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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Interface Ideas ("Intrinisic Flexibility")

I have a fairly small laptop screen but know how much I like to be able to use up the full screen real estate when I'm using a larger monitor (and despite the fixed layout aficionados out there, I believe many others feel similarly--ok, maybe fixed layouts can be potentially made resizable too, but...).

Anyhoo, one great widget of the future (the kind a self-learning robot might invent for its purposes--great motivator, by the way, to compete against such eventualities) is to be able to turn portions of a layout (e.g., HTML fieldset, a XUL groupbox, etc.) into a separate tab, and convert tabs (tabs such as created by the latter, as well as those already in use, e.g., Firefox browser tabs) into unified screens.

This kind of widget would really relieve a lot of the headaches of programmers trying to provide an adequate interface, as they could rest assured that their users will have some flexibility in customizing it to their own needs.

(Unlike in XUL, it'd be great to have flex attributes be inheritable to avoid needing to place them everywhere.)

One should have the ability to turn a multiple select box into a series of checkboxes (and vice versa), or a single select box into a series of radio buttons (and vice versa). One should have the option to turn a condensed (XUL-style menuitem) into an HTML optgroup-style integrated view and vice versa.

I'd even like to be able to auto-convert fixed layouts into fluid ones and vice versa.

Although one can do this with overlays, it'd be nice to have more "intrinsically flexible" features to convert any sidebar into a dialog (extensions exist to do this), a dialog into a sidebar, etc.

I really hope more interface languages (or their parsers) will become more intrinsically flexible.

Oh, and the ability to turn displays of one type into another (richlistbox into a tree, etc., a wrapping table into a list, and vice versa, etc., or any of these into flashcards, etc.; also, trees into column browsers and vice versa). Yes, one can program this to occur in individual cases, but one does not have the flexibility within the Firefox interface at present to do this at will (and it is unrealistic to expect that all extension developers or even Firefox developers will have the foresight (or skills) to make things as flexible as others might want).

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