Closing windows, learned behaviors, and the forward-slash key

I just read Jensen’s post about the history of the close button and it made me chuckle. You see, when we went thorugh the redesign of the folder windows in Windows Explorer, the issue of whether or not to put an icon in the top left corner was hotly debated.

Our early designs had very little space between the top of the address bar and the top of the window – not quite enough room for a standard 16x16 icon. We wanted a very clean-looking frame for the window, but we also knew that many people had similar habits to what Jensen describes (myself included).

For a while, we actually had no mechanism for accessing the system menu in folder windows, and no system icon functionality at all. It was super-frustrating – even knowing how it worked, my hand would automatically move the mouse to the top-left corner of the window and double-click, even though there was nothing there! At the time, this had the unfortunate side-effect of maximizing the window, since I was effectively double-clicking on the title-bar (double-clicking the title-bar of a restored window results in it maximizing, essentially resizing to fill your entire desktop area, the same behavior as clicking the middle button on the top-right).

What we settled on (what you see in Beta 2) is having the area in the top right corner of the window behave as if there was an icon present, and just not show the icon.

It’s amazing how much of this sort of learned behavior just sticks around in software because people are “just used to it”. My other favorite example of this is the forward-slash key in Excel. Lotus 1-2-3 (for DOS) users will recall that if you tapped the forward-slash key, it would put open a menu of commands you could use to do things with your spreadsheet.

Turns out, a great many of those customers went on to use Excel later in life, and the Excel team was kind enough to accommodate their habits by having the forward-slash key work the same way as the ALT key works in most Windows applications, it puts keyboard focus in the menu.

Even the new Beta of Excel 2007 has similar functionality – tapping ALT in applications that have the Ribbon reveals a set of keyboard accelerators that you can use to navigate the Ribbon to invoke commands. And sure enough, tapping forward-slash in Excel 2007 gives you the same result!


UPDATE: it seems I got my lefts and rights confused. Corrected in teh post above.