February 25th, 2005 • 12:57 am
A while back, I wrote about the problems with the single-window interface used in GarageBand. In a nutshell, one fundamental problem is that GarageBand still uses the “document window” paradigm — complete with Close, Minimize, and Maximize buttons in the window’s title bar and with a “ ” menu in the menu bar — even though you can only ever have one document window open at any given time.
This inevitably leads to all kinds of non-standard behaviours. In GarageBand 1.x, for example, when you closed a document window — the document window, as a matter of fact — instead of just staying open with no document window open, GarageBand would automatically open the “Open File” dialog box, in order to make the user understand that GarageBand could not be used without a document window open.
Obviously, Apple realized that this was a bit of a problem — so they’ve changed things in GarageBand 2. Now, what happens when you close the current document window is that GarageBand opens this weird, non-standard window with two buttons inviting you to either create a new project or open an existing project.
Is this an improvement? Hardly. For example, like all other document-based applications, GarageBand has an “Open File” dialog box.” menu item in its “ ” menu. This “ ” menu item gives you access to a submenu listing the most recent GarageBand projects you’ve been working on. You can thus directly open one of those recent projects without going through the “
The trouble is that this “” menu only works when a document window is open. If you close the document window and GarageBand 2 reverts to this non-standard window with the two buttons, the “ ” menu item in the “ ” menu stays active, but the contents of the “ ” submenu are entirely disabled!
In other words, when the non-standard window with the two buttons is open, the user cannot use the “” feature. This doesn’t make any sense at all. It is precisely when GarageBand 2 is in this state where no project is open that the user might want to open one of the projects he’s recently worked on!
Dear oh dear. Sometimes you really do wonder what goes through a software engineer’s head.
Yes, the fact that GarageBand can only have one project window open at any given time makes it different from other document-based applications. But then GarageBand engineers need to assume responsibility for this non-standard behaviour and design an interface that makes sense! This makes no sense whatsoever.
Clearly, Apple engineers are struggling with the interface for single-window applications, because the standard application design in Mac OS X includes a “” menu (which assumes that there can be more than one window to list in that menu), a “ ” menu with a “ ” command, etc.
Here’s a quick review of other Apple applications that are single-window based and how they behave in Mac OS X:
- GarageBand 2: As we’ve just seen, when the user closes the main window, GarageBand opens this non-standard window with two buttons inviting the user to either open an existing project or create a new one. And the “ ” menu is disabled, even though this application state is precisely a state where the user might want to use this menu.
- iPhoto: If the user closes the main window, iPhoto quits!
- iTunes: If the user closes the main window, you have to use the special “ ” menu command in the “ ” menu to reopen the window. Alternatively, you can click on the iTunes icon in the Dock, which somehow also forces iTunes to reopen the main window.
- iMovie HD: Same as with GarageBand 2. If the user closes the main window, iMovie opens this proprietary window with three buttons: “Create a New Project“, “Open an Existing Project” and “Make a Magic iMovie“. But at least in iMovie the “ ” menu still works!
- iDVD 5: Same as with iMovie HD and GarageBand 2. If the user closes the main window, iMovie opens this proprietary window with three buttons: “Create a New Project“, “Open an Existing Project” and “OneStep DVD” (two verbs and one noun — more inconsistency, Apple). And the “ ” menu does not work either!
- iSync: If the user closes the main window, iSync quits!
- Image Capture: Similar to iTunes, except that the window can be reopened through the “ ” menu instead of the “ ” menu.
- Mail: Mail actually supports multiple “Viewer Windows“, even though it’s mostly a single-window based application. So for this particular application, the multiple document windows interface still works — sort of.
- System Preferences: If the user closes the main window, System Preferences quits!
- Address Book: If the user closes the main window, Address Book stays open and the main window can be reopened through with an “Address Book” window as an open window, whether it’s open or not. ” item in the “ ” menu. It is similar to iTunes, but with yet more inconsistency: In Mac OS X applications, the bottom section of the “ ” menu is supposed to list currently open windows. In Address Book, it always lists the main “
Shall I stop here? This is really quite embarrassing for Apple. In single-window applications, it’s far too easy to close the main window by simply clicking on its Close button — and then what? Well, as this list demonstrates, things are completely inconsistent. Some applications will quit automatically. Others will stay open with no obvious way to reopen the main window. Others will stay open with a non-standard window with various choices. Others will stay open and the main window can be reopened through a command in the “” menu or elsewhere in the menu bar.
I don’t call this a word-class UI. I call this major interface inconsistency and unpredictability.