Yesterday, I talked about "command loops," in which commands not available at the
same time in a modal user interface can cause frustration or reduced efficiency
due the mode switch required to access both of them.
When we looked closely at the command loops people were experiencing in our
early Office 12 prototypes, almost all of them were related to text formatting.
Someone would be creating a caption or a footnote or a comment and they wanted a
simple way to access the Bold button with the mouse. (If you use the
keyboard to access bold, there is no command loop because keyboard shortcuts are
Out of the search for a solution to this problem was born the MiniBar.
(If you've heard the term "Floatie" before, the MiniBar is the same thing.
"Floatie" was our internal name for what we're now calling the "MiniBar."
Aren't names fun?)
At Microsoft, we've been using a UI mechanism we call "on-object UI" for a
couple of years. For instance, when Word AutoCorrects your
capitalization or spelling in Office 2003, a little tag shows up around the word that was corrected.
If you click on it, a menu pops down inviting you to undo the correction or to
turn off AutoCorrection altogether.
(A form of on-object UI in Word 2003)
This has been a moderately successful mechanism at exposing people to features
they wouldn't normally see. But the MiniBar had a more ambitious goal: try
to use the
concepts behind on-object UI to improve the efficiency of mouse users.
Whereas most of our current on-object UI exposes fairly obscure or hard-to-find
features, the MiniBar provides
access to the formatting commands people use the most.
When you select text in Office 12, the MiniBar appears "ghosted" above the text
you selected. If you move closer to the MiniBar, it fades in and becomes a
miniature toolbar you can use to apply Bold, Italic, Font Size, Color, etc.
As you move the pointer away from the edge of the MiniBar, it fades away to
nothing. So, if you don't want to use the MiniBar on selection, just move
your cursor a few pixels away and it dismisses.
Here's a little movie I made that demonstrates the MiniBar in action:
The MiniBar is designed to reduce the amount your mouse has to travel around
the screen by allowing on-object tweaks to formatting. At the same time,
we wanted to make sure that it's not annoying by designing it to be incredibly shy and
easy to dismiss. In fact, our current feedback shows that the MiniBar is
actually too shy, and we need to dial back the dismiss behavior a little
bit to strike the right balance between predictability, ease-of-use, and annoyance.
We also know there are "selection readers" out there. (I'm one of
them.) Selection readers are just what they sound like: people who select text
in a document as they read it. Maybe it's a kind of nervous habit.
For me, I think I do it to kind of help me keep my place in the document.
Regardless, we knew that the MiniBar would fail if it annoyed the "selection
readers", and we've gone out of our way to try to make it undisruptive.
Of course, if you think having the MiniBar come up on selection would annoy you no matter what, you can turn it
off. We've added the MiniBar to the top of context menus as well, so you
can turn off the on-object MiniBar and still only be a right-click away from top
formatting commands. But most people who have used it, including those who
were initially very skeptical of the concept, have come around to make it a
major part of the way they work.
I do love the thing and it drives me crazy not to have it when I'm using earlier versions of Office.