22 October 2010

An Argument for the Obvious

David Pogue of the Times, who I do not much enjoy, nevertheless made an argument for the obvious that is worth reblogging. In fact, everyone should reblog this until software designers get a clue. From Pogue's review of the new Office 2011 for Mac:

    The Mac suite now includes the Ribbon, a horizontal toolbar that’s built into Office for Windows. What I don’t get is this: Last time I checked, computer screens were all wider than they are tall. The last thing you’d want to do is to eat up that limited *vertical* screen space with interface clutter like the Ribbon. Don’t we really want those controls off to the *side,* like as with the Formatting Palette in the previous Mac Office?

In my previous post I mentioned that most computer LCDs now adhere to a squished 16:9 format, mimicking wide-screen TVs. Lots of width, little height. You have to spend big to get a taller 16:10 monitor, $500 or more, and the squarish 4:3 monitors of old are long gone. If you actually use your computer monitor for reading, as more than a few people do, you want a tall screen rather than a wide one. Optimal line width for reading is constrained (traditionally, 66 characters is considered the ideal). Our brains cannot effectively parse long lines. You can't just stretch Word docs or web pages across your massive 1920 screen. If you want more text on screen, you can only go taller. And all computer workers want to read more and scroll less.

Software design has ignored these facts, constantly cramming more and more into the tops and bottoms of our screens. Software and system controls needs to be designed vertically for modern superwide desktops. In this respect, the palette in the previous version of Office for Mac was obvious and brilliant. I've always wished it would find it's way onto the PC. Microsoft has now homogenized the platforms on that account, but in entirely the wrong direction. Oh well. One less reason to feel Mac envy.

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