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Application skinning and user-interface consistency

To be remarked and distinguished, one's products must be clearly different from the others: it is a fact of marketing. When applied to software, there are two main kind of differentiation possible: the invisible to the eyes, yet noticeable, differences, such as better internal engineering and better performance, and the visible ones, most particularly the user-interface. In operating systems supporting windowing systems, the user-interface is one of the most important aspects of the product because it is the interface between the user and the machine: this interface thus needs to be both pleasing to the eyes but still ergonomic and efficient for the user to be able to accomplish his duties as quickly as possible.

Having one’s application stand out from the others is maybe a good thing for marketing, but what happens when every application on the system wants to look different from the other in term of user-interface of the system taken as a whole? This is what we are going to see through this argumented rant, with the help of some applications examples, and try to see whether the short-term benefits of these moves are worth the longer-term inconveniences of inappropriate user-interface skinning.

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The UI ribbon, more than just evolution

The latest fashion in terms of user interface is the Office ribbon, this thick horizontal bar containing various visual icons grouped by general task. After getting through most of the applications of the well-known suite, the ribbon will also invade most of the Windows accessories soon…

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The little user-interface oddities of Mozilla applications

For roughly one week, I have switched from IE7 to Firefox… the reason is mainly for extensions and because as a geek, it makes sense to get a geeky and over-customizable browser, but that’s not the point… so I’m still tweaking a bit my profile and adjusting things to make the browser suit my tastes and preferences.

One thing that I don’t like in software is when it keeps asking you to answer the same question every time you do something and you always click the same button. The world would be a much better place if every message box had a tick box with the “Don’t ask me again” option, which is happily the case in Firefox.

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