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Disliking Drawers

Y'know, seeing screenshots of the recently released NisusWriter Express reminded me of something: I Dislike Drawers. Those slide-out never-wide-enough drawers in Mac OS X. In fact, aside from Preview, I can't think of a single app in which I even like to tolerate drawers. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being "yay" and 1 being "grrr" drawers consistently rank in around a 1.8. Preview? Maybe a 4.

What don't I like about drawers? Well, my primary beef with them is that they are tied to a window. This presents a number of problems which I shall attempt to list here:

1. It's easy for drawers to waste space.
If a drawer is not filled with controls, it wastes space. That's "dead" space. Open two large images in Preview and look at its drawer: what's it look like? Well, beneath the two pictures is a whole helluva lot of wasted space. Mail, which I never use, wastes no less than 400 vertical pixels and 200 horizontal. I have better use for that 80,000 pixels, dammit! And suppose I had 4000 mailboxes, filling up Mail's drawer - then I'd have to make the main window bigger to make the drawer larger, wasting even more space (by anything overlapped by my increasingly large main window).

2. Drawers limit my ability to customize my workspace.
In Photoshop my palettes float about as I want. In OmniGraffle, I've organized my palettes, grouped them, positioned them how I like. Perhaps in NetNewsWire I'd like to work with the Sites drawer independently of my main window. I can't close the main window - the drawer goes away. Preview has an "image browser" built in, but I can't view two of the images at the same time if I opened them in a way that gets them both in the same drawer.

3. Drawers are hard to resize and often misused.
You've got, what, all of two pixels in which to resize your drawer? Perhaps if they had a bit of a "pull-tab" they'd be easier to resize? What's more, I find myself wanting to resize drawers so much because drawers are often misused. Chimera used to have its bookmarks in a drawer, and OmniWeb still does. Drawers are too skinny for bookmarks, many of which have long titles (and longer bookmark URLs).

My biggest beef is really probably the abuse of drawers - they're too often misused. Bookmarks in a drawer? Why? Safari nailed it. Internet Explorer did better with its non-drawer Mac OS 9-style "separate window." Wow, everything old is new again. I can't think of a good use for drawers. As I said, Preview rates about a 4 on my scale of 1-10. I've yet to see an app score higher. I'm willing to accept that I'm wrong (or forgetting about an app that "gets it right") - does anyone have anything to say?

P.S. This was written pretty off-the-cuff, so please don't attribute to me any resolute determination to rid the world of drawers. I just don't like 'em much right now.

11 Responses to "Disliking Drawers"

  1. I'm the programmer of a notepad program, Hog Bay Notebook, and am always looking to improve the interface.

    Hog Bay Notebook (as do a number of other notepads) uses a drawer to display the note hierarchy. I think the drawer is nice because it can easily be made to completely disappear... something that you can't do with a split view, since it will always leave the split showing. For a notepad program this is nice because often people want to hide the entire interface and just work in a text edit like environment, but sometimes of course they need the full interface so that they can find and manipulate their notes. In my eyes drawers seem to work well for this collapsible type of interface. Also note that with Hog Bay Notebook you can collapse and expand the drawer and toolbar together by clicking the green maximize button.

    Drawers seem to work well in this case. But if you have a better idea for this sort of interface I'd love to hear about it.



  2. I disagree. I'd rather see that note hierarchy in a separate window so I can resize it more freely.

  3. Drawer Disgust

    Erik over at NSLog(); has opined about Drawers. No, not the kind that you have to jump into when there is a knock at the door on a Saturday morning. He's talking about the kinds that make ever more annoying

  4. A nice example of Drawer use is in proteus.

    I know there is still some wasted space, but I really like the way you can quikly switch between conversations, and have them all collected nicely. The small amount of wasted space from the drwaer (which can be closed) is a small sacrafice for not having 3 or 4 IM windows open at the same time. The drawer contains a list of names which are the currently open conversations. Each name also has a typing indicator, and a new message coutner so you know who you are currently talking to.

    I have a good number of mailboxes (4 acounts can do that) so I also dont have any waster space with Mail. If your going to talk about wasted space in a mail client don't forget entourage which has a simlar "drawer" like feature.

    IE also had drawers for managing bookmarks, Histories and other things. The sidebar anyone?

    I find that even more anoying then a draw since it actualy takes up window space that could be better used for displaying HTML (yes I know you can turn it off)

    My 2 cents.

    And yes badily used drawers are anoying, but they are hardly bad in all cases.

  5. I prefer Adium's use of tabs over Proteus' use of a drawer. It saves even more space and has nice keyboard shortcuts for moving amongs the conversations.

  6. How is Mail wasting any more space than, say, Entourage? It's a similar three-pane view, except that in Mail the third pane is in a secondary window.

  7. Entourage uses a split view. Entourage's folders can be hidden entirely and accessed without a drawer - you can move messages to folders with keyboard shortcuts. I tend to use Entourage in this "hidden folder view" mode. And Entourage's "drawer" can contain more than folders - it can contain Mail Views, making more use of that space than you can in Mail.

    But I also never said that Entourage was ideal in its use of a split view either. I'm talking about drawers, not Entourage.

  8. Thinking alike

    Time for random rants or rants on rants on software again. Relax, enjoy or grind your teeth and fast...

  9. Not for Drawing

    Erik airs his dislike of drawers. I beg to disagree. For sure, it takes a bit of skill to...

  10. Interface Criticisms

    John Gruber rightly blasts Safari’s use of click-through. And Erik Barzeski voices some of my criticisms about drawers. There are only two drawers that I recall liking: the pages/thumbnails drawer in Preview and the Preview drawer in Path Finder...

  11. I'm not such a fan of drawers myself. I've seen them used well (or maybe I dreamed an app where they were used well) but the over-riding impression is that they are annoying.

    I love Transmit as an FTP program, but I like to see the transcript of the uploads/downloads or whatever. In Transmit 1.7, they had the transcript window separate so I could have it as tall as I wanted and I could even minimise the main window and see the transactions taking place in the remaining transcrpipt window, now (Transmit 2) they have that as a drawer coming OUT OF THE BOTTOM of the main window, so now can I not only not minimise the main window and keep an eye on the transcript, I can't even make it a decent height, so it's much harder to keep track of where I am in an upload queue or something similar.

    Bah! 😐 I tihnk I'm going to request a new feature from the lads at Panic.