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The user interface of Visual Studio

Tags: Visual Studio, Microsoft Office

I spend a lot of time using mainly two applications; Microsoft Visual Studio (2003 and 2005) and Microsoft Office (2007). Microsoft Office 2007 introduces a new user interface that simplifies the usage a lot.

I am a devoted reader to Jensen Harris Office User Interface blog and it has taught me a lot and given me influences on how user interfaces should be built and I try to take his advices in account.

Normally I would never design a user interface except administration interfaces since I am to technical and I personally believe that it should be done by experts...

Visual Studio vs Office

When it comes to how the interface should be designed for usability I think heavily depends on the application but that should only be parameters for the rules of interface design. If you compare Visual Studio and Word - two really different applications but in both you, most of the time, write a lot of text/code. In Visual Studio you use a lot of tool windows and in Office the task panes becomes more and more useful (I really hated them in the beginning). So the basics are pretty common.

Office 2007 is a revolution in interface design

  • The adaptive Ribbon works really smooth.
  • The Mini Toolbar
  • The Quick Access - fast acess to your

I really these three would fit just perfect into the next big upgrade of Visual Studio, and I'm not alone, it will not be in Visual Studio 2007 (Orcas) but I wish and hope for the next version, perhaps 2009?

Yes, I know that a lot of programmers use keyboard shortcuts instead of a mouse and would not gain as much of this as others, but to my experience (did a fast check at work) about 50% of the developers use the mouse to build a solution or project.

Perfect for the Ribbon...

I think Visual Studio, now with all the different designers, and even the possibility to create your own designers, would gain a lot from getting a the Ribbon.

Aaron Brethorst, Program Manager at Microsoft, has his thoughts on the Ribbon in Visual Studio, in the post Sprinkle on a Little Ribbon and You're Good to...Oh Wait. I might agree with him that it would not be that easy to get it into Visual Studio. There might be something in between of the myriads of toolbars in todays Visual Studio and the Ribbon.

Refactoring should gain a lot from having a Mini Toolbar. Just select the code with mouse and have a Mini Toolbar pop-up with refactoring functions, comment out possibility, create a region and others.

An example of bad design in Visual Studio

Here is an example of bad design in Visual Studio when you use the mouse. Let's say that you are writing code and would like to create a new function.


 When you have written the code a small box appears under the first character of the function and you have to hover the mouse to that position and then you will get a small box in which you can click.

Generate stub 3

When hovering this box it will expand with a drop down arrow.

Generate stub 3

Then clicking it will give you a number of choices.

Generate stub 1

In this case the possibility to generate the stub I wanted.

Would'nt a Mini Toolbar be prefferred here? I gues that Fitt's Law was not used when this interface feature was designed. Jensen Harris: run on over to the building where the Visual Studio interface team members are sitting and give them a few lessons in user interface design.

No Comments

  • Mike said

    I really hope they DON'T put the Ribbon into Visual Studio -- it's completely counter to the way I work best, and would only hinder me. I can't get anything done in a reasonable amount of time in Word 2007, while I could in previous versions. If the Ribbon replaces the menus/toolbars in VS, then I will have to reconsider my choice of development tools.

  • Wictor said

    Heya and thanks for sharing your comments. I guess that Ribbon in VS is an utopia, but I think that the toolbars of VS should have been more evolved the last years. You say that you work slower with the Ribbon in Office; it's completley the opposite for me. Productivity in Office has drastically increased for me with the introduction of the Ribbon. I'm a keyboard shortcut guy - which makes me quite independent of the toolbar/ribbon under normal circumtstances but the Ribbon helps me find those functions that I use very seldom.

  • Mike said

    The Ribbon is an extreme hindrance to me... very unintuitive and confusing... it keeps reshuffling itself so I don't know where things are. If we had the choice of switching to a classic mode then Ribbon-lovers could be happy and those like myself who want to actually work with the software rather than look at useless eye-candy could get our jobs done without swearing at the interface every couple of minutes (which I actually have found myself doing at Word 2007 - I've never had software make my blood boil like Office 2007 does). Unfortunately, the [ef]Fluent interface forbids a classic mode. Hopefully the makers of SharpDevelop won't adopt the ribbon so that I might still develop .NET applications.

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About Wictor...

Wictor Wilén is the Nordic Digital Workplace Lead working at Avanade. Wictor has achieved the Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA) - SharePoint 2010, Microsoft Certified Solutions Master (MCSM) - SharePoint  and Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) - SharePoint 2010 certifications. He has also been awarded Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) for seven consecutive years.

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