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DECwindows Companion to the OSF/Motif Style Guide

Previous Contents Index Initializing Values in Dialog Boxes

When a dialog box is displayed the second time, you should try to preserve the values for all the fields. For example, when users display a Create dialog box again, they might want to retain most of the values that were already entered. Preserving these values saves users from having to reenter all the information. In the case of a Directory dialog box, users might want to display the same elements the second time, but change the contents of one of the fields, such as the time last modified. Provide a Variety of Selection Controls

Provide selection controls (such as radio buttons or list boxes) and text-entry fields to gather the same information, when suitable. Doing so accommodates different user preferences for entering information. For example, Figure 1-37 shows a dialog box that allows users to customize the size of their windows by either typing in the size in a text field or by selecting the appropriate push button.

Figure 1-37 Provide a Variety of Selection Controls

Be careful, however, to avoid clutter by providing too much variety. Also, do not overwhelm users with too many visual features, such as flashing, bolding, and underlining. In general, avoid using flashing because it distracts the user.

1.5.7 Creating Tab Groups

A tab group consists of any managed or primitive widget that is organized into a traversable group or field. In other words, a tab group is a group of controls that belong together. For example, a set of radio buttons is a tab group. To move from tab group to tab group in a dialog box, users press the Tab key (hence the name tab group).

Organize the controls in your dialog boxes into distinct tab groups. The toolkit makes two distinctions with regard to navigating dialog boxes with the keyboard:

  • Navigating between tab groups
  • Navigating within tab groups Navigating Between Tab Groups

Treat each of the following types of controls as its own tab group:

  • List boxes
  • Sashes
  • Scales
  • A single-line text-entry field
  • A set of radio buttons
  • A set of check buttons
  • One option button preceded and followed by a different type of tab group
    A group of option buttons together makes one tab group.

Follow these general rules for navigating between fields:

  • Allow users to navigate the dialog box in the same direction as the language of the dialog box. That is, place the location cursor in the top left of the dialog box, and when users press the Tab key, move the location cursor from left to right, top to bottom from tab group to tab group in a predictable manner.

    Programming Hint

    To retain the proper order, create children in the same order in which users tab through the dialog box.
  • If users leave the dialog box to give input focus to another window, do the following when users give input focus back to the dialog box:
    • If users click over a specific control in the dialog box, give that control the input focus.
    • If users click in a general area (such as the title bar or a blank space), or if users use the keyboard to assign input focus, place the location cursor on the component that last had the location cursor on it.

Refer to Figure 1-38 and Figure 1-39 to see how the input focus moves from tab group to tab group when users press the Tab key. The location cursor wraps from the bottom right tab group to the top left tab group when users continue to push the Tab key.

Figure 1-38 Use the Tab Key to Move Between Tab Groups

Figure 1-39 Use the Tab Key to Move Between Tab Groups--continued Navigating Within Tab Groups

To move from component to component within a tab group, users press the arrow keys. For example, to move from one item to the next in a series of radio buttons, users press the down arrow key. However, to move from a radio button to the next tab group, users press the Tab key.

Refer to Figure 1-40 to see how the input focus moves from component to component within a tab group when users press the arrow keys. Notice that the location cursor wraps; that is, when users press the down arrow key to go to the last item in a series and then press the down arrow key again, the location cursor moves up to the first item in the series.

Figure 1-40 Use the Arrow Keys to Move Within Tab Groups

1.6 Presenting Text in Dialog Boxes and Other Screen Objects

When creating labels and text for dialog boxes and other screen objects such as menus and title bars, follow these guidelines:

  • Avoid using all uppercase letters for text. Mixed case improves readability and style.

    Use:    Null Pointer
    Avoid:  NULL POINTER
  • Follow the capitalization rules of the local or translated language when you use local or translated words.
  • For dialog boxes, wherever possible, use sentences or sentence-like wording. Capitalize the first word of each sentence. Use sentence punctuation unless such marks could confuse literal displays, such as file names.

    Loading file /usr/sbin/uerf.hlp
    The file /usr/sbin/uerf.hlp cannot be found.
    Please check the file name and directory for spelling
    or other errors and try again.
  • Capitalize each word of a screen object within a dialog box (such as labels for toggle buttons, radio buttons, or text-entry fields) except for articles and prepositions that have less than five characters and fall between two other words.

    Levels with Periods
    Number of Columns
    Space Between Columns
    First Line Indent
    Dates Before 1993
  • Capitalize the first letter of each word in a push button. An exception is the OK push button where both letters are uppercase.

    Go Back
  • Capitalize the first letter of each word in a menu name, menu item, or label, except for articles and propositions that have fewer than five characters and fall between two other words.

    Show Room
    Go to Page...
    Save As...
  • If a menu name, menu item or label uses a hyphenated word, capitalize the first letter of the first word and the first letters of all other words that are nouns or proper adjectives or that have the same importance as the first word. Use all lowercase letters for any articles, conjunctions, or prepositions that fall between two major words.


1.7 Creating Title Bars

Title bars are used in both primary and secondary windows.

For primary windows, provide labeling as follows:

  • Use the application name followed by a colon and the name of the file. Center the information.
    If the application uses a default file name or requires the user to name a file before creating it, display that name on the title bar at startup. If the application allows users to create a file before it is named, do not put a file name on the title bar initially.
  • Do not put the version number of the application in the title bar.
  • On UNIX and Windows NT systems, do not put the pathname of the file. On OpenVMS systems, do not include the directory where the file is located.
  • On UNIX based systems, display the letters in the file name in the cases that the user typed. On OpenVMS systems, display the file name in all uppercase letters or, for ease of reading, all lowercase letters and include the file extension as well as the version number. On Windows NT systems, display the file name in either all uppercase letters or, for consistency, all lowercase letters and include the file extension.
    Figure 1-41 shows examples of file names in title bars.

    Figure 1-41 Putting Information in Title Bars

For secondary windows, provide labeling as follows:

  • Center the title of the window in the title area. (Centering is the default.)
  • If the secondary window is a dialog box, give the dialog box a title that consists of the application name followed by a colon and the command that created it.

For more information on naming dialog boxes, see Section 1.2.1.

1.8 Using the Working Dialog Box and the Wait Cursor

Use Working dialog boxes and wait cursors to give the user immediate feedback that your application is in process.

In most circumstances, if the action will take more than 15 seconds, use a Working dialog box to show work in progress. Since the length of time that an action takes is system dependent to a large extent, you might want to make the display of a Working dialog box be a customizable option.

When actions will take less than 15 seconds, let the user know the application is processing by changing the cursor to a wait cursor such as the DECwindows watch cursor. Continue to display the wait cursor until the action is complete. Use a wait cursor for the following types of actions:

  • Selecting a menu item that will bring up a dialog box
  • Performing a direct action
  • Scrolling a window
  • Expanding or collapsing items
  • Selecting OK or another button in a dialog box

Set the wait cursor on all windows where the user is waiting for an application to complete an action. For example, if the application is refreshing a directory, the wait cursor should be set in the directory window as well as all other windows that are visible and pending the completion of that refresh.

Programming Hint

Use the following code example to set a wait cursor for the active window. The #ifdef is used when the application runs on an OpenVMS system. The other include statement applies to both UNIX and Windows NT systems.

#ifdef OpenVMS
#include <decw$cursor.h>
#include <X11/decwcursor.h>
#include <DXm/DECspecific.h>

  /* Wait? */
  if ( wait )
    /* Set the wait cursor for this window. */
    waitCursor = DXmCreateCursor(widget,decw$c_wait_cursor);
  else XUndefineCursor(XtDisplay(widget), XtWindow(widget));

Chapter 2
Designing Menus and Menu Items

This chapter provides guidelines for designing menus. It supplements the OSF/Motif Style Guide by discussing the following topics:

  • Naming menus and menu items
  • Organizing menus and menu items
  • Using ellipses in menu items
  • Disabling menu items
  • Designing pop-up menus
  • Designing tear-off menus

This chapter also discusses the OSF/Motif File, Selected, Edit, View, Options, and Help menus, and recommends items to add to these menus. In addition, you can include a Windows menu and your own application-specific menus.

2.1 Naming Menus and Menu Items

Use the standard terms for common menus, such as File, Selected, Edit, and Options. In left to right environments, place the menus in the recommended order, with File farthest to the left, followed by Selected, and then Edit. Application-specific menus should follow the Edit menu. Place the View, Options, and Help menus to the right of any application-specific menus. The Options and Help menus should always be farthest to the right. If you include a Windows menu, place it between the Options and Help menus. See Figure 2-1 for an example.

Programming Hint

To position the Help menu at the far right of the menu bar, set XmNmenuHelpWidget to the name of the Help cascade button.

Figure 2-1 Order of Menus in the Menu Bar

Additional menu bar items should be placed after Edit and before Help. When there is a View menu bar item, most additional items should be placed between Edit and View. In this way, users become accustomed to the File, Selected, and Edit menus appearing at the left and the View, Options, and Help menus appearing at the right. Figure 2-2 shows two application-specific menu bar items.

Figure 2-2 Sample Menu Bar with Application-Specific Items

When you are creating your own menus and menu items, avoid giving a menu the same name as a menu item. For example, Paste is an item on the Edit menu, so do not create a Paste menu in the menu bar.

Use verbs or adjectives for your menus and menu items instead of nouns. Verbs and adjectives give users a better idea of what action a command will perform.

Follow the guidelines for text presentation (such as capitalization and punctuation) in Section 1.6.

Use terminology that will be familiar to users. For example, if you are designing a simple drawing tool, avoid terms like chamfer or bevel, but if you are designing a drawing tool for graphic artists, use these terms. Whatever terms you choose, make sure they are distinct from each other. Ask users to review your choices of menus and menu items and to tell you if the terms are clear and distinct.

Give each menu and each menu item a mnemonic. Consider giving the most commonly used menu items accelerators.

Programming Hint

To create a mnemonic and an accelerator, use the following code example:

object copy_button : XmPushButton
                XmNlabelString      = "Copy";
                XmNaccelerator      = "Ctrl<Key>Insert";
                XmNacceleratorText  = "Ctrl+Ins";
                XmNmnemonic         = keysym("C");

For information on capitalization of menu items, see Section 1.6.

2.2 Organizing Menus and Menu Items

The way you organize your menus and menu items depends on your application. Choose the most appropriate guidelines from the following list to help you:

  • Create logical groupings of menus and menu items.
    Menu items can be composed of either text or graphics, and can span multiple lines. Within a menu, use horizontal separators (lines) to form logical groups and separate menu items. For example, on a menu for editing a document, place all graphical menu items together, and all textual menu items together, and separate the two groups with a line.
    Place together sets of related items and separate them from other menu items by a horizontal separator. Let users help you decide what constitutes a logical group.
  • Place menu items within the menu in the order of most common use.
    In general, place the most commonly used commands first in the menu and the least frequently used commands last. Involve users in your design and testing so that you will know which menu items are most commonly used.
    You can also arrange menus items in groups, and within those groups arrange them according to frequency of use. For example, you might place Exit and Close at the bottom of a menu (even though they are used often) to be consistent with the placement of Close in the window menu.
  • Organize menu items in a perceivable order.
    For example, arrange a list in alphabetical order, or arrange the menu items from the smallest unit of measurement to the largest (for example, type size from 8 points to 24 points).
  • Put related opposite menu items in the same menu.
    For example, place Show and Hide, and Undo and Redo in the same menu, or create a menu item that changes depending on the context. For example, have the Undo menu item change to Redo if users have just performed an Undo operation.
  • Do not put a destructive command (such as Delete or Revert) next to other frequently chosen items.
    One of the most common user problems with menus is the off-by-one error, in which users mistakenly choose the item next to the one intended. Be aware of the result if users choose the menu item above or below the intended item. If, however, a destructive function logically goes with a frequently chosen item, make sure that the users can undo the destructive function, or make sure you provide a question dialog box that confirms that users really want to perform the destructive option.
  • Use no more than three levels of menus, as a rule.

Consider providing a menu map, either on line or in hardcopy form. Some products provide one map of all menus and menu items, while others provide separate diagrams for each menu and its associated submenus. Figure 2-3 shows a map for one menu and its associated submenus.

Figure 2-3 A Menu Map

2.3 Using Ellipses in Menu Items

Use a horizontal ellipsis (...) to indicate that pushing the button invokes a dialog box or window that requires some action on the part of the user. For example, use an ellipsis with the Print menu item if it invokes a dialog box in which users must provide printer information before a file can be printed.

Do not use ellipses with the Help push button or Help menu item since Help does not require any action. (For information on designing online help, see Chapter 5.)

Do not take short cuts when providing ellipses in cascade buttons. Always use ellipses in cascade menu items. Figure 2-4 shows the appropriate way to use ellipses with cascade buttons.

Figure 2-4 Ellipses with Cascade Buttons

2.4 Disabling Menu Items

At a given time, your application can make a menu item unavailable to users; that is, it can disable the menu item. Users cannot choose a disabled menu item. Figure 2-5 illustrates a disabled menu item.

Figure 2-5 A Menu with a Disabled Menu Item

Programming Hint

To disable a menu item, call XtSetSensitive with the widget ID of the widget.

You can allow users to display a menu or submenu in which all items are disabled. With such a display, users can see what features your application provides. (This guideline does not necessarily apply to pop-up menus; for guidelines on pop-up menus, see Section 2.5.2.)

If your application does not support a standard menu item, do not display that menu item at all. For example, if your application does not support the Select All menu item, do not include Select All in a menu.

Use the following guidelines to determine whether to disable a menu item:

  • Disable menu items for operations that users cannot do; that is, menu items that would cause an error or result in no action when users chose them.
    For example, disable the Cut menu item from the Edit menu if users have not selected anything to cut; disable an Undo menu item if users cannot undo the last operation.
  • Do not disable menu items for operations that users can do, even if doing them does not change anything.
    For example, do not disable a Select All menu item, even if users have already selected all items. It is best not to disable Select All because doing so could cause confusion to users.

Some menu items invoke dialog boxes; your decision to disable such menu items depends on whether the dialog box that is invoked is modal or modeless:

  • If the menu item invokes a modal dialog box that requires some context, such as the selection of a mail folder, you can do either of the following:
    • Disable that menu item if choosing it would cause an error or would display a dialog box with no meaningful context.
    • Enable that menu item if users can provide meaningful context within the dialog box, for example, by entering the mail folder name. In such cases, you should disable the OK and Apply push buttons until the dialog box has some context.
  • If the menu item invokes a modeless dialog box, keep the menu item active, and display the associated dialog box when users click on the menu item.
    However, disable the OK and Apply push buttons on the dialog box. Because the dialog box is modeless, users have the ability to make changes, and might make a change that renders the dialog box useful. If users make such a change, enable the push buttons on the dialog box.
    For example, if a graphics editor has a menu item called Align which invokes a modeless dialog box, users should be able to click on Align and see its associated dialog box, even if they have not created or selected any objects to align. If users have not created or selected any objects to align, disable the push buttons in the dialog box. However, once they create or select a few objects, change the push buttons from disabled to enabled.

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