The forgotten common controls: The page scroller


The pager control was introduced with the common controls library that came with Internet Explorer 4.0 in order to assist in implementing scrolling menus on the Start menu and Favorites menu. (The Start menu and Favorites menu aren't really menus in the Win32 sense. They are custom controls written to act like menus; the fakemenu sample provides the basic idea.) The menu part is wrapped inside a pager control, and it is the pager that provides the scrolling behavior.

It so happens that scrolling menus were a bad idea. User feedback after the release of Internet Explorer 4.0 rather decisively indicated that people much preferred multi-column menus on the Start menu, so the default was changed back to multi-column menus in subsequent versions. The pager control is still used on the Favorites menu, and it was publically documented, so the control cannot ever die (for compatibility reasons), but not much attention is paid to it any more. It takes its place among the forgotten common controls.

Comments (25)
  1. John Topley says:

    "It so happens that scrolling menus were a bad idea. User feedback after the release of Internet Explorer 4.0 rather decisively indicated that people much preferred multi-column menus on the Start menu, so the default was changed back to multi-column menus in subsequent versions."

    Doesn’t Windows Vista replace the multi-column Start menu with an in-situ scrolling version?

  2. KJK::Hyperion says:

    But Windows Vista has search-as-you-type. That makes a big difference. Having that feature in Opera only makes me miss it in everything else

  3. Philip says:

    It may have incremental search, but the whole "replace the big menu with a tiny scrolling one for asthetic reasons" in Vista B2 is quite annoying.  While I am a keyboard user, once I’m on the mouse I don’t like to have to switch back and forth.

    When you open the "all programs" menu, you’re most likey only doing one thing – choosing an application. Once you focus off the menu, it vanishes – so doesn’t it make sense for it to eat up as much screen as it needs (as opposed to fitting in the start menu) ??  Let’s hope it improves post B2

  4. Gabe says:

    You know, I seem to recall some people criticizing Windows for not having menus (particularly the Start Menu) that scroll like on the Macintosh. Apparently Mac users either like the scrolling menus or Apple didn’t listen to them complaining about them.

  5. James Schend says:

    I think the difference is that Macintosh menus almost 100% of the time are short enough that they never need to scroll.  The only time you’ll see a scrolling one is in a poorly-designed UI or when running a teeny screen resolution.

    The exception (in Classic at least) was the Apple Menu, which let users add any items to it they wanted, and therefore could be as long as the user wanted.  I suppose a web browser’s bookmarks menu would be an exception for the same reason… but both the Apple Menu and bookmarks menus allow the user to create folders and make the menu more trim if they like.

    Additionally, since all Mac menus are anchored at the very top of the screen, they have more space to spread out than Windows menus, especially when the window is small, or dragged to the bottom of the screen.

    So, in short, I guess the reason Macintosh users don’t complain about it is that it doesn’t come up as often.

    BTW, I really hate the term "favorites."  Most of the sites I bookmark aren’t my "favorite" sites, I just need to find them again quickly.  Frequently, I’ll bookmark terrible sites for future submission to SomethingAwful.com, and those are certainly not "favorites."  It’s like those commercials where laundry soap is available at your "favorite store"… is any store which sells laundry soap your favorite?  My favorite stores all sell electronics and video games.  </end rant>

  6. ATZ Man says:

    Mac’s used by designers used to have horrendous font menus (maybe they still do). Scrolling font menus, if I recall correctly.

  7. [ICR] says:

    I was having a very long discussion with my friend, a Mac user, today about many things, tech related and non. One of the things that came up was his distast for the Apple recommendations regarding fonts, which results in a huge complex dialog box (I forget what it’s called in the MacOS world) just to select a font.

    Iirc correctly (it is only a distant memory), Vista has more stringent controls about how the start menu is laid out, such that it is no longer, or certainly less hirarchical. This makes a scrolling menu more effective.

  8. Gabe says:

    Keep in mind, James, the scrolling menus only showed up in Windows on the Start and Favorites menus, both of which have direct Mac equivalents. Anybody who’s been using Macs for a while should be quite familiar with scrolling menus.

    The canonical example of scrolling menus on a Mac is the Font menu. (Remember when programs had so few features that there was a separate menu dedicated to each typeface option? — Font, Size, and Style were often separate menus) Additionally, the Mac equivalent to combo boxes (which display a scrolling list box when you click the down-arrow button) is a pop-up menu. The menu doesn’t have scroll bars; it is another scrolling menu (and not anchored to the top of the screen).

    Since it’s pretty easy to have a large list of fonts or visit a web site with a lot of items in a drop-down ("Select your country"), Mac users have been used to seeing scrolling menus for 20 years (the original Mac had a screen 342 pixels tall, so only 20 fonts were required to see a scrolling menu). Windows users were only exposed to this feature briefly, yet they complained loudly enough to get the feature removed.

    The problem isn’t the fact that the menu scrolls, the problem is how it scrolls. The Win98 Programs menu had small areas at the top and bottom which would scroll the menu when your mouse is over them. That makes it hard to control the scrolling and doesn’t give you random access — if you always want to use the last item on a long menu, you always have to wait for it to finish scrolling. The Vista Programs menu just has a regular scroll bar, so you can scroll by clicking, dragging, or with the scroll wheel.

    BTW, I think most people probably don’t organize their Favorites; they just use it as a dumping ground for sites they want to remember. Once I was working in Outlook on somebody’s computer and noticed that it would lock up for a minute or so whenever I scanned the menus. It turns out that EVERY TIME Outlook went to display the Favorites menu it would scan the filesystem to SYNCHRONOUSLY build the menu from the shortcuts in the Favorites folder. Since he had 1500 or so "Favorites" and it did no caching, the thing would frequently lock up.

    You can still turn scrolling Programs menu back on, though, and I think the Pager control may still be used in Outlook. In fact, IE6 still uses the pager on its Favorites menu, presumably to punish those who refuse to organize them into folders.

  9. Mike Dunn says:

    The IE menu itself scrolled too. If you resized that rebar band really small, you could end up with a menu like:

    <- it View Favo ->

    This was soon replaced by the much nicer chevron button.

  10. clewinton says:

    Why does the blogs.msdn.com site give me “We are currently unable to serve your request” so oftern? I get this on most the blogs probally about 25% of the time? Anyone else have this problem?

    Sorry to be off topic !

    Charles

    [I don’t control the server. It times out for me too. -Raymond]
  11. ::wendy:: says:

    The search box in the Vista start menu actually searched the start menu?  WOW that’s fantastic.  I never guessed.  Never thought to try that.  I thought it just searched the computer for files.  Darn.  My past expereicne means that i just don’t ‘see’ the potential.  

    This means no more fiddling with the touchpad to get to the command prompt (and missing the teeny-tiny things ‘cuz i’m clumsy like that) when i need to follow support call instructions to type ‘iprelease’ or  ‘ipconfig’

    hooray!

  12. Thomas A says:

    ::wendy:: : ever tried [win]+r, thats how i start almost everything =p ([win]+r -> cmd gives u command prompt)

  13. Stu says:

    The difference between the Mac and Windows implementations of scrolling menus is IIRC, that on the Mac the scrollers are usually at the top or bottom of the screen, whereas the Windows ones left a gap. Also, on the Mac, the scroll target is the same size as a menu item, whereas on Windows, it is half-sized. People are more used to hitting menu items than half-sized items.

  14. ::wendy:: says:

    Thomas – thansk for the tip.  Taking your idea further (shortcuts to avoid navigating menu-content),  if i enhance my memory for keyboard shortcuts i could stop using the touchpad, HOORAY!  Maybe even replace menu-usage with keyboard shortcuts HOORAY!  In reality I can’t be bothered to learn/memorize fancy shortcut thingys…  …especially for rarely used functionality.  SIGH.  I will hang-on to my love of ‘search’ and ‘visual scan’ (e.g. cascading menus, search result lists).  

  15. Bruce Boughton says:

    I love the way this was something brought in with *Internet* Explorer 4!

  16. Norman Diamond says:

    Tuesday, June 06, 2006 2:23 PM by Gabe

    > Since it’s pretty easy to have a large list

    > of fonts or visit a web site with a lot of

    > items in a drop-down ("Select your country"),

    > Mac users have been used to seeing scrolling

    > menus for 20 years […]  Windows users were

    > only exposed to this feature briefly, yet

    > they complained loudly enough to get the

    > feature removed.

    Actually Windows users are exposed to those same web sites and it’s more painful in web sites than in ordinary windows.  In ordinary windows, often it’s possible to type the first character of an item in order to jump to an item near the desired ones, then use the keyboard’s down arrow and then the Enter key to confirm the selected item.  In Internet Explorer, hitting the Enter key key causes the web page to take some action (often a submit) instead of just selecting the selected item in the combo box.

    Most of my submissions to MSDN do start out with the intention of being polite, at least initially.  But more than half of them are preceded by a submission saying I live in Japan without saying anything else about the bug being reported.

    > BTW, I think most people probably don’t

    > organize their Favorites

    True, but surely one reason is because it’s so painful to scroll slowly through the list of favourites over and over and over again.  Plus half the time the moves don’t stick even after initially being obeyed.

  17. James Schend says:

    Hm.  Conceded.  Maybe the difference is the way that Apple’s menus scrolled?  I really don’t know then.

    I agree that the font picker in OS X is a huge step back for usability.  If you’re a typographer, and know what "kerning" means (and use it enough to require it almost every time you change the font), I’m sure you really appreciate it… but for 95%+ of Apple’s customers, all those fields are utterly useless.  Even worse, the one thing that a font picker *should* do (show you a live preview of the font before you select it), it doesn’t.

    The good part is that the font in the document *does* change in real-time as you select it in the font picker.

    Also, the color picker in OS X really stinks compared to the one in Mac OS 9.2.2.  And don’t get me started on the Finder…

    Apple’s been stuck in something of a "one step forward, two steps back" thing in regards to usability over the last few years.  They’ll add in something like Expose, which is tremendously clever and useful– then at the same time, add in something like Spotlight, which has a UI so arcane it almost makes Lotus Notes look intuitive.  Almost.

    I long for the days of Mac OS 9.2.2, which might have been technically inferior to OSes with memory protection and multi-user features, but at least it was fun and easy to use.  Apple lost something in the merger with NeXT.  Alas.

  18. Gabe says:

    In case it wasn’t clear Norman, I meant that Windows users are only exposed to scrolling menus for Favorites and sometimes for Programs. Windows users are exposed to sites with drop-down boxes, they are list boxes so it is easy to scroll through them.

    I suspect that Windows users were outraged by scrolling Programs menus because having multiple columns just makes more sense. Mac users have never seen multi-column menus, so they probably just don’t realize there’s anything to complain about.

  19. James Schend says:

    Gabe– Or the Apple implementation (as outlined above by Stu) is enough better that it doesn’t quite cross the "I’m annoyed by this enough to complain" barrier.

  20. Vince P says:

    I dont know why Norman thinks it’s MS’s fault that the IE browser conforms to the w3.org standard for HTML Controls.

    quote:

    The SELECT element creates a menu, in combination with the OPTGROUP and OPTION elements.

    text input

    The HTML "ComboBox" isn’t a combobox at all, it’s a menu.  I dont know too many menus that allow you to type paste the first letter to get to the menu item you want.

    I bet if MS changed the "standard" for the HTML Select input control to be more like a ComboBox he’d be telling us war stories of how MSDN ignored his pleas for standards compliance.

  21. Norman Diamond says:

    Wednesday, June 07, 2006 12:20 PM by Vince P

    > I dont know why Norman thinks it’s MS’s

    > fault that the IE browser conforms to the

    > w3.org standard for HTML Controls.

    I also don’t know why I think something that I don’t think and didn’t say I think.  I also don’t know why you don’t know why I think something that I don’t think, though if I had to guess, it might be because your psychic powers need more training?

    > The HTML "ComboBox" isn’t a combobox at all,

    > it’s a menu.  I dont know too many menus

    > that allow you to type paste the first

    > letter to get to the menu item you want.

    OK, I should have called them menus even though they visually appear as combo boxes and don’t visually appear as menus.  I do take your word for it.  As for you not knowing too many that allow typing the first letter to get near the menu item I want, I’ll take your word for that too, but I do know a lot that allow it.  I type a J, press the down arrow key a few times (sometimes once), and then out of habit I hit the Enter key to confirm the selection, but in IE it behaves differently from the way real combo boxes behave.  I do understand that these boxes (which I now understand are called menus in W3) aren’t real combo boxes, but it’s still very hard to break a habit that works so well everywhere else.

  22. Vince P says:

    I always hated the way the HTML combo box / select /menu whatever thing worked.

    An example:

    In software it was always so easy to type I-L to select the abbreviation of my state, Illinois, in drop down lists… and then I was forced to learn what slot Illinois took in the alphabetical list of states starting with I and tap I accordingly.

    I had users nearly at the point of rebellion when I was forced to convert a Windows App to a Web application.

    But still, that doesn’t lesson my criticism of your post :)

  23. Moi says:

    There’s going to be more server resources for everyone else in future as I will no longer be reading this, or any other msdn based, blog. I have better things to do than keep getting these stupid timeouts.

  24. Norman Diamond says:

    Thursday, June 08, 2006 4:28 AM by Moi

    > There’s going to be more server resources

    > for everyone else in future as I will no

    > longer be reading this, or any other msdn

    > based, blog. I have better things to do than

    > keep getting these stupid timeouts.

    Hmm.  I wondered why I wasn’t getting any timeouts today, but here we see the reason.  The timeouts occured because Lui or Elle[*] was reading it.  It was all his/her fault!

    [* Well it wasn’t Moi…]

  25. Mike Dimmick says:

    On the subject of the HTML SELECT control: IE6 and earlier implement this using the Windows Combo Box control, set to have the CBS_DROPDOWNLIST style, hence no edit box. This control only ever supported typing the first letter to select the next match with that letter, so if the list contains ‘Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States’ you hit U four times to get to the UK. Pressing U then N takes you to Nairobi. The classic listbox control was the same. The feature of typing the first few letters of the item you want only appeared in the ListView control with Windows 95 – the TreeView also supports it.

    Because SELECT was implemented using a regular Windows control, it didn’t respect the Z-order and layering of elements on the page, which led to a lot of hacks to hide SELECT boxes when using DHTML menus. IE7 now implements SELECT as a windowless control which does respect Z-order and layering. It seems to now support multiple-character typedown too.

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