Picasa’s Awesome X Button

Picasa’s Awesome X Button

I am continuing to evaluate Picasa 2, and noticed something interesting about zooming into “full screen” photo mode that is both simple and clever.

Ordinarily you are in “browse mode” to see all the pictures spread out, and when you double-click on one you see that picture in an enlarged view. To make that picture go away, you can click on the “Go back to Library” button in the upper left. But habit has lead me, perhaps through use of pop-up windows in Web Browser galleries, to automatically click on the red CLOSE box in the upper right. In the case of an application, this usually closes the whole thing down, which isn’t what you want. This happens to me occassionally in Photoshop in full screen mode. It’s annoying, but I know it’s my mistake.

Picasa, on the other hand, programmatically changes the meaning of that close box to mean “go back to library view” instead of “close application”. It’s just smart enough to know that it’s what you want to do given the context of what you’re doing. It’s brilliant. The conventional solution would have been to have a smaller subwindow with its own X close button, so you have to click on the right one. This “two close boxes in the same place” model has been part of Windows software since Windows 3.0, as the problem didn’t seem that big a deal. But I’m telling you now…it is a big deal. I no longer have that fear of accidentally closing the application window with Picasa; my confidence is subtly yet definitively boosted.

Who was it that pushed back and decreed that the application close box could be contextually multi-functional? It makes so much sense that you don’t even notice it working. I’d guess most designers wouldn’t even think of messing with it, let alone programmers; it’s a sublime tweak birthed by the prudent application of insight. I must find out more about Picasa’s UI design team…there is so much goodness in the product.


  1. Bo Jordan 16 years ago

    I can see there being a big UI consistency argument with overriding the window-close button.  Of course, whether it should be “window-close” vs. “quit-what-I’m-currently-doing” is at the core of that, right? :)

    Some would say the Mac has this done a little better, since top-of-screen menu relieves some of the pressure to make all of an app’s UI live within a single window.  However, I have spent many hours trying to explain why closing all the windows for an app doesn’t fully quit the app on a Mac; the icon still lives happily in the dock with a little triangle under it, waiting for you to command-q it away.  A great coffee shop argument for UI nerds, but usually not my idea of a fun conversation with my mom. ;)

    I do have to say that I *love* Picasa’s zooming crop preview strategy.  iPhoto’s (and most other apps’) strategy of tinting the throw-away part is better than nothing, but zooming into a full crop and then back again as a preview is much more effective than I previously thought.

  2. Dave 16 years ago

    Hey Bo!

    Yeah, there’s a lot of food for thought that I’ve been encountering in Picasa. I would have previously been in the “that’s always the app close button, dammit…it’s a windows *convention*”, but I’m betting that user testing showed that people kept clicking it anyway. Breaking out of this virtually SACRED convention may have taken some doing, and realizing it wasn’t a big deal is great. Mapping the controls to user expectation is enlightened behavior for programmers, who tend to structure the GUI by function map rather than user intention by the nature of programming.

    I agree regarding the Mac’s “one menu bar to bind them all” strategy avoids the issue, and I had exactly the same “dammit, why is the app still running?” moments you describe. It’s a little less important now that the Mac has *ahem* real memory management in OS X, but the phantom app thing still gives me the jeebies. You see it also in WinXP, with those continually persistent taskbar apps like NortonAV, AOL, etc.

    It’s nice to see that tiny UI things move forward.