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Modal Dialogs in Explorer

Friday 8 September, 2006, 12:34 AM

Jeff Atwood recently blogged about unnecessary modal dialogs in Windows Explorer. I tried posting a reply, but apparently, my "comment could not be submitted due to questionable content: .in matching (\.in)". I have no idea what Jeff considers questionable in my comment. (If I had to guess, looking at the error I'd say that at some point there was a problem, but by the deft use of regular expressions, it was turned into two problems. But perhaps that's unfair. Maybe he's finally got around to implementing a filter that recognizes comments as coming from me...) Whatever the reason, I guess it means I'd better post my reply here rather than on his blog's comments.

Since this is a reply, you'll probably want to go and read the original first. (If you don't want to, or, if you're like me and like to catch up on blogs while on a plane, and yet you're unlike me in that you're not subscribed to Jeff's blog, here's a short summary: Jeff was rightly complaining about the overuse of annoying, intrusive, and above all unnecessary modal notification dialogs. He then held up Windows Explorer's delete confirmation dialog as an example, and that's what prompted me to reply.) Here's a slightly expanded version of what I was trying to post in reply:

My Reply to Jeff's Complaints About the Delete Confirmation Dialog

And yet...

I really wish there was the option to enable a confirmation dialog for the STUPID STUPID STUPID!!! feature of Windows Explorer where if you inadvertently perform a drag while the mouse is over the folder view, it silently moves the folder for you.

I almost never do that intentionally. I don't often have any need to move folders around, but Explorer's folder view makes it so incredibly easy to do that I often do it by accident.

Sure, it's easily undoable, but the big problem is I never realise I've done it until some time later - hours...days...weeks... - when I wonder how the heck a particular folder ended up there. There's very little feedback to show what you just did.

Undo is only a good solution if you become aware that you want to undo the operation immediately after you've done it. This is why version control doesn't use the undo stack model.

(Of course undoability isn't just about the standard Ctrl+Z undo stack model. E.g., although deletion and moves in Explorer do support Ctrl+Z, they are also intrinsically undoable in a broader sense: as long as something remains in the recycle bin you can undelete it without having to undo everything else you did since deleting it. For me, the real issue here isn't undoability - it's about how visible it is that you performed an action you might not have meant to perform.)

So folder moves provide a great example of where I'd prefer it if the proceedings were stopped with a dialog. Jeff borrows the characterization from About Face 2.0, which describes these dialogs as "Stopping the proceedings with idiocy." But this feels to me like a case where the operation being performed is highly likely to be The Wrong Thing, so interrupting proceedings would offer a welcome opportunity to avert idiocy.

Perhaps there's a better option though - maybe some obvious but non-modal indication that I've just done something. The STUPID STUPID STUPID!!! folder move and the delete operations could show something a bit like Outlook's fade-up-then-fade-back-down-without-going-modal-on-my-arse new email popup. I like this because it shows me what's happening without being too obstrusive - it doesn't steal the focus, and if you ignore it it goes away. I'd quite like something a bit like that for file operations that I might not have meant to do. That way if you didn't mean to do it you could undo it easily, but if you did mean it, you could safely and easily ignore it without the annoying user interaction overhead ('excise', in Cooper's terminology) of modal dialogs.

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