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Apple seeks patent for see-through windows

Transparent windows are a hallmark of Apple Computer's operating system that are also slated for the next version of Microsoft's Windows. Apple is looking to lock up rights to some variations.

Apple Computer is looking to patent a method of making windows within the operating system translucent, a feature that Microsoft plans to add to the next version of Windows.

Translucent windows have been a steady feature of Mac OS X since its inception in 2001 and have also shown up as a planned feature for Longhorn--the next major version of Windows, due in 2006.

Apple's patent application, however, appears to focus on a particular way of doing translucency, specifically windows that become more see-through after they are unused for a period of time.

"The translucency can be graduated so that, over time, if the window's contents remain unchanged, the window becomes more translucent," Apple said in the abstract of its filing. The application, which was filed in November, was made public by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last week.

It is not clear whether Microsoft has any intentions of using this particular approach in its Aero and Aero Glass user interfaces within Longhorn. The company showed translucent windows in demonstrations of Longhorn at last year's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles and at the recent Windows Hardware Engineering Conference (WinHEC) in Seattle.

Microsoft does already have a feature that appears similar to the technique Apple describes. In Outlook 2003, a preview of incoming e-mails can be displayed in the lower right corner, where they grow fainter until, if not clicked on, they disappear.

Asked at a software conference whether Microsoft appeared to be borrowing Apple's techniques, Apple chief software technology officer Avie Tevanian said, "We focus on our own stuff. If they borrow some ideas, great. That makes the world a better place."

A Microsoft representative declined to comment on Apple's filing. An Apple spokesperson also declined to discuss the patent request.

As part of its application, Apple also described a feature that would allow the user to work through an unused window. "Upon reaching a certain level of visual translucency, user input in the region of the window is interpreted as an operation on the underlying objects rather than the contents of the overlaying window," Apple said.

The company, known for its graphical computing advances, was recently awarded a patent for the interface used in the iTunes music software.