inessential by Brent Simmons

Info/inspector windows on OS X

Here’s something interesting—to me, anyway, as an OS X developer.

There is a great deal of standardization on the various types of windows in OS X. For instance, preferences windows are usually either windows with a toolbar or a set of tabs. Look at the preferences for Safari, for example: you choose which preferences to edit by clicking an icon in a toolbar. Same thing with Transmit, NetNewsWire, OmniOutliner, and on and on.

But there is much less standardization for Info/Inspector windows. (I mean the windows that appear that tell you more about your selection; what you get when you hit cmd-I or shift-cmd-I.)

In no particular order, here’s a list of some of the different styles I found:

1. The Finder has disclosure triangles for expanding/collapsing.

2. OmniOutliner is similar to the Finder but instead uses a button that extends most of the width of the window.

3. OmniGraffle uses a toolbar that includes a popup menu for choosing which information to look at.

4. NetNewsWire has no toolbar or tabs or anything since it doesn’t display that much information. Transmit’s is cosmetically different but the same basic style.

5. iTunes has a big window with tabs and Previous and Next buttons. It’s actually modal, to my surprise.

6. iCal uses a drawer rather than a separate window.

7. Terminal and Interface Builder are like OmniGraffle with its popup menu, but with no toolbar.

8. xCode has tabs (like iTunes), but it’s not modal and there are no previous and next buttons.

9. BBEdit has an info window somewhat like NetNewsWire’s and Transmit’s in that it doesn’t have multiple pages, but it’s modal.

It looks to me as if two basic styles are needed, one for info windows with a little info and one for info windows with multiple panes. I think the first case is pretty well solved: it’s the second case where a convention would be useful.

I’m not proposing anything, by the way, I’m just saying that a convention would be helpful to developers and users.