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Menu bars in and out of windows...
Bynkii has posted an intersting view on Menu bars in and outside of windows (i.e. about the Mac vs. Windows way of placing a menu bar). This doesn't really match my personal experience (i.e. I also usually maximise windows on Windows, but not because I want to get easier access to the menus), but it's an interesting study. I guess I'll have to go ask some more people why *they* do it.
|Aaron Ballman writes:|
I tend to take the opposite view -- having a single menu bar is a difficult idea for many users to grasp. The reason for it is that they don't realize it *changes* depending on what's front-most. For example, I got my mom a Mac (worst. mistake. ever.) because I thought it'd be very easy for her to use. The two most common things she forgets about: the menu and "right" clicking.
She complains about not having two mouse buttons, so anything contextual is never shown. And she constantly forgets about things in the menu.
For instance... she was having a problem with Mail that I was trying to help her solve over the phone. So I asked her if Mail was front-most, and she said "yes." So I told her to go up to the app menu and find Preferences. She did. I started telling her what things to click on and she said "but I don't have those things." After a lot of descriptions, it turns out she opened the System Preferences. So I said, "I thought Mail was front-most." and she replied, "I thought it was, I could see it."
The average human being doesn't think like computers do. What seems very sensible to people like me (programmers and UI designers) can confound people like my mom (a school teacher).
Btw, I'm not saying Microsoft got it right. I'm just saying that I don't think Apple has either.
|Uli Kusterer replies: ★|
I think you're mis-diagnosing the problem here. Even if Mail.app *was* frontmost, your mom could still have picked "System Preferences" because it's in the Apple menu, which contains system-wide menu items that apply to the whole computer, and is the same for all apps. In addition, your mom should never need to right-click. That's a power-user shortcut, and on the Mac everything in the contextual menu is also available from the menu bar.
So, while the general problem with the changing menu bar *does* exist, your problem seems to me to be that you don't have a Mac yourself and you're doing "blind" telephone diagnosis (and maybe you haven't made it clear what a stickler for terminology a computer is and that she really needs to look for "Preferences..." without anything else when you don't say anything else. That, and that you're trying to teach her power-user features while she's still a beginner.
In my experience, the biggest problem about the Mac menu bar is when an application is open and has no windows. Then, people see that the frontmost window is a Finder window but still get the wrong menu, especially if they don't notice the clues that tell them that the frontmost window is inactive or simply don't realise it's even possible that the menu bar belongs to a windowless app.
There have been attempts at fixing this by showing a "starting point" window whenever no others are open, but that can be just as annoying when people just close one window to then open another, because they then wonder where this new window came from they didn't request.
Another big problem is getting people to realise what an application program is in the first place. This problem is compounded by the fact that the program most people use these days is a web browser, which actually isn't a program, but rather a viewer for a special kind of program (web sites). That's actually the main problem for beginners: That their mental model doesn't reflect the metaphors the programmers intended the UI to show. That's usually the point where I get the most mileage out of teaching people computers: In asking them what they think they're seeing, coercing them into using the correct terminology, and telling them what they can do with the things on the screen. That and getting them to regularly use the machine for something they actually want to do so they get enough practise and don't forget this stuff after a week of not using it.
Of course you and me, we're both programmers, so it's hard to get out of our mind-set and try to look at all this from the outside, so I still occasionally forget that my mental picture is fairly complete, while most beginners don't *want* so much detail. They just want to use the computer. So, you have to find a consistent way of simplifying certain things and stick to that. Unless that really doesn't work, then you should think hard and try another metaphor and stick to that. Parents aree convenient students here, because you know them well enough to note even subtle signs of them not understanding you.
|Aaron Ballman writes:|
>> think you're mis-diagnosing the problem here. Even if Mail.app *was* frontmost,
>> your mom could still have picked "System Preferences" because it's in the Apple
"Could have" is the operative word though. Mom knows what the "application menu" is (it's the menu with the name of an application), and she was able to locate Preferences on it. The only thing she uses the Apple menu for is to shut the computer down -- aside from that, she (like everyone I know) ignores that menu item.
>> So, while the general problem with the changing menu bar *does* exist,
>> your problem seems to me to be that you don't have a Mac yourself and
>> you're doing "blind" telephone diagnosis (and maybe you haven't made it
>> clear what a stickler for terminology a computer is and that she really
>> needs to look for "Preferences..." without anything else when you don't
>> say anything else.
Sorry, but I do have a Mac myself, and I'm not doing blind diagnosis. And one thing mom used to teach at school was computers (Apple IIe, so it was a long while ago) -- she has a good understanding of how to use them, and she manages great on my PC. In fact, while she has her own Mac, when I lived at home, she would boot up my PC because she was able to understand it better. Keep in mind, the last machine she EVER used was an Apple IIe. It's not like she understood it better because she was exposed to it somewhere else.
I wasn't joking when I said that buying my mom a Mac because it was easier was the worst mistake of my life. I've spent more time supporting her on the Mac (and all she does is browse the web and check email!!) than I ever thought possible. One really interesting data point -- when I got her Mac, it came with Classic. She understood Classic and I really didn't have to support her much. We upgraded to OS X because she heard (from her school technologist) that it was a much better, more stable version of Classic. Thus the nightmare. I'm tempted to dump OS X and go back to Classic for her, but I'm equally as tempted to just get her an XP box.
>> That, and that you're trying to teach her power-user features while
>> she's still a beginner.
Ug. While I agree that right clicks contain shortcuts to things, it is only a power-user feature because of Apple's insistence on having one mouse button. It's *much* easier to explain to a user "right click on this item" than it is "Control+Click on this item" because they can see two mouse buttons and get used to it, but they always have to hunt and peck for the key modifiers.
Btw, I HAD to teach her to use this because she doesn't always understand the menu bar, and she can't figure out how to eject a damned CD. Sadly, the Ctrl+Click->Eject trick was the *easiest* thing I could teach her.
>> Of course you and me, we're both programmers, so it's hard to get out of
>> our mind-set and try to look at all this from the outside, so I still
>> occasionally forget that my mental picture is fairly complete, while most
>> beginners don't *want* so much detail.
I agree with you here. Even with all the research into UI design that I do (both for work and for play), I still forget about some things being harder for people to understand -- especially when it comes to wording. Because I know the technical jargon, I tend to word things that way and baffle those less-savvy. :-P
|Uli Kusterer replies: ★|
>> Sorry, but I do have a Mac myself, and I'm not doing blind diagnosis.
Just to clarify: with "blind" diagnosis (note the quotes) I meant the usual aspect of helping someone via phone: you're not seeing what they're doing
I suppose you've already tried just getting her a two-button USB mouse? Pretty much all PC mice work with Macs.
|Aaron Ballman writes:|
I see what you mean about blind now, and you're right. Of course, I was stupid enough to turn on remote desktop access, so I could just do it for her. Then again, how is she expected to learn that way... ah... catch-22...
Shh! She might read what she's getting for Christmas! ;-)