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.
The Property List has been replaced by the Inspector.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.
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…..
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.
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.