Earlier this week, I somewhat humorously referred to people who close windows on the left side as "Windows 3.1 lovers." What did I mean by that?
The now-ubiquitous close button in the upper-right hand corner of windows was only added to the operating system in Windows 95. Previously, as you can see in this picture of Word 6.0 running on Windows 3.1, the only caption controls on the right side of the title bar were minimize and maximize/restore. The way you closed a window was by double-clicking the little horizontal line icon in the upper-left corner of the window.
The keyboard shortcut for "open the system menu" in Windows has always been Alt+Space. Why? Because the icon that the menu comes out of looks like the space bar on the keyboard.
How, you might ask, do you open the MDI system menu located directly beneath the normal system menu? You guessed it, Alt+Hyphen, because the icon looks a lot like a hyphen. Of course, since Windows 95, neither of these icons looks anything like a space bar or a hyphen, yet the keyboard shortcuts remain the same even in Windows Vista (and likely forevermore.)
Back to the story:
Anyway, in Windows 95 the close box was added to the upper-right corner, but they kept the ability to close windows by double-clicking the product icon on the left side of the title bar. As a result, even some whippersnappers like me who barely remember computers pre-Windows 95 learned to close windows that way.
Whoops, I let out my big secret.
You see, I'm a left-side double-click closer myself. It's embarrassing, I know, but I just can't break the habit. Oh so many times during the beta of Office I've moved my mouse to the upper-left corner, realized that I couldn't close the window, and then jumped to the other side of the screen to hit the close box.
We removed left-side close as a planned experiment. If people could get used to closing on the right side, we'd be better off because there wouldn't be two ways of doing the same simple action. Clearly if we were building a new window manager from scratch with no pre-existing users, we would only have one way to close windows.
But, of course, we have hundreds of millions of users, many of which (like me) literally have left-side close burned into the lower levels of our brain stem, along with breathing and keeping the heart beating. Honestly, I can seem to relearn anything except for this.
Nonetheless, we tried taking this out--we shipped Beta 1 Technical Refresh and Beta 2 this way and waited for feedback. Could people adapt? Not really, as it turns out.
Honestly, we knew all along that there was a strong possibility we would have to find a way to add this functionality back. It was worth a shot, but in the end, creating an affordance for left-side closing eliminates one huge annoyance that stands in the way of some people's enjoyment of the product.
Soon, I'll explain a bit about the design we decided on and the thought process behind it.