Users in their daily work practices typically deal with many pieces of information such as e-mail messages, reports, program source codes, web pages, etc. Due to the complexity of their tasks, users need to handle multiple pieces of information at once. However, the scarcity of the screen space limits their capability to effectively manage their information. The Elastic Windows approach exploits the fact that information is typically hierarchically structured, thus it provides a hierarchical organization of multiple pieces of information. Elastic Windows exploits hierarchical window organization to achieve space scalability, thus to overcome screen space limitations.
Hierarchical window organization has many benefits. It provides users initially with an overview of their information space. The overview consists of only the top-level windows and some of the lower-level windows. Having seen the overview, users are interested to work on a subhierarchy of their information space. Typically, users resize the corresponding subhierarchy window to allocate more screen space. The remaining windows are still visible giving the users orientation within the overview.
Hierarchical window organization also facilitates navigation. Structure of the information, mapped onto hierarchical windows, guides users when exploring large information spaces by allowing them to browse and filter the information space incrementally. Lastly, hierarchical window organization makes multiple levels of information visible and accessible simultaneously. This allows users to skip multiple levels at once, and directly go onto details improving efficiency of browsing and searching tasks.
However, management of hierarchical windows may be more cognitively demanding. Presentation of information in a hierarchy may also require user training. Secondly, information is not always hierarchically structured, yet most information structures can be mapped into a hierarchy. For example, information on the World-Wide Web (WWW) has an inherent graph structure. In order to use Elastic Windows to browse information on the WWW, a mapping is created that transforms the graph structure onto a hierarchy based on users browsing interaction. Similar mappings can be created for different information structures.