Paint.NET Usability: Why can’t you move the toolbars around?

That’s a good question. Office lets you move the toolbars and even the menubar around (it’s just a differently rendered type of toolbar). Visual Studio lets you, and the “toolstrip” controls in .NET 2.0 supposedly have the capability. So why, then, doesn’t Paint.NET allow you to move them around or do other customization?

As Raymond Chen would say, “Because the alternative is worse.”

It becomes a usability problem, or at least an annoyance, for the people who don’t want to customize their toolbar*, and this is something I was reminded of just now when I looked over at RSS Bandit and saw this:

Why is my menu bar below the toolbar? Because I accidentally dragged something around. I don’t know when or what.

It becomes a usability and support nightmare because people would lose the toolbars, or otherwise be unable to find features they already found. Do not underestimate individuals’ ability for this! And it’s not about stupidity or intelligence, it’s just about usability. I recently had a reasonably intelligent friend ask me, “Where is that new ‘Fixed Size’ functionality for the selection tool that you’ve been talking about?”, and it was right in front of his face.

It also hinders productive troubleshooting or communication between two Paint.NET users.

Bob: “Just click on X in the toolbar.”
John: “I don’t see it.”
Bob: “It’s kinda on the far-right side. Do you have the latest version?”
John: “Yes I have 3.20.”
Bob: “Umm … is part of the window off-screen?”
John: “No the whole thing is only taking up half my monitor.”
Bob: “Yargh. Did you hide or move the toolbar or is the toolbar off-screen or under some other stuff?”
John: “I don’t know?”
Bob: “Click the Reset Toolbars menu item in the Window menu.”
John: “Hmm. We have another problem. I have no menus either.”
Bob: “I will start using four-letter words from now on. Plug your ears.”

Here’s the conversation without customized toolbars:

Bob: “Just click on X in the toolbar.”
John: “I don’t see it.”
Bob: “It’s kinda on the far-right side. Do you have the latest version?”
John: “Oh there it is! And yeah I have 3.20.”

So, because I do not want an inbox full of people asking me how to fix their toolbars or how to find their features, and nor do I want to have to add complicated self-healing code or a “Reset Toolbars” menu item (that people would still lack the psychic powers to find, mind you!), I have disallowed this type of functionality. The toolbars will only ever show up in Paint.NET in one way. Oh, and I also want people to be able to use the software and not have a need to consult documentation or a support line. Because if users have to do that, then you have failed.**

* According to conventional insight, most people do not customize anything about the software they use.

** I think this insight comes from a blog I’ve read elsewhere but for the life of me I can’t find it.


10 thoughts on “Paint.NET Usability: Why can’t you move the toolbars around?

  1. L.Rawlins says:

    If an interface needs to be customisable, it isn’t working.

    There is no easier way of putting it. An intuitive, well thought out layout for user interaction negates the need to throw menus around a window.

  2. Josh White says:

    Yes! You got it exactly the way it should be! You are my hero!

    I wish everyone would think your way. There should never be a learning curve to your product if you can possibly avoid it.

    I hate and love those draggable toolbars at the same time, but we’ve existed without them before, and we certainly don’t need them if they’re going to cause a hassle.

  3. Rick Brewster says:

    “Big Maybe”, I’m pretty sure it does too but I couldn’t find it 😦 I’ve got to run but I’ll look again when I get back this evening.

  4. WJUK says:

    I totally agree with you on this subject. Everyone knows that the menubar is meant to be above the other toolbars so what’s the point of having customizable toolbars?

    I would suggest a skinning feature of some-sort but I don’t think PDN needs one. lol

  5. Brian says:

    It seems that about 90%+ of the development cycle is always on GUIs… so I don’t care either way. However, you could always introduce a “Reset” feature that resets the layout and positioning to preset defaults.

  6. Mike says:

    The program I’m writing, which is a simple front end for the book I’m writing, was going to have “Office style customization”. Glad I couldn’t figure out how to do it in VB 2008. Once my menus and toolbars are created, I’m going to lock them in position.

    “If an interface needs to be customisable, it isn’t working.” There is no better way to say it.

  7. alumni says:

    if that was the problem, you could just add an option to lock the toolbars…
    i think the real problem is the list of previews. on a wide screen you really need vertical space and it would be great to have the previews and the toolbars on the sides, and not on top. or at least to be able to move the toolbars on the same line…
    another cool ui feature i would like to have is to dock (and not snap to the main window’s edge) the tools, colors and layers windows.

  8. Bastian Grupe says:

    Well, one the one hand you say it’s bad to have a dynamic GUI and on the other you have this antipattern of the floating movable translucent Tools, Colors, etc. Windows. I’d so much like to dock those things (think the VS2005 like docks) to let them automagically disappear than to have to move them out of my way half of the time.

    Otherwise a great software so don’t consider my rant just bad criticism!

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