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Pie menus are a naturally efficient user interface technique: directional selection of pie slice shaped targets. The cursor starts out in the center of the pie, so all targets are large, nearby, and in different directions. Fitts' Law explains the advantages of pie menus, relating their fast selection speed and low error rate to their large target size and small distance. Pie menus are easy for novice users, who just follow the directions, and efficient for experienced users, who can quickly "mouse ahead" once they know the way.
Question: Why Pie Menus?
- Pie Menus are much faster and more reliable than linear menus, because all of the items have large wedge shaped target areas, and each one is located adjacent to the cursor, but in a different direction.
- Pie Menus can be specified in XML, so designers can easily understand and create them in a text editor, as well as automatically generating pie menus on the "SOA" web server or "AJAX" browser client, using XML processing tools like XSL.
- Pie menus are easy to configure and customize in many ways, with default attributes that can be easily overridden and specified for a whole menu or any individual item.
The fact that Flash is commonly used for ads, and that those ads annoy everyone and cause many people to hate Flash, doesn't detract from the high quality user interfaces that you can build with it, if you use it for good instead of evil.
Since usability guru Jakob Nielson wrote Flash: 99% Bad in 2000, a lot has changed about Flash. He worked with Macromedia to improve Flash's usability, and he sells a report with 117 design guidelines for Flash usability. So yes, it is possible to develop usable applications in Flash.
OpenLaszlo is an open source language and set of tools for developing full fledged rich web applications, which are compiled into SWF files that run on the Flash player. Laszlo/Flash is presently much more capable of implementing high quality cross platform user interfaces than dynamic AJAX/HTML/SVG currently is.
Currently Flash is the most practical, so that's what Laszlo supports initially, but it can be retargeted to other runtimes like SVG, XUL, Java or Avalon, once they grow up and mature. But right now Flash is the best way to go, because of its overwhelming installed base and consistency across multiple platforms.
The pie menus in The Sims are context sensitive, and hide inappropriate items, but the context depends on the state of the object and the selected user, so there are many different contexts which change dynamically over time.
So part of the game is figuring out how to manipulate the objects and people into the right state to enable the menu items you want.
Since The Sims game design requires that the menu items do change over time, that trumps the rule of thumb that pie menus should be used for static menus. User interface design involves weighing conflicting rules and making trade-offs according to the application and user requirements, so it's ok to break a few rules for good reasons.
An inactive TV set just has a "Turn On" menu item. When you activate it, the "Turn On" item disappears and is replaced by a bunch of items like "Turn Off", "Watch TV", "Change Channel," etc.
If you click on another Sim character, you get a menu of interpersonal interactions that the currently selected Sim can perform with the other Sim you clicked on. Those can change according to their relationships and moods.
AJAX is a new buzzword for old (but not bad) ideas.
Don't take this as anti-AJAX. That kind of architecture is great, but it's the notion that the new AJAX buzzword describes new ideas that annoys me.
Of course Microsoft has been supporting it since the 90's, but it goes back a lot further than that.
For a long time, I've been evangelizing and more importantly implementing interactive applications that run efficiently over thin wire (dial-up modems, ISDN, early internet before it was fast, etc), which are locally interactive and efficient because there's a programming language on each side of the connection that implements custom application specific protocols and provides immediate feedback without requiring network round trips.
Before he made Java, James Gosling wrote the NeWS Window System.
I did a lot of work with NeWS, as a user interface researcher, commercial product developer, and a gui toolkit engineer for Sun, implementing distributed applications as well as user interface widgets and gui construction tools.
I've programmed NeWS to implement many user interface widgets (pie menus, tabbed windows, terminal emulators, graphics editors), gui toolkits (Suns TNT Open Look Toolkit, Arthur van Hoff's HyperLook user interface construction tool), and applications (UniPress and Gnu Emacs text editor interfaces, Ben Shneiderman's HyperTIES hypermedia browser, PSIBER visual PostScript programming and debugging environment, PizzaTool for customizing and ordering pizza via FAX, a cellular automata lab, a port of Maxis's SimCity), and lots of other stuff.
Now I develop distributed applications with OpenLaszlo, which embodies all the great qualities of AJAX without the horrible compatibility problems and shitty graphics. Macromedia though OpenLaszlo was such a great idea that they made a proprietary knock-off called Flex, for which they charge $12,000 per CPU. The future of Laszlo is secure since it's free software with an open source license, but Flex is in Flux since Adobe is buying Macromedia.
I'm quite happy to have found OpenLaszlo, since it's got all the advantages of NeWS, it runs beautifully and consistently on all platforms, the people developing it really understand what they're doing, and most importantly it's open source. NeWS was a technological success, but a commercial failure, because Sun refused to release it like X11. But OpenLaszlo applications really do run everywhere consistently, support XML standards and rich dynamic graphics vastly superior to anything you can do in DTHML, and they're great fun to develop.
It turns out you can get a whole lot of The Sims 1 characters on the screen at once! But then you need some crowd control and coordination.
Here's an object that I'm developing for The Sims 1 as part of the Simprov wedding playset, and some screen shots of what it does.
This is the new "Crowd Sitter" object for The Sims 1. Donna and I came up with an idea for an icon to represent this magical crowd control object, which will only be visible in build mode. But for now it looks like an altar.
I named it "Crowd Sitter", like "baby sitter" but it's for all ages and lots of people at once, and it can also make them stand. It's an essential tool for orchestrating weddings, but it's useful for other purposes like parties and concerts and boxing matches.
When in play mode, you can turn a Crowd Sitter on and off with a pie menu, and it directs all people to sit down in front of it, or stand up facing it if there aren't any seats left. It has an effective radius of about 7 tiles (more now), with a quarter pie slice shaped footprint. You can strategically deploy as many sitters as you need, to cover all the seats you want people to sit in or areas you want them to stand (like rows of pews in a church or a circle of benches in a stadium). I made a special routing slot that has a maximum size 54 tile footprint (more now), based on the TV set's routing slot, but on steroids.
I stress tested it by making four of these Crowd Sitter objects, and facing them in different directions, to make people gather around the center in a circular crowd.
Then I made at least 8 * 20 = 160 people (Sim clones), and turned on all the sitters at once facing outwards, to make them all gather around the center! But of course if there are no seats to sit in, the poor people have to stand.
In the following scene, I'm cheating by using the faith based initiative "placebo field" (aka Fox News), which is a special effect built into the altar, that supernaturally makes everybody always happy, fills their tummies, drains their bladders, keeps them clean, etc, so they're willing to stand around tirelessly without complaining, for as long as I tell them to, and not questioning anything they're told, while totally believing their government is looking out for them.
In the Slashdot discussion of "The Current State of Ajax", Henry Minsky posts:
OpenLaszlo is more portable (Score:3, Informative)
by hqm (49964) on Friday August 19, @03:23PM (#13358719)
OpenLaszlo is an open-source tool for building Rich Internet Apps that compiles them down to Flash applications. The advantage is that the graphics are smooth, it runs pixel-for-pixel identical in virtually any browser, no cross-platform incompatibilities.
An OpenLaszlo app behaves essentially like an Ajax app; data requests are made for XML data (or media) in the background, and the user interface is presented as a seamless window-system style desktop app.