Monday, June 25, 2007

The LisaBar - or - Why Apple got it right.

Where those good UI designs came from ...

"In my new job I’m constantly forced to use Microsoft products. And while I have to admit that those products offer some quite astonishing features that can really easy your life, I constantly run into one or another wall, leaving me dazed and making me scratch my head. One of those walls is Microsoft’s inability to decide whether to use SDI or MDI.

The single document interface (SDI) is the user interface paradigm where each document consists of a single window, including its own tools and menu bars. If you have to use/view/edit multiple documents of the same type, each of these documents sits inside its own window, giving the impression that multiple instances of the application are running beside each other, even if that may not be the case. One major drawback of SDI is the increased need of screen estate; since each window has its own controls, those controls take up more space. (And no; bigger screens are no solution to that. But more of that later.)

The multiple document interface (MDI) on the other hand places all document inside a single parent window, creating the illusion of a document workplace. All document use the same toolbars and menubars. The big disadvantage of the MDI is the need for an additional window management interface; because the window manager does only know about the parent window, the application (or the toolkit) has to re-implement all the windowing functions usually provided by the window manager; window placement, window selection, window management.

Now in its long history the Microsoft Office suite has had many changes. And a lot of those changes revolved around the question whether to use SDI or MDI. In the beginning, MS Office used SDI for all its components. Then it changed them to MDI, and finally back to SDI again. But to make things worse, many components have their own definitions of how a MDI or SDI should behave. Excel for example behaves like user interface hermaphrodite, showing characteristics of both MDI and SDI. This is very confusing.

The root of all evil lies within the ways Microsoft chose to design their user interface. Back in ‘84, when the first version of windows arrived in the market, Microsoft took the liberty to very generously ‘borrow’ from the Lisa user interface. Now Apple did not invent the graphical user interface, Xerox did. But that’s another story. However; when Microsoft borrowed those concepts, they knew that they were on very shaky terrain. And since they didn’t want to get into a lawsuit (which they got anyway) they changed some aspects of the user interface.

On of those aspects was the unification of the menu bar and the application interface; whereas the Apple’s document interface consisted of the whole screen, Microsoft’s document interface consisted only of the documents own windows."    (Continued via Federkiel)    [Usability Resources]

Apple Lisa Interface - Usability, User Interface Design

Apple Lisa Interface


Post a Comment

<< Home

<< Home