Is The About Window Worthless?

Maybe I’m just a jaded Mac user (since 1986) and I’m so used to seeing an About Window in an application that I’ve just assumed that it *should* be there.  Never one to challenge anyone else opinions (yeah right) I decided to do some digging.

Apples Human Interface Guidelines says this:

About window  A modeless window that displays an application’s version and copyright information.

They don’t say that it’s optional but they don’t say that it’s required but I’ve NEVER seen a Mac desktop application (games are the exception on all platforms) that doesn’t have one.  From this we’ve learned that the About Window displays the version and copyright information.

My friends other argument was that this information is found in other places so it’s a waste of space.  On Mac OS X you can find this by using Get Info after clicking on the executable.  I’ll buy that, but why should I have a customer go to the Finder, find the executable and then right click on it or make sure they have Column VIew turned on when I can just have them go to the Apple menu and select About This App?  Seems way simpler.  Let’s move on to Windows then.

I think his argument is even weaker in Windows and yet there are (at least) two other ways of getting version and copyright information.  In the Windows Explorer you can right click on the executable and click Get Properties to get that information and you can hover your mouse over the file to get the same information.  So again, I have to have my dumb user (I say that in the most loving way a tech support person can do) go find the executable on their hard drive.  And when they come back with a, “um….how do I find the ex-a-cute-ible file?  I usually just go to the Start Menu and select it from there.” all I have to do is say,  “Go to the Help Menu and select About This App”.  Simple, no?

Of course this argument breaks down if the app can’t launch.  Then it’s on to Plan B which is the Finder and Windows Explorer.

I did a little research and couldn’t find anything specific on Microsoft Interface Guidelines on About Windows, but I did find a page for creating apps in Visual Studio that tells you what should be on an About Window.  This list includes:  Support Information (including phone numbers and/or web sites; Copyright Information; Version Information; Implementation Notes; and whatever is useful to the users.  Again, they don’t say it’s optional or required, but it sure sounds like they expect it to be there.

So while About Windows don’t do much they provide a standard, easy-to-use way for a user to get version information without having to leave your application.  From my experience in doing some tech support version info can help answer some questions.

On to the original argument:  I said that the REALbasic Debugger Stub(s) aren’t proper applications in a couple of respects.  They don’t a proper About Window showing copyright and version info or any other relevant details.  You could argue that having the version info in the title bar accomplishes the same thing but that by itself isn’t a standard practice (I’m sure there are examples in all platforms so don’t bug me about it).

There’s also no help menu so there’s no place to go for help.  And, oh wait, since there’s no About Window there’s no easy-to-find website URL that you can click on to go straight to the forums or anyplace else.  It seems simple, but we’re talking about hobbyist developers that may not be computer experts.

I don’t really care, but it’s a Windows application.  Shouldn’t it have an installer (and uninstaller)?  Does it matter as much on the Mac and on Linux?

I guess my point is that Real Software is used to create ‘great’ cross-platform applications and yet one of its main cross-platform utilities isn’t that well developed.  How long does a decent About Window take?  2 minutes if you steal it from somewhere else.  A Help menu with a help system is a lot more work, but having some simple FAQ’s would do wonders.

Anyway, feel free to discuss amongst yourselves about the merits of an About Window.  Since I didn’t cover anything about Linux (mainly because I’ve not learned enough about it), what’s the standard for Linux desktop apps?