Xojo: Inspector

Xojo is just a few weeks away from its inaugural release.  Those of us that are in the alpha and beta programs have been treated to interesting changes in the venerable Real Studio user interface.  Some of those changes are very cool and some make little sense.  

Today, I’ll share with you a few select screenshots of what I call obvious inconsistencies.  Keep in mind that it’s quite possible that some or all of these screenshots will be obsolete in the very next beta release and you’ll never see them.  In some ways I hope this post might spur some action on this.

Boolean Switches

The Property List has been replaced by the Inspector.  Instead of using a custom listbox the new Inspector looks to be a container list of containers.  Boolean values that were simple checkboxes in the Real Studio Property List are now sometimes Sliders in Xojo.  The switches look very nice and have nice animation (if you have animation turned on) but otherwise act just like the standard checkbox.

XojoScreenSnapz001Real StudioScreenSnapz001

There is inconsistent usage of the Boolean Switch in the entire Xojo application.  If you look at the

examples, the Behavior section of the Listbox uses nothing but the boolean switch.  However, if you scroll down to the Font section the Xojo developers decided to revert to the old CheckBox.  The Preferences window also uses the standard checkbox.

Inconsistencies are bad enough but I believe using the Switches caused the entire Inspector UI to be stretched out.  If the vertical spacing was tightened up in the Inspector so that it wasn’t such a pain in the butt to deal with I believe the switches would look cramped.  Their design has no buffer space around them like the CheckBox.

I’m on a 27″ iMac.  It took me two screenshots to put together the Xojo Inspector screenshot!  I can’t imagine how awful scrolling is going to be on a 13″ laptop.  I believe that tightening up the vertical spacing is a must before release.  You only get one chance to make a good impression for some folks not already committed to Xojo.

One of the biggest deficiencies in the Inspector is that it’s not keyboard friendly.  In Real Studio you can tab to each line and set the values without your hands leaving the keyboard.  In Xojo this is impossible.  In my opinion, this one feature alone makes Xojo a major step backwards in in functionality.  but I digress…..

The Navigator

But wait, the checkbox vs slider pain doesn’t stop there.  The Build Settings dialog has been done away with in Xojo too.  In its place is a new section in the Navigator list that has what looks like checkboxes.  They are in FACT, checkboxes that control which platform to build for.  Click on the checkbox portion to set and unset the option.


This was not immediately obvious to me (and others) and it took me a while to stumble upon the fact that the checkboxes in the Build Settings were indeed live checkboxes.  Seriously, since they didn’t look like real checkboxes was misleading since I expected the new sliders.  So we have make believe checkboxes, real checkboxes, and boolean switches that aren’t native (as far as I can tell).

Native vs Drawn Controls

I find it ironic that Xojo Inc. penned a blog post titled “Why Native Controls Are Important”  and didn’t use the native checkbox throughout Xojo.  Instead we have switches, real checkboxes and faux-looking but real checkboxes.

In Mac OS X I know of one app that’s using a Boolean Switch like in Xojo and that’s in the Time Machine Preferences.  That switch is friggin’ HUGE!  I find it hard to believe that’s the standard size that Apple wants to foist on millions of users.

System PreferencesScreenSnapz001

Yes, the switch is common on iOS applications.  It’s a touch operating system from the very start.  As far as I know Xojo isn’t coming to an iPad near you anytime soon.

As others have pointed out to me, there are Linux distributions that are using the boolean slider control.  They are moving towards touch-oriented user interfaces too.  Windows 8 seems to still be using CheckBoxes though I’m sure someone, somewhere is using the slider.

In the grand scheme of things these inconsistencies are not a big deal.  But what it shows me is a lack of attention to detail.  Years worth of work to create a new UI and it’s not consistent and harder to use.  I find the boolean switches to be a distraction.  They serve no purpose other than to make checkboxes look pretty in a desktop application.

The bigger aspects of usability being worse than Real Studio is definitely troubling.  Anytime I have to scroll it’s bad.  My general rule of thumb is that methods should be short enough to never scroll.  I would expect the same thing when it comes to properties and my project list – especially on my 27″ mega monitor.

That’s my opinion.  What is yours?

[Updated]:  Added Preference window to show another place where native checkbox is used instead of switch.


13 thoughts on “Xojo: Inspector

  1. The first thought of the inspector was that it’s a clear, well structured thing. When I read that it took two screenshots on a 27” screen I became unsure. The argument that it isn’t keyboard friendly is a good one, nevertheless anytime I tried using the old property list I instantly took the mouse. It never felt comfortable to me.

    Maybe it would be an idea to have an invisible area on the section titles of the inspector on which you could click to collapse that section. You know, not just a + or an arrow at the right side. If you work on a laptop you don’t want to fumble on the touchpad to finally hit the tiny + (if you want to use the mouse at all).

    By the way, can somebody explain me the difference between checkboxes and real checkboxes?? Somehow I don’t get that…

  2. correction…

    …anytime I tried using the old property list by keyboard I instantly switched to mouse. It never felt comfortable to me.

  3. Not being part of the beta group I can only comment on what you are showing us. But what I see is not good. It seems that in an effort to look elegant Xojo has negatively impacted the ease-of-use rules and made some things more cumbersome to accomplish. Having to scroll a properties screen is not user-friendly.

    As a career Software QA Engineer (retired) I’ve always held that usability trumps elegance in any product. I hope Xojo rethinks this before release.

  4. It’s really a shame you can’t seem them side by side. The Real Studio properties list is about 1/3 the size of the Xojo Inspector.

  5. Mmmm… It looks perfect to me. I do not object against these sliders…. It certainly gives the IDE a much needed modern look. Have to find out if it really so much an annoyance, but I don’t think so.

  6. The first thought I had when I saw the inspector was “I need a bigger monitor”. This hasn’t really changed.

    I still think about Xojo as having an “obfuscated” interface. The same guy that did Feedback also did the UI for Xojo. Looks shiny but not very useful.

  7. Bob,
    You are spot on when you remind us of platform-native controls – looking at the RS Blog posing and the Windows screen-shots I don’t see a single native Windows control – everything looks like running on a Mac. For sure, they seem to be running in Windows 8 Desktop, but the drop-downs, treeviews etc. etc. don’t look like that on my Windows 8 system. The font in the list is not the standard font you expect to see on Windows 8 either. Amazing!!

    Sad to see the damages done to the property inspector as well.

    The general idea of designer these days seem to be wasting more and more screen estate – all Modern UI (Metro) apps in Windows 8 look so ugly on anything else than a 1366×768 screen resolution.

  8. While Boolean sliders are “cool”, their place is on touch devices, or on an UI with very few controls (ie. the TimeMachine screen). Otherwise they consume WAY too much real-estate, and are of ZERO added value to the UI and developer experience. From the way it looks the new Xojo property inspector won’t even fit on my 27″ screen! …. A UI should be designed to fit as well as possible on an “average” users computer screen.

  9. I completely agree and absolutely hate the iOS style sliders. The constant scrolling on my 17in MBP is a pain.

    Did Xojo expect Aple to release a touch operated MacOS???

    My current solution: programm in REALstudio and only use Xojo for compiling. The new IDE is just too much annoying eye candy.

  10. Markus :

    I completely agree and absolutely hate the iOS style sliders. The constant scrolling on my 17in MBP is a pain.

    Did Xojo expect Aple to release a touch operated MacOS???

    My current solution: programm in REALstudio and only use Xojo for compiling. The new IDE is just too much annoying eye candy.

    I don’t HATE the sliders, I just think you either use them everywhere or nowhere.

    I must admit that I’ve been known to make my changes in Real Studio and compile in Xojo a time or two. Not because of eye candy issues, more simple usability issues.

  11. Well, I hate them. With a passion. As a non-native English speaker they also don’t sound right to me. ColumnResizable? Yes/No I could stomach, but On/Off just seems strange. A property is set, true or False, Yes or No. But On/Off for me is something else. I turn a machine on. Is it on? Yes/No.

    Every time I use the sliders I wince inside.

  12. What a fuss about such a non-issue… Next blog is about the Xojo logo? Too much color or not centered right or strange font?

  13. @Alexander
    I disagree. I’ve been using the Inspector for many months as part of the alpha/beta program. Doing that much scrolling, constantly, becomes insane. The sliders don’t bug me that much, but the amount of space it takes up is over the top. The fact that I had to splice two screenshots together is indicative of that.

    The good news is that Xojo is usable. The Cocoa framework is very solid. It works. All very good things. The bad news is that it’s not as user friendly as it should be and since I make my living working with this software (I believe) certain parts (like the Inspector and Navigator) don’t do me any favors.

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