Mozilla's Context Menus
Mozilla's Context Menus
Several years back I followed Mozilla's (the product now known as SeaMonkey) progress pretty closely and one person who's blog I followed was Matthew Thomas, or as everyone seems to know him, MPT. The guy pushed usuability and user interface design on bugzilla and God knows Mozilla needed it, the interface was quite simply horrible.
I wasn't directly involved in any Mozilla development, past the odd bug report, so my perspective is very much as an outsider, but I gather that as Mozilla was open sourced most of the developers were those on the payroll of Netscape (which was now a division of AOL Time Warner). The idea of open sourcing a project and instantly attracting developers who sacrafice their free time is flawed, however MPT was a guy who wasn't employed by Netscape but devoted time to helping with usability and triaging in bugzilla.
Mozilla was an open source project but the original goal of the project was to drive the Netscape browser. With all the contributors to Mozilla being employees of Netscape several desicions that went into the codebase, and notably the UI, were driven by Netscape without heedence of the community.
One example of this, which has always stuck in my mind, is the context menus. I'm not entirely sure of the story behind the context menus but bug 75338 follows MPT's spec and related discussion. After an extended period of time and several iterations a pretty darn beautifull context menu specification is created (complete with classic mozilla.org banner) which is miles more elegant than the context menus which existed in Mozilla at the time. I find these context menus amazingly well thought out and designed and I still think this spec is really something.
This story doesn't have a happy ending, ultimately a Netscape engineer created a massively inferior spec which didn't change the menus too much (they still had the oh-so-useful "Set as Wallpaper" option) so the diehard faithful users wouldn't get too confused (what users?). The Netscape spec was implemented and MPT got fed up of being ignored and jumped ship.
The reason I am posting this is because I don't want to lose the link to MPT's context menu specification. It made a real impression on me and I can only hope that when I come to create a UI it is as well planned and designed as this.