Chapter 20. Window Behaviors

Any book on user interface design must discuss windows (with a lowercase w), a hallmark of the modern graphical user interface. While windowing systems provide modularity and flexibility to user interfaces, they can be horribly abused. In this chapter, we’ll first place these omnipresent rectangles in some historical perspective and then discuss important design considerations for the use of windows in applications.

PARC and the Alto

Modern GUIs all derive their appearance from the Xerox Alto, an experimental desktop computer system developed in the mid-1970s at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), now PARC, Inc. PARC’s Alto was the first computer with a graphical interface and was designed to explore the potential of computers as desktop business systems. The Alto was designed as a networked office system where documents could be composed, edited, and viewed in WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) form, stored, retrieved, transferred electronically between workstations, and printed. The Alto system contributed many significant innovations to the vernacular of desktop computing that we now regard as commonplace: The mouse, the rectangular window, the scrollbar, the pushbutton, the “desktop metaphor,” object-oriented programming, drop-down menus, Ethernet, and laser printing.

PARC’s effect on the industry and contemporary computing was profound. Both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, chairmen of Apple Computer and Microsoft, respectively, saw the Alto at ...

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