn one monitor sideways. A $40 monitor stand and you’re in business. This has been an indispensable productivity boost for me. Don’t work with all horizontal monitors.

When looking at code, can you bump your font-size down one? You’ll see a lot more.

Update. I promise I’m not making this up: one day after this pontification a client passes along a request to do exactly this: rearrange things to conserve screen height in a program I wrote a couple years ago. File this under eerily prescient or physician heal thyself?