Monday, November 9, 2009

The UI Cockroach

Posted by Hidayat Hidayat at 11:21 AM
Back in the eighties, during the cold war, the possibility of a nuclear holocaust was a widely-discussed topic in both fiction and casual conversation. As part of that, there was a persistent belief that the one thing that would survive, no matter how bad the nuclear winter, was the lowly cockroach. I have no idea if there's any science behind this belief, but it's a persistent one, seen in popular culture as recently as 2008's Wall•E.

I would like to suggest that a User Interface element that is completely unnecessary and not part of an application's core functionality, yet can't be gotten rid of, be called a UI Cockroach. A shining example of this is the ribbon bar in Word 2008, which is that circa-2001 Aqua-style bar right above the ruler:

You can't get rid of this thing as long as you're in layout view. Although Microsoft has provided literally hundreds of configurable toolbar items that can be reorganized, reconfigured, hidden, combined, and detached in ways that no sane person would ever want or need, somebody at Microsoft made the decision that this monstrosity had to stay on the screen at all times no matter what. Even if you press the lozenge in the upper right of the window's toolbar — the one that hides all the toolbar elements — it still says visible.

And it serves very little in the way of a useful purpose. When you click-it accidentally, you're treated to an absolute abuse of Core Animation. It's animation that serves absolutely no useful purpose. It's there because somebody wanted to do it. I know a lot of Apple-haters think that the animation in Apple's applications are just bells and whistles, but they aren't. WIth few exceptions, Apple uses animation as a visual cue to convey something to the user. Even the much-maligned minimize genie animation serves the purposes of making sure you know where your window went. If it just disappeared, and you didn't already know where minimized windows went, you'd be stuck searching for it. With that animation, you have a visual clue about the fact that it went to the Dock.

The galleries available in the ribbon bar, however, just pop up for no apparent reason. Worse than that, they don't all pop up at the same time, so you lose a few seconds waiting for them all to show up. A few seconds may not seem like much, but if you multiply that by the times you've hit it and the number of people who have, it's not an insubstantial number of seconds that have been wasted by a completely superfluous animation. I'm actually kind of surprised they don't have them all burst into flames when you close the gallery.

I will never, ever use this horrible, horrible ribbon thing. I want that screen real-estate back, and I don't want to ever accidentally be exposed to those horrid document styles or Microsof'ts ├╝ber-hokey text art again, never mind the silly, superfluous animation that is used to present them.

The only way to describe this is: obnoxious. Well, that's not the only way. I can think of many adjectives that also fit. Ill-advised, ill-considered, and tasteless all work, too.

If anyone knows a way to kill this thing with fire, please, please tell me.


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