Mail 2.0: Mouse pointer behaviour and vertical scroll bar in window of message being composed

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Mail
July 12th, 2005 • 2:13 am

What is wrong with this picture?

Mail - Resize corner

Quite simply, it’s the fact that my mouse pointer is over the corner of the window, which is a control that can be dragged to resize the window. Yet the mouse pointer is still an “I-beam” type of cursor, which absolutely no indication that this area of the window is indeed a control, and not part of the main area of the window, where text can be inserted (hence the I-beam cursor).

In order to indicate that this is a control that can be clicked on and dragged, the mouse pointer should change from the I-beam to the left-pointing arrow. But it doesn’t. In other words, the user is simply supposed to know that this is a control that can be clicked on and dragged.

Of course, most users do know this, because the corner of the window looks exactly like the corner of other resizable windows in Mac OS X, and users have enough experience resizing other windows to know that this will work here too, even though the cursor doesn’t change.

Still, it’s no excuse.

The snap shot above was taken in Mac OS X’s Mail 2.0, when composing a new message. By default, the body of a new message window is empty, and because of this there is no vertical scroll bar on the right-hand side. But because of this, there is also no visual demarcation between the body of the message and the bottom-left corner with the Resize button.

As soon as the body of the message becomes long enough to warrant the apparition of a vertical scroll bar, this vertical scroll bar appears above the Resize button and, by some trick of magic, it also causes a thin vertical line to appear on the left-hand side of the Resize control.

And, of course, now the mouse pointer changes from the I-beam to the arrow when the mouse is over the control:

Mail - Resize corner with scroll bar

I am afraid this is not acceptable. It’s even less acceptable when you look at what happens when you open an existing message (received from someone else) in a separate window. When you do that, regardless of the actual length of the body text of the message, there is a vertical scroll bar visible on the right. If the body is not long enough to justify the presence of a scroll bar, the scroll bar is simply disabled. But it’s not invisible!

Why the inconsistency?

I checked in Mail 1.3 and — guess what? — there is a disabled vertical scroll bar in new message windows as well? So this is something that Apple changed in Mail 2.0, thereby creating a new inconsistency and an inappropriate behaviour for the mouse pointer. (It is also rather disturbing to see the text of a message being composed suddenly reflow in your window when the scroll bar suddenly appears because your body has become long enough to make it appear.)

Sometimes I must say the decisions that Apple engineers make really puzzle me. Is the little bit of horizontal space gained by making this vertical scroll bar disappear until it’s needed really worth all the problems that it introduces?

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