Windowing Basics

[As posted to SteamPowered.com… but applicable to many other programs. Why don’t developers get the easy stuff right?? Most programming tools provide basic window management as a template.]

I think Valve is doing a tremendous job with Steam, but has oddly ignored the basics. These are things I’ve expected to see fixed with each new patch, yet they’ve never been addressed.

  1. Colors. Why are all the available color schemes so totally illegible? How about, oh, I don’t know… black on white? Or Windows-standard, according to the Control Panel settings? Or user-definable? Instead, we get gray on lavender, or beige on mushroom… reminds me of those dot images they use to test for color blindness.
  2. Window sizing. I keep the Steam window in compact form against the left edge of my screen. Once in a while, I click the arrow icon to go to wide view. When I click it again, the window narrows – towards the right edge, leaving it in the middle of the screen! This is so annoying that I click on Valve’s various advertising views much less often than I would otherwise. So it would be to the company’s benefit to fix this. The window should respect ‘stickiness.’ If it’s stuck to the left edge, it should stay stuck.
  3. Shutdown. There should be an option to make ‘X’ mean ‘shut this program down.’ That’s the Windows standard. I know Valve would like me to leave Steam running for all eternity, but that just ain’t gonna happen. My computer is used for too many other things, and already has too much junk running in the background. So I have to remember to use File-Exit, or right-click on the Tray icon. Listen: I am going to shut it down, so you might as well make it easy for me. (I don’t even care if you leave ‘run forever’ as the default; those who care will find the option.)
  4. Lots more… but it’s mostly been said before. How about the ability to group game titles in different ways. Or customize columns. Rename games. Create a ‘wish list’ (like on Amazon). Etc.

The Steam window is the main part of our ‘Steam experience.’ If Valve wants us to live in it and explore it, they need to make it more convenient. This is not rocket science; this is the easy, basic stuff. Why not fix it first?


Update: My post on the Steam forums drew a response from a very reasonable Valve person. After a bit of back-and-forth debate, I forgot all about it. Imagine my amazement a few weeks later when I logged into Steam and found that my point 2 had been fixed! Apparently, it had never occurred to them before that anyone would dock the Steam window to the left side of the screen. But once I’d brought it up, they got on the case. Shortly after that, I noticed that another long-standing request was fulfilled, with the addition of ClearType font-smoothing support.

Got to hand it to Valve — I’ve haven’t seen this kind of responsiveness from a software company in a very long time. Maybe ever. If these guys can keep it up, they should go a very long way.

About fung0

Long-time tech journalist. Contributor to numerous periodicals, online sites and TV productions in the US and Canada. Author of several books on computing topics. Graduate mechanical engineer (Queen's U).

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