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About About Box

What is the purpose of the About Box in any application? It is not the help file. It does not tell you who buit the software. Alright, it might, but more importantly it would mean who owns the copyright. Even then, what interest is this information to the user?

What is its use *for a user*? If the user wants to learn to use the software, the place to go is to is the product documentation or help file. If he needs to know the name/title of the software he is using, its splashed all over the place on many windows within the application - the title bar, some message box titles, application icon on the desktop, the programs menu etc. What would a user want from an About Box? If the reason is nothing, then why have an About Box?


Why I ask is because I am building a tiny app for a group of beginers who are new to using computers. I was thinking of either doing away with a useless thing such as an About Box or giving the menu an appropriate caption that tells the user what he will get from clicking that, rather than just saying "About Blah".

Of the last few minutes, I could not get one particular reason why I might want to have an About Box. I could not land on one use that might be of interest to a computer user. I don't know what to write there. I think I am just leaving it off.

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

As a user, I love them for identifying the version number of a piece of software.

Elephant
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The convention (one that I rely on often) is that the About Box displays the version of the software. Many of us find that indispensible.

Rob Warner
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Hmm, good point. But for new users, it might not be very important to view version information. They may not even know what that means.

Can anyone tell me if it will be a good idea to have the About Box? If it is a  good idea, then what must I write for the text of the menu item. Should it be left to "About Blah" or should I write something else that will tell them what they will find on clicking that menu item?

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The name of the About Box says it all, really: the About Box should tell the user some basic information about the application. Often, the UI design guidelines for the platform you are developing on will tell you what to include in the box, and, indeed, whether to include one or not.

I'd include:

* The name of the application, and its icon/logo.
* A one-line summary of what the application does.
* The version number (i.e. something useful to the user)
* A build number, for the benefit of developers during bug tracking (if the version number doesn't give sufficient information).
* Contact information (e.g. a telephone number, email address and URL).
* A button or link to let Dummy users view a tutorial on how to use the software.

Don't omit the About Box if it is generally included in applications on your platform.

C Rose
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Your application should have an about box.  Place the command to open it at the bottom of the Help menu.  Label the command:

About MyApp

Do not use ellipses.  In the box, show the product name, version number, any copyrights and program author.  You might want to display the application logo, or some other relevant artwork.

Gary
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Sathyaish,

I often wonder about your posts.  Sure they may not provide any useful information for a new user, but I can't think of a new user that has ever clicked on suck a thing.  They are hidden away at the bottom or middle bottom of the help menu, where most users rarely ever go.  Honestly, most first time users will not use online help, unless they are tech savy, in which case they know what the About box is for.  I don't think it's much of an issue though.  The code is almost always self generated by IDE's so adding an about box with version information is as simple as adding a label to the GUI.  They also often provide the EULA and other legal mumbo jumbo that if I ever had a question about can quickly look it up there.

Back to being fixated on requiring a benefit for first time users, why must every function in a menu be designed for first time users.  Somehow I don't think the Privacy Report option in IE is useful for first time users. There is a whole slew of functions as such.  You can't even only plan to have first time users, because unless they stop using your product after a few days, the will eventually become experienced users.  Then if you want to do an adaptable interface that changes based on experience, there is considerable research from PARC indicating this is a terrible idea!

. . .okay, catch your breath Elephant . . . let it go. . . It's just an about box. . .

Elephant
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The About Box is the first thing I check whenever I install an application. If it's ugly looking then it gets uninstalled.

John Topley (www.johntopley.com)
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

I think having the version information in the About box is maybe even more necessary for beginners, since they often need the most technical support.  I spent almost 3 years on a helpdesk, and I had users go to the About box countless times to give ME the version information.  You are right, most beginners don't need the information and most likely will never click on it, but someone helping them may need it.

Slicky
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

And don't forget to mention every major update or service pack which had been installed for your software inside the about box.

The information is meant to be exact identification of a program configuration, so you could ask your user to cite it out loud on the phone for you to troubleshoot and you can hardly beat the convenience of that.

Vlad Gudim
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Thank you very much for your advise, friends. Though it is not a big issue, I now know I was somewhat Returns the location id of the newly added location if successful, -1 otherwise under-estimating the need for having an About Box. It might help us for providing maintainance.

>Then if you want to do an adaptable interface that changes based on experience, there is considerable research from PARC indicating this is a terrible idea!

I'd like to read about the findings and criticism provided by the research center. Could you kindly post the link? It may be of interest to other posters as well.

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Gary,

Do you know why is it the convention not to use ellipses? Ellipses mean there is a dialog box brought up from a menu item. I don't see why the about box should be an exception to that standard.

Dennis Atkins
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines say this:  "An ellipsis character (…) after a menu item or button label indicates to the user that additional information is required to complete a command."

Since an About box does not require any information from the user, an ellipsis is not appropriate.

rob mayoff
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

>>The Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines say this:  "An ellipsis character (…) after a menu item or button label indicates to the user that additional information is required to complete a command."

And for what it's worth, that has always been my interpretation of the ellipsis in Windows, as well. I don't know what the official word is.

Ron Porter
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

I learned of the PARC research from an HCI class.  Probing their website I find many articles that could possibly be the research I indicated, but seeing as I don't have an ACM subscription, I can't view the articles.

So, until I can get home, and reference an old textbook, I'll summarize.  People in general get used to having things behave a certain way.  A simple example, you know where everything is in your kitchen.  If it were to rearrange itself automatically to make you more productive (providing commonly used pots closer to the stove, etc.) it would take you forever to cook anything.  You'd never be able to find anything you were looking for.  In the computer world for example, in Windows XP when an application drops off of my frequenly used programs it's a bit of a shock, and it takes a while for me to find it in the menus.  I get used to launching Microsoft Money from the frequently used items, but then because I get distracted and play a ton of games of freecell (using end-task to kill losing games), now Microsoft Money drops off my list.  And in fact I really don't want Freecell up there to tempt me to get distracted.

Further, some interfaces provide beginner and expert modes.  The problem is, unless the user goes in using the expert mode, a beginner will rarely if ever switch to the expert mode once they've become comfortable with the program.  Therein is the problem; they are comfortable with the current interface.  To switch indicates a severe drop in productivity while they are re-learning to use the program and its new interface.  An example that has been covered on JOS before is the Dvorak keyboard.  Supposedly using it provides an increase in typing speed (I don't mean to get into an argument about this) and thus efficiency.  So why don't more computer programmers (computer experts) use the "expert" interface.  Because, me giving up my QWERTY keyboard means a sever drop in my productivity, and I'll have to re-learn what is so native now.  Thus no one ever switches.  Users aren't willing to spend the time to switch. 

As far as the PARC research goes, we watched all these movies of demonstrations (from the late 80's early 90's) demonstrating adaptive interfaces.  My indication of failure is that these interfaces were not adapted, and PARC dropped the projects.  To me, this is the proof that such interfaces don't work.

Elephant
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Elephant,

Freecell : Try CTRL-SHIFT-F10 --> ABORT --> Double Click any card, for all your losing games. ;)

KayJay
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Software *must* have a copyright notice to maintain the intellectual rights and prevent "legal" theft of your work.  So what's the most obvious place to keep the copyright notice prominently available?  About Box?


Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Here's the Microsoft chapter and verse on ellipses, which I managed to find after searching MSDN using Google (the MSDN search is &^%#!"& hopeless):

http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/en-us/dnwue/html/ch14d.asp

"Though it is not a big issue, I now know I was somewhat Returns the location id of the newly added location if successful, -1 otherwise under-estimating the need for having an About Box."

Could anyone else not parse this sentence?

John Topley (www.johntopley.com)
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

"Though it is not a big issue, I now know I was somewhat Returns the location id of the newly added location if successful, -1 otherwise under-estimating the need for having an About Box."

If I had to place a wager, I would say that:

>Returns the location id of the newly added location if successful, -1 otherwise<

got inserted into the middle of:

>Though it is not a big issue, I now know I was somewhat under-estimating the need for having an About Box.<

Elephant
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

>Though it is not a big issue, I now know I was somewhat Returns the location id of the newly added location if successful, -1 otherwise under-estimating the need for having an About Box."

Extremely sorry. Of late, I've been coding mad hell, having only little time to spend on the Net. I might have hit the Ctrl+V by chance in the middle. The other day, I noticed another error in one of my posts, but ignored it. There are times when you just cant keep looking back. Otherwise, I hate myself for making a minor spelling error too.

Read as:
Though it is not a big issue, I now know I was somewhat under-estimating the need for having an About Box."

Was writing a function and moving it to another module when I had copied its comment and was about to move it, I switched to writing the reply here.

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

"Was writing a function and moving it to another module when I had copied its comment and was about to move it, I switched to writing the reply here."

Does that mean some of your code contains your Joel on Software forum comments? ;-)

John Topley (www.johntopley.com)
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

>Does that mean some of your code contains your Joel on Software forum comments? ;-)

Nope!The other way round. <Uh>What a rogue! :-)

Sathyaish Chakravarthy
Tuesday, March 30, 2004

about box is there so devs can add easter-eggs


Tuesday, March 30, 2004

"Software *must* have a copyright notice to maintain the intellectual rights and prevent "legal" theft of your work.  So what's the most obvious place to keep the copyright notice prominently available?  About Box? "

I'm pretty sure that's not true, at least in the US.  Copyrightable works are automatically copyrighted upon creation.  No explicit statement of copyright is required, nor is registering the work with the copyright office (though this can help by giving a firm date on the creation of your product)

MikeMcNertney
Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Before 1978, when the new copyright laws took effect, the copyright notice became unnecessary.  It is merely a "reminder" and helps indicate willful copyright infringement (which means you are more likely to collect damages)

I always though that the point of an about box was to let the programmers feel proud of themselves.  Well, that, and settle bar bets.

Of course, there's a funny bit about halfway down http://rinkworks.com/stupid/cs_misc.shtml (search for "about box") that shows how that can get fun. ;)

Flamebait Sr.
Wednesday, March 31, 2004

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