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the three-pane question

Software that deals with information in general, and with email (or RSS) in particular, has, over the past few years used a relatively standard three-pane interface, as shown in the following sketch:

The new interface that has been appearing more often contains essentially the same components, but in a horizontal layout:
Used where? I've noticed it in several new programs (or new revs of old programs), but here are a couple of concrete examples: the RSS aggregator for IDEA, FeedDemon and, more importantly for wide adoption, the next version of MS Outlook.

The "all horizontal" mode is better IMO, since it gives you more space to view information (which is typically "long" rather than "wide"). It also makes it easier to follow the progression of "contained" information: as you move along the x axis to the left, you increase specificity--this consistency can then help in other areas of the UI. Apple for example has used the all-horizontal paradigm for one of the settings of the file browser in the Finder, and it's much, much better than the alternative. Simple and easy to use.

The all-horizontal mode has one drawback: You need a bare minimum of 800x600 to be able to use it well. (or maybe 1024x768?). This limits it mass appeal a bit, but it's probably safe to say that people that use 640x480 are probably late adopters, and not likely to be trying out new software anyway.

So I'm considering making the horizontal view the default for the next beta of cactus, and it might even be useful to allow in-place editing of some elements (say, contact or task information). Comments?

Categories: clevercactus
Posted by diego on June 30 2003 at 1:47 PM

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