Native Look and Feel?

Every once in a while, I review the SWT snippets. These are available both through the SWT project website and directly from the CVS server. Today, I updated the project from CVS and started looking through the additions. My usual process is to start with the highest numbered snippet and work my way backwards until I run into stuff I’ve already seen.

Today, I made it as far back as snippet 250. Snippets 250 and 251 show off the new DateTime widget (currently part of Eclipse 3.3M5eh). This widget can be used to create a calendar, date spinner, or time spinner. Snippet 251 is shown in action below.

I found what I believe is a bug (178372) in the SWT.DATE variant of the widget (I worked around the bug for the screenshot) and I have a problem with the calendar control (I’d like it to let me deselect the date; i.e. allow null to be a valid value so that I can unset dates) that’s really more of a feature request (178362).

The real problem that I have with this new widget has nothing to do with SWT. At least I’m pretty sure that it doesn’t. My problem is that this widget looks nothing like any other calendar widget on Windows XP.

I’ve read a lot of blogs and comments on blogs lately that suggest that other applications are “more native” looking than Eclipse. When I read this sort of charge, I’m left with what should be a pretty simple question: just what the heck does “looks native” even mean? The DateTime widget uses the native DATETIMEPICK control on the win32 platform (an emulated one is currently used on Motif, Photon, and Windows WPF), so this widget definitely “looks native”. However, a quick look at the “Date and Time” properties dialog on Windows XP reveals a completely different control with a completely different look. And in Microsoft Outlook, the drop-down calendar on the Tasks view is again different (I’m not posting screenshots because I don’t want Microsoft’s lawyers after me).

After poking around for while, I did find an instance of what at least looks like the native control on the Windows XP “Scheduled Task Wizard”. So, I guess that it’s probably fair to say that the “Scheduled Task Wizard” looks native. That’s one.

To be completely honest, I’m not sure that I even know what a “native” Windows XP application is supposed to look like. As I survey the various applications I have running, it occurs to me that they all have at least slightly different looks. Curiously, Microsoft itself seems to be the worst offender. The Microsoft applications that I run are the ones that look the least “native”. I managed to yank the menu bar off the top of the search window in Outlook and now it’s attached to the left side of the window (with text flowing bottom to top). I thought that menu bars are supposed to be fixed (I could be wrong, I’m not expert on Windows User Interface Guidelines). The new version of the Windows Media Player looks anything but native. The new version of their Office suite—which I’ve only seen from a distance—seems to throw any notion of a “native” look (and feel) out the window (failed pun attempt intended).

So what makes Eclipse look less than “native”? Is it those fancy curvy tabs? That’s a pretty easy thing to change if it really bothers you. Is it resizeable views and perspectives? How about we make Eclipse look like Outlook? There… isn’t that better?

I wonder if the real problem is that Eclipse just looks too native…

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6 Responses to Native Look and Feel?

  1. Steve says:

    I must admit that I find it really wierd when poeple say Eclipse is not native. It all comes down to those curved tabs.As for the calendar control, you are obviously not runing Vista. Can I send you some screen shots? I can’t post them here.Steve

  2. LudoA says:

    “(I’m not posting screenshots because I don’t want Microsoft’s lawyers after me).”Sometimes I wonder what it’s come to. Those draconian licenses just spread FUD. It’s totally legal of course to post screenshots – let alone they’d send lawyers after you for that. So, in the future, feel free to post screenshots 🙂 It’d be useful for those who don’t have Windows installed.I promess they won’t (can’t) sue – otherwise I’ll pay the bill 😉

  3. Wayne says:

    The comment was intended to be tongue-in-cheek.That said, some friends of mine worked on a book that had a bunch of screenshots that shows some Windows elements. The Windows elements weren’t the focus of the images, but were merely part of them. They were compelled to replace all the images by Microsoft lawyers. I’m just playing it safe.Well… mostly safe. The screenshots are of SWT widgets which means that you’re looking at platform controls, so I’m basically posting pictures of Microsoft controls anyway… 🙂

  4. Augusto Sellhorn says:

    Count me as one of the people that don’t think Eclipse looks like a “native” Windows app.Part of it is the curvy tabs, I’m glad you can change them, but yeah they do stand out. But it’s a combination of the tabs, the toolbars, even the icons. It’s ironic, it uses the native components but I’ve seen plenty of simpler Swing apps that look more like Windows than the most popular SWT application.The Outlook screenshot is hilarious though, it just makes it look even worse, since the style of the widgets don’t match.Anyways, I guess it just goes to show that no technical solution is going to fix the problem of inconsistent or ugly looking user interfaces;

  5. Steve says:

    Augusto, please post links to some of these applications.Steve

  6. Wayne says:

    Can you be more specific Augusto? I just don’t think that “curvy tabs” is enough. What specifically about tabs and icons bothers you? Are the icons too small?To me, Eclipse looks pretty darned native…

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