[HIG] Re: [Usability]Question on Multiple Document Interfaces

> work. Until we have a concrete WM proposal to replace the tabs that
> /work/ in our applications, users will demand[1] and authors should
> provide MDI (when appropriate.)

This point is key. Remember that the HIG does not say "do not use MDI".
Its use is merely discourage. We should probably embellish on this
point, but basically my take on the issue is that people use MDI too
quickly and we want to caution people to try and work out if they are
merely using MDI as a form of design laziness. We want to encourage
people to solve user problems without the use of MDI.

Before people use MDI I think they should consider these things:

1) Am I just using MDI because other applications are doing it, or is
there a real need for users to *commonly* have more than 5 of these
documents open? 

For example, I do not think GEdit passes this test. If it were a code
editor or a good HTML editor this would be different. But as it is, it
is most useful as a plain text editor, and I do not think people
commonly have more than 5 plain text files open. Some people do, but its
not the standard case, and window grouping in the taskbar works well
enough to make having 20% of GEdit users have 8 windows open not too
bad. Note how this differs from web browsers where *many* people keep a
large number of open windows. I have lost changes a few times in GEdit
because I had a text file open with unsaved changes, double clicked on
another one which opened in a tab, and when I was done with the second
closed GEdit without noticing the other tab and semi-automatically
dismissed the "do you want to save" dialogue.

2) Is there a way I can change the design of my program to prevent users
from needing to have so many windows open to work effectively?

To give a sort of kooky example... Terminals. Lots of us keep lots of
terminals open, but I wonder if a much of that is just using terminals
as a placeholder for different directory locations rather than actually
using all those terminals. What if terminals had bookmarks and/or
history (in the menus with shortcut keys so they'd be fast to access)? I
wonder if the number of terminals most peopel want to keep open would go
down a lot. I'm by no means sure of this, I'm just giving it as an
example of a case where MDI may be targeting symptoms rather than the
real cause (which is a deeper design issue prompting users to need so
many open documents/windows).

However, I also recognize that there are very real user problems to
which MDI is the most feasible solution for application developers
today. Web browsers are a good instance of this. There may be better
solutions, but they need sufficient environment support that they're not
reasonable for developers today, and I can't think of anything that
would reduce the need of users to have so many web pages open (as
opposed to an IDE, say, where I can think of lots of techniques for
making lots of open windows less important0.


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