I am a software engineer at Google on the Android project and the creator of the Java testing framework TestNG. When I'm not updating this weblog with various software-related posts or speaking at conferences, I am busy snowboarding, playing squash, tennis, golf or volleyball or scuba diving. Cedric is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 90 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

Rethinking scrollbars

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The next version of GNOME will be removing the Minimize and Maximize buttons from their its window manager. Needless to say, this is a very controversial decision and the justifications for it look fairly weak to me.

Digging a little bit into this curious decision, Mark Derricutt pointed me to another upcoming UI change in Unity: a brand new style of scrollbars. This is explained in more details in this post on Mark Shuttleworth’s blog. Take a look at the short video for a quick overview of how they work (I noticed a bug at around 33 seconds: when the cursor scrolls the front window horizontally, the window in the back scrolls horizontally as well. What I find really interesting about this bug is that I have noticed Mac OS showing the same behavior sporadically, especially when I use the double finger gesture on my trackpad).

Side note: scrolling on Mac OS is one of the two UI functions that violate the “no click through” behavior. Do you know the other one? It’s the act of closing a window: you can close a background window by clicking on its red icon without needing to bring it to the front first.

Going back to the Unity video, I think this new design for scrollbars works well. I also notice that the hit box for the scrollbar is bigger than the thumb, which is a very good idea (one that I haven’t seen in any other OS). After all, when you click in the vicinity of the thumb in a scrollbar, what are the odds that you are not trying to grab the scrollbar?

The new design might be a bit confusing at first, but I think discoverability and learnability will be very good. Same observation for the arrows on each side of the thumb, which make more sense than having them at the ends of the container.

So the new scrollbars look good, but I predict that the removal of the Minimize and Maximize buttons will be a disaster, and that they might reverse this decision before GNOME 3 comes out, or maybe make it configurable.

And you know why I think that? Because the person doing the scrollbar video uses the Minimize widget all the time.

Maybe the GNOME UI team should take that as a hint.

Published at DZone with permission of Cedric Beust, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Clinton Begin replied on Sat, 2011/03/26 - 1:36pm

I think Windows 7 got it right here. The new drag and snap/unsnap functionality is excellent and makes the maximize/restore button completely redundant. Only minimize and close are still required.

Renat Zhilkibaev replied on Sun, 2011/03/27 - 11:32am

Speaking about the bug you noticed. http://www.ubuntu.com/desktop has the area on the page which scrolls atuomatically each 20 second or so.

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