windows on the web?

windows.jpg(That’s windows with a small ‘w’)

Steven Garrity discusses web based applications over at Acts of Volition. The following paragraph caught my eye:

“The browser canvas already lives in a window, often in a tab inside that window. Filling it with another set of windows with a set of behaviour that is similar to, but not exactly like the behaviour of the base operating system windows is likely to create a variety of usability issues.”

He also mentions the One Laptop per Child interface and points out that it does away with overlapping windows.

I’ve felt for a long time that overlapping windows are cumbersome. The amount of time spent rearranging them to keep things visible outweighs the flexibility they provide. I tend to run all my apps full screen and use Alt+Tab or the task bar to cycle between them.

Within an application window the problem arises again. We are mercifully moving away from the days where people thought floating palletes and child windows were a good idea. Microsoft dumped the multiple document interface (MDI) several years ago and Macromedia has dumped floating pallets in favour of docked panels in most of it’s apps and this brings a modest improvement.

I don’t know what the ideal solution is. Tab/taskbar like solutions are better than floating windows and panels are better than floating palettes but only slightly. Maybe web style UI design is leading us to a better paradigm A well designed menu system with breadcrumbs and visual clues as to your current location in the system can feel quite comfortable for some types of application. Whether it can be adapted to tasks that are more complex than Email I can’t say for sure. (isn’t it interesting how web applications are leading us back to something that looks suspiciously like the DOS text-based interfaces that were supposedly made obsolete by GUIs?)

It will interesting to see how the new Office UI is received but that has only really tackled one problem – that of bloated menu’s and toolbars. I think there’s still room for improvement. I don’t think it will be anything radically new and it might even be a simple tweak to ideas that are already staring us in the face.