FIELD OF THE INVENTION
- BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present invention relates to window-based user interfaces, and more particularly to a method and system for providing improved on-screen window ordering.
Almost all of today's personal computers are controlled by operating systems that have a window-based user interface. Most of these operating systems are capable of multitasking in which multiple programs execute simultaneously, and each program displays a window on a display screen for user interaction. The ability to resize application windows and change style and size of fonts are the significant advantages of a GUI versus a character-based interface. Window-based GUIs have become the standard way users interact with computers, and the major GUIs include Windows™ and Mac™ along with Motif for UNIX and the GNOME and KDE interfaces for Linux.
FIG. 1 is a block diagram illustrating a conventional computer system with a window-based user interface. As is well known, a typical personal-computer (PC) system 10 includes a microprocessor and memory (not shown) for executing computer programs, various input devices, e.g., keyboard 12 and mouse 14, and a display screen 16.
Depending on the number of computer programs running, the display screen 16 may display any number of open windows 18 a and 18 b (collectively referred to as windows 18), each awaiting user input. Example types of computer programs include spreadsheets, word processors, and Web browsers. Depending on the arrangement and number of windows 18 displayed, it is common for the windows 18 to overlap so that some windows 18 partially or completely obscure other windows 18. To manage the display of windows 18, the operating system typically views the windows 18 as a stack and maintains an ordering of the windows 18 with respect to display depth.
The mouse 14, or other type of input device, may be used to move a mouse pointer 20 among the various windows 18. The user typically activates a particular window 18 by clicking the mouse pointer 20 anywhere on the window 18. When a window 18 is activated, i.e., becomes the active window 18 a, it is displayed in its entirety on top of all other windows 18 b and is the only window that can receive user input. The user typically interacts with the active window 18 a by selecting or entering data in the window 18, or by selecting menu functions associated with the window 18.
Although windows 18 can be moved to open areas of the screen and/or resized, the current window management schema makes it difficult for user to juggle more than a very few windows 18 at a time without obscuring other windows 18 that are being used. When one window 18 a that the user wishes to interact with is obscured by another, the user must take extra steps to return the window 18 b to the forefront. This can be terribly annoying at times, particularly as the number of windows 18 being juggled increases.
One attempted solution to this problem is disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 5,046,001, which describes a method for accessing selected windows in a multitasking system. In this method, user inputs are monitored to determine the position of a cursor, and as the cursor passes over each window, the window is automatically promoted to the top display position and made active. The problem this method, however, is that the user can quickly lose control of which windows are promoted to the top of the display. Consider for example, the situation where there are many tiled windows displayed and the user needs to move the cursor to the side of the display screen 16 to select a program icon. Assuming that the cursor passes over each of the tiled windows on its way to the icon, each of the windows would pop to the top of the display in quick succession whether the user wanted them to or not. Rearranging the depth order of the windows in this fashion without user consent could be distracting and annoying to the user in certain situations.
- SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Accordingly, what is needed is an improved method for ordering on-screen windows. The method should retain the original depth ordering of the windows, but also allow inactive windows to be used as though they were active. The present invention addresses such a need.
The present invention provides a method and system for ordering on-screen windows for display in which an active window partially overlaps an inactive window and hides a portion of the inactive window. The movement of a mouse pointer is monitored to determine its location on the screen. In response to the inactive window being selected with the mouse pointer, the inactive window is given focus to enable the inactive window to receive event signals even though a portion of the inactive window remains hidden.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
According to the method and system disclosed herein, the present invention enables a user to interact with inactive windows as though they were active without upsetting the original display depths of the windows. In addition, the user must physically select an inactive window to provide it focus before hidden parts of the inactive window can be made to appear, thereby overcoming the problems inherent in automatically bringing to the forefront any window that the mouse pointer passes over.
FIG. 1 is a block diagram illustrating a conventional computers system having a window-based user interface.
FIG. 2 is a flow chart illustrating a process for intelligently ordering on-screen windows for display in accordance with a preferred embodiment of the present invention.
FIG. 3 is a block diagram showing two open windows displayed on the screen.
FIG. 4 is a block diagram showing an inactive window being made the active window and brought to the forefront of the screen.
FIG. 5 is a block diagram illustrating the screen once the inactive window is given focus.
FIG. 6 is a block diagram illustrating the screen showing the once hidden portion of the inactive window being displayed in response to movement of the mouse pointer when the window has focus.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
FIGS. 7A and 7B are block diagrams illustrating the process of displaying hidden portions of the inactive window when one or more intervening windows are displayed between the active window and inactive window.
The present invention relates to a method for managing the display of windows in a window-based computer system. The following description is presented to enable one of ordinary skill in the art to make and use the invention and is provided in the context of a patent application and its requirements. Various modifications to the preferred embodiments and the generic principles and features described herein will be readily apparent to those skilled in the art. Thus, the present invention is not intended to be limited to the embodiments shown, but is to be accorded the widest scope consistent with the principles and features described herein.
The present invention provides an improved system for managing window-based environments that reduces the need for a user to mandate the position, dimensions, layered depth (i.e., the number of windows that a particular window is from being in the forefront, or the number of windows away that the particular window is from being the active window), and maximized/minimized status. The present invention accomplishes its objectives by changing what occurs when an inactive window is clicked, and how the window then behaves when the window is not in the forefront.
The present invention provides a mechanism that allows the user to interact with an inactive window as though the window was at the forefront without changing the relative display depths the windows. This mechanism is referred to as giving an inactive window focus and operates as follows. When the user moves the mouse pointer over an inactive window and clicks on a visible portion of the inactive window, the inactive window is given focus, meaning that the window receives even signals, even though the window is not the “active” window and displayed in the forefront. Once the window is given focus and the user passes the cursor over a hidden portion of the inactive window, the hidden portion of the inactive window is temporarily revealed on the display for user interaction. Once the user moves the cursor away this revealed portion of the window, that portion of the window returns to its hidden state. If the cursor is removed from within the boundaries of the inactive window, focus is automatically returned to the active window.
Thus, because the present invention requires the user to physically select an inactive window before focus is given to that window, the present invention does not suffer the problem of the method that automatically brings a window to the forefront when the mouse pointer is passed over the window. And because the window with focus is not automatically displayed in the forefront and its hidden portions are only temporarily revealed during a mouse pointer pass over, the present invention does not permanently change the relative display depths of the windows.
FIG. 2 is a flow chart illustrating a process for intelligently ordering on-screen windows for display in accordance with a preferred embodiment of the present invention. The process will be explained at a base level where there is at least two open windows displayed on the screen 16, as shown in FIG. 3, which shows an active window 22 partially overlapping an inactive window 24 so that a portion 26 of the inactive window 24 is hidden by the active window 22.
Referring to both FIGS. 2 and 3, the process begins in step 50 by monitoring the movement of the mouse pointer 20 across the screen 16 until the mouse pointer 20 is positioned over any one of the open windows. It is then determined in step 52 if the mouse pointer 20 is over the active window 22. If so, no change is made in step 54.
In step 56, it is determined if the cursor is positioned over any inactive window 24. If yes, then it is determined in step 58 whether the user has selected the inactive window 24. In a preferred embodiment, the user selects an inactive window 24 by clicking with the mouse 14 when the pointer 20 is over the window 24.
According to the present invention, when the user selects an inactive window 24 it must be determined whether the user wishes to make the inactive window 24 the active window, or rather give the inactive window focus so that it can receive user input, while the original depth ordering is maintained. In a preferred embodiment, the distinction is made in step 60 by determining whether the user selects the title bar of the inactive window 24, or instead selects any visible portion of the inactive window 24.
If the user has selected the title bar, typically by clicking on it, then the inactive window 24 is made the active window in step 62 and brought to the forefront of the screen, as shown in FIG. 4.
Referring again to FIG. 2, if the user has clicked on any visible portion of the inactive window 24, then in step 64, the inactive window 24 is given focus. FIG. 5 is a block diagram illustrating the screen 16 once the inactive window 24 is given focus. When the window 24 is given focus, the mouse pointer 20 and/or a cursor 28 are displayed in the window 24 and the window 24 receives all events signals from the user input devices, but the depth ordering of the windows remain unchanged so that some portions 26 of the inactive window 24 remain hidden.
Referring again to FIG. 2, once the window 24 is given focus, it is determined in step 66 whether the mouse pointer 20 is moved over a hidden portion 26 of the window 24. If the mouse pointer 20 has been moved over the hidden portion 26, then in step 68 the hidden portion 26 is revealed on the screen.
FIG. 6 is a block diagram illustrating the screen 16 showing the once hidden portion 26 of window 24 being displayed in response to movement of the mouse pointer 20 when the window 24 has focus. Once displayed, the once hidden portion 26 of window 24 is also able to receive even signals because all displayed areas of window 24 are given focus. Note, although the example shows all of window 24 being displayed, window 22 remains the active window, which is typically indicated by displaying a highlighted title bar in the active window 22 and displaying a grayed-out title bar in the inactive window 24.
Referring again to FIG. 2, if it is determined that the mouse pointer 20 is moved away from the portion 26 of the window 24 that would normally be hidden in step 70, then that portion 26 of the window 24 is returned to its hidden state in step 76, as shown in FIG. 5. If the mouse pointer 20 is not moved away, then step 70 is repeated to keep checking.
If the mouse pointer 20 is not moved over a hidden portion 26 in step 66, then in step 72 it is determined if the mouse pointer 20 is from within the boundaries of the inactive window 24. If yes, then in step 74, focus is automatically returned to the active window 22 and the movement of the mouse pointer 20 continues to be monitored. If the mouse pointer is not moved outside the boundaries of the inactive window 24, then the process continues by determining if the cursor passes over a hidden portion 26 of the inactive window 24 in step 66.
FIGS. 7A and 7B are block diagrams illustrating the process of displaying hidden portions of the inactive window 24 when one or more intervening windows are displayed between the active window 22 and inactive window 26. FIG. 7A shows an intervening window 30 between active window 22 and window 24, which currently has focus. The windows are positioned such that window 30 hides a portion 32 of window 24 that the active window 22 does not. FIG. 7B shows that if the mouse pointer 20 is moved to the portion 26 of the window 24 hidden by the active window 22, then only that hidden portion 26 of window 24 is displayed. The portion 32 hidden by window 30 remains hidden. Should the mouse pointer 20 pass from portion 26 to portion 32, then portion 26 would return to its hidden state, and portion 32 would be displayed.
A method and system for ordering on-screen windows has been disclosed. The present invention has been described in accordance with the embodiments shown, and one of ordinary skill in the art will readily recognize that there could be variations to the embodiments, and any variations would be within the spirit and scope of the present invention. Accordingly, many modifications may be made by one of ordinary skill in the art without departing from the spirit and scope of the appended claims.