What if web pages could have transparent background?

November 04, 2010

I stare a lot at browsers every day. You can do many effects with CSS. As you expand, though, you will hit the browser chrome (with small “c”), the rectangular box/content area with a scroll bar and maybe status and other stuff. Browser UI-s have become more minimal recently, but you’re still bound to the box, and pages always need to have a background.

What if this wasn’t the case, though?

What if web pages could have transparent background?

Here’s a shitty mockup I made in one minute of a well-known site. I didn’t think through what to do with the top part, so I kept it as is, and literally just cropped out the page background.

What if web pages could have transparent background?

It was a random thought so I did not put much thought or work into execution, but it feels so different from a regular browser. I conveniently avoided the question of what happens to “below the fold” content that’s taller than your desktop, how does scrolling work, and all that. But, I think there’s something there. Especially given we’re moving to touch technologies and more direct manipulation also on the desktop.

Many popular web pages have this kind of fixed-width design, with just padding on the sides. That padding is only added because the browser box needs to be filled with something. I just say that the “something” does not need to exist at all.

The neat thing is, this is all buildable with today’s web technologies. You need to think through what the viewport and all that is—the whole desktop?—but, none of those details are showstoppers.

Kristjan says in comments that this is similar to Active Desktop. Yes and no. It is similar in the sense that AD had technology to put web stuff on your desktop and have them blend together. I think some Windows Gadgets also work like that. But AD required you to publish some “channel” in some special format, whereas I am talking about regular web pages. And unlike AD, I am not saying this should be permanently embedded on your desktop. I am thinking it still works like a regular browser—you can open/close “tabs”/pages as you like, move them around etc, not have them sit there permanently.