Thursday, September 21, 2006 [Tweets] [Favorites]

What Happened to the Menu Bars?

Shell Blog (via Dan Crevier):

One of the first things people notice when they start using Vista is the absence of menu bars.  Explorer, photo gallery, media player, and IE all don’t show menus by default and just use the so-called “command module.”  What is up with that?  Do we hate menu bars?  And more importantly—what is the guidance that third-party developers are supposed to follow?  Let me break it down for you.

Update: John Gruber adds:

This trend is dangerous for Adobe, methinks—it’s getting less and less tenable for them to continue shipping Mac and Windows apps that are so similar in design. They’re either going to ship Mac versions that don’t feel Mac-like, Windows versions that don’t feels Windows-like, or, both.

I was going to write something about how his first option is already happening, but then this post from Derek K. Miller popped into NetNewsWire, saving me the trouble.

4 Comments

"This trend is dangerous for Adobe, methinks—it’s getting less and less tenable for them to continue shipping Mac and Windows apps that are so similar in design. They’re either going to ship Mac versions that don’t feel Mac-like, Windows versions that don’t feels Windows-like, or, both."

I think it is pretty clear what will happen in cases like this: absent an incredibly compelling UI reason to abandon menus in their applications, Adobe will continue to use the "Mac like" interface that it currently has (including menus).

There are two reasons for this. First, inertia is on the side of menus. Users are accustomed to them and expect them, even if Microsoft advocates something else. The Itanium fiasco demonstrated that even a monopoly cannot unilaterally overcome serious inertia - Intel continues to fund Itanium to this day, but no one believes that the entire industry will now be realigned around Itanium.

Second, intentionally or not, Microsoft is advocating the abandonment of anything resembling a "Windows UI" - the rules are basically now "do whatever you want, within some very hazy guidelines." Thus, it would be impossible for Adobe to do a wholescale redesign of Photoshop around the "Windows UI," because that term ceases to have significant meaning. As Tom Schelling said, "An army on a featureless plain cannot rally around a point" - if there is no clear UI paradigm that displays itself consistently across applications, there will be nothing for Adobe et al to design around.

I guess it takes a narrowly-focused software developer to not realize that an Edit menu is standard because you will almost always run into a situation where you will need to copy/paste some text (or maybe an object).

So if we need to copy a URL or a piece of text in a news reader we must use the contextual menu? How do you apply universal access (section 508 compliance) in that case? Use hidden contextual editing commands?

Good lord, standardization exists for a reason and it is not to make uber geeks roll their eyes when they launch an app with an Edit menu.

Thanks for the link. I'm glad my rant got some traction. Whether anyone at Adobe might take it seriously is another question.

It's moronic of Microsoft, and both Apple and them are running out of ideas for improving the GUI they ripped off from Xerox. Icons, windows, and menu bars. That has not been improved upon. Now people are mobile, less patient, and generally dumber. Computers are having their tools removed (rearranged or hidden, at least) and a more streamlined, dumbed-down, passive interface presented to them with just a few "features for the masses" showing up for them to choose from.

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