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News, How-tos, and assorted Views on Accordance Bible Software.

Thursday, May 18, 2006  

New in 7: Hide-and-Go-Details

When we redesigned the Accordance interface for version 6, we wanted to give it a more Aqua feel and make it more intuitive for new users. Rather than having three unlabeled pop-up menus across the top of the Search window, we hid the field and range pop-up menus in a new collapsible section of the window labeled More Options.

We thought long and hard about the More Options section, because we knew it would take away screen real-estate from the text window pane below it. We considered squashing things together a bit more, but we had taken a good hard look at Mac OS X interface conventions and realized that preserving screen real-estate was no longer the virtue it had been in the classic Mac OS. OS X uses bigger icons, thicker buttons, larger text, and wider spacing between icons and other interface elements. This luxurious use of space is deliberate, because it reduces visual clutter and enables the user to focus on the interface elements which are really important. So we followed the Aqua approach and kept the More Options section spacious and clean.

While most people were thrilled with the new look, we did get some complaints that there was now too little vertical space for the actual text of the Bible. Some users even sent mockups of how we could squash interface elements together to save space. Ironically, many of their suggestions approximated the window layout Accordance had used from versions 1 through 5!

Though we were unwilling to take a step backward, we soon realized that there were some people for whom our new layout posed a serious problem. While the More Options section doesn't take up much room when closed, there are some users who prefer to leave it open all the time. If those users also use the tabbed Workspace window and keep the OS X dock at the bottom of the screen along with the Instant Details Box, they don't have a whole lot of vertical space left for the text of the Bible. For users of laptops with 12-inch screens, the problem can be compounded even further.

A while back, someone on our user forums suggested that we save on vertical real estate by getting rid of the Instant Details Box. He suggested we use a free-floating tool-tip window which would appear right beside the cursor whenever you dragged over a Greek or Hebrew word, a word in a Strong's text, an abbreviation, etc. This is, after all, what some Windows programs do.

The problem with that approach is that those pop-up windows which follow the cursor get in the way of the text behind them. When you drag over a word in a text with Strong's numbers for example, do you really want a little window to pop-up and obscure other words in the verse you're reading? You would then have to drag the mouse off the window entirely just to be able to eliminate any chance of this window getting in the way! Another problem is that this constant flashing on and off of instant pop-ups is visually distracting and tiresome. The Instant Details Box avoids these problems by staying out of the way at the bottom of the screen.

When I explained our reasons for sticking with the Instant Details Box, another user came up with a brilliant idea: what if the Instant Details Box itself only appeared when it was needed, fading out of view when there was no information to display? This would free up some vertical real-estate for the user, who could extend his Search window all the way to the bottom of the screen without leaving room for the Instant Details Box. The Instant Details Box might obscure the bottom part of the window when it appeared, but it would quickly fade out of view again. And by subtly fading in and out, it wouldn't accost the user with the constant flashing which is so prevalent in other programs.

It was a great idea, so we decided to implement it . . . though of course we made it a user option. In the Preferences, there is now the option in the Instant Details Box settings to have it automatically fade in and out.

I'm afraid I had no luck trying to get a screenshot of the Instant Details Box in mid-fade, so you'll just have to take my word for it: it's really cool.

As for me, since I keep my dock on the right of the screen and prefer to keep the More Options section closed until I need it, I didn't personally feel much of a need for this feature. Though I've had it available to me for months, I left it turned off after I first tried it out. Lately, however, I've turned it back on, and I find that I really like the effect. What prompted me to try it out again? I found that the auto-fading was a really nice feature to use in conjunction with slideshow mode. . . :-)

By the way, the fading of the Instant Details Box isn't the only feature of 7 that will help with vertical screen space. Tomorrow I'll talk about a sweeping new feature which, among other things, lets you select the options in the More Options section without actually having to open it up.

From all of the 12-inch Powerbook users out there - Thank you!

Jeremy A.

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