Ubiquitous, toolbars are actually a relatively recent GUI development. Unlike so many GUI idioms that were popularized on the Apple Macintosh, Microsoft was the first to introduce these to mainstream user interfaces. An important complement to a menu system, the toolbar has proven to be an effective mechanism for providing persistent, direct access to functions. Whereas menus are complete toolsets with the main purpose of teaching, toolbars are for frequently used commands and offer little help to new users.
In this chapter, we’ll discuss the merits and shortcomings of the toolbar command idiom. We’ll also talk about ToolTips and toolbar variants such as the ribbon.
The typical toolbar is a collection of butcons (icons that serve as buttons), usually without text labels, in a horizontal slab positioned directly below the menu bar or in a vertical slab attached to the side of the main window (see Figure 23-1). Essentially, a toolbar is a single row (or column) of visible, immediate, graphical, functions.
Figure 23-1. This image shows the Standard and Formatting toolbars in Microsoft Word 2003. Notice how the toolbar is made up of butcons without static hinting, rather than buttons. This saves space and improves readability.
Great ideas in user-interface design often seem to spring from many sources simultaneously. The toolbar is ...