Window Management and the File Menu
The correct design for an application's File menu depends on how the application manages windows that display top-level objects. A window's top-level object is the object that the window representssuch as a file, mailbox, or computer.
In most applications, users create top-level objects or open them by choosing the New item or Open item from the File menu. Some applications have one or more variants of these menu itemsfor example, New, New..., New Object, or New Window.
To determine whether your application's File menu needs one or more of these variants, you need to decide how the application will manage windows that display top-level objects. For example, your application might either:
Open a new window for each top-level object
Reuse a single window for all top-level objects
This section helps you decide which menu items to include for creating and opening top-level objects. The section is based on several example File menus, each for a different type of window management.
For general information and guidelines about the File menu, see "Typical File Menu" on page 37.
When Window Reuse Is the Default
This section provides examples of window-management styles that, by default, open and create objects in the primary window from which a user has chosen the New or Open menu item. For examples of styles in which the default action is to open a new window, see "When Opening a New Window Is the Default" on page 51.
Using a Single Primary Window
Figure 34 shows the File menu of an application with only one primary window. The File menu's New and Open menu items always reuse that primary window.
Figure 34 File Menu for an Application's Only Primary Window
Typically, such a File menu is suitable only for simple applications whose users need to view only one object at a time.
Reusing the Current Window and Creating Windows
In Figure 35, the New and Open items always display objects in the current primary window. To create more primary windows, users can choose the New Window item. Typically, an application's New Window item displays the same contents as the window from which it was created. Alternatively, the New Window item can open a primary window containing nothing or a newly created object.
Figure 35 File Menu for Reusing the Current Window and Creating Windows
The File menu in Figure 35 is suitable for applications that display one object at a time, but whose users sometimes need to view two or more objects at the same timeeach object in its own primary window. For example, a user might need to compare two documents.
In Figure 35, opening an object in a new window requires that users choose two File menu items, in orderthe New Window item followed by the Open item. Design a File menu like the one in Figure 35 only if a task analysis has shown that users rarely need to open an object in a new window. (To learn about task analysis, see a book such as User and Task Analysis for Interface Design, described in "Related Books" on page xiv.)
Reusing the Current Window and Opening Objects in New Windows
In Figure 36, the File menu enables users to open an object in the current primary window or in a new primary window. The File menu's Open item reuses the current primary window. The Open in New Window item opens an object in a new primary window.
Figure 36 File Menu to Reuse the Current Window and Create New Windows
The File menu in Figure 36 is appropriate only if a task analysis has shown both that:
The application's users need an Open menu item and an Open in New Window itemfor example, to compare two objects by displaying one in the current primary window and the other in a new primary window.
Most of the users prefer to open an object in the current primary window.
In Figure 36, the New Window menu item always creates an object in a new primary window.
When Opening a New Window Is the Default
This section illustrates window-management styles where the default action is to open a new window for each newly created object or newly opened object.
Placing All Objects in Separate Primary Windows
In Figure 37, the New and Open items always create a primary window.
Figure 37 File Menu for Placing All Objects in Separate Windows
The File menu in Figure 37 is appropriate only if users often keep two or more objects open at the same time. Such menus require a Close item because more than one primary window can be open at the same time.
Displaying Objects in Separate Windows with Duplicate Window Operation
The File menu in Figure 38 displays each new object in a new primary window. The File menu includes a New Window item as a shortcut for creating a copy of the current object. The New Window item always displays the same view of the object as the window from which it was created.
Figure 38 File Menu to Display Objects in Separate Windows with Duplicate Window Operation
In Figure 38, the File menu is identical to the one in Figure 35. The New menu item and the Open menu item, however, behave differently in each menu. If you have correctly matched the behavior of the menu items to the users' tasks, users will notice no inconsistency between applications after using the menu items a few times.
Displaying Objects in Separate Windows and Allowing Current Window Reuse
In the File menu shown in Figure 39, the New and Open items create primary windows.
Figure 39 File Menu to Display Objects in Separate Windows and Permit Current Window Reuse
The Open in Current Window item supports tasks where users do not want to create an additional window. An application's New Window menu item can show the same object as the window from which it was activated, or it can show an empty window, depending on which operation users will perform more often.
Each of the designs described in this section is suited to a different situation. To determine which design is appropriate for your application, perform a task analysis.