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News, How-tos, and assorted Views on Accordance Bible Software.

Friday, May 19, 2006  

New in 7: Contextual Menus

Yesterday, I talked about how the new option to have the Instant Details Box fade in and out of view will be a boon to users who struggle with limited vertical screen space. Another feature of 7 which will help alleviate this problem is the implementation of contextual menus.

If you control- or right-click on the More Options section of the Search window—even if it's closed—you'll see the following contextual menu:

This will enable you to select a new search range or field, add context, or activate the new text comparison feature without first having to open the More Options section.

Here's what you get when you control-click in the argument entry box of the Search window:

As you can see, this contextual menu gives you all the options you need for building a search argument, such as the submenus for entering search commands or symbols. (If you haven't discovered them yet, these options are currently found in the Search menu at the top of the screen.)

Contextual menus have now been implemented throughout the program, giving you ready access to features which were previously only available through the menu bar or the various palettes.

Now, the obvious question is, if contextual menus are so great, why did we take so long to implement them? We've certainly had repeated requests for them, and some users have even criticized our lack of contextual menus as un-Mac-like or contrary to standard OS X interface conventions.

When we overhauled the Accordance interface in version 6, contextual menus were actually on our list of things to do; but they were, by necessity, at the bottom of our list. Eventually, they ended up getting put off until version 7. The reason contextual menus were so low on our list of interface improvements is that from an interface standpoint, contextual menus are something of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they're great for those who are used to using them. On the other hand, they're a completely hidden interface element. Unless the user knows to control-click or right-click on stuff to see what options appear, he'll never discover those options. So when we were working on version 6, we concentrated first on the visible interface elements—such as the window controls, the menu bar, and the floating palettes—which would help the new user to discover features he might not already be familiar with.

Another reason we put off contextual menus is that they are supposed to be contextual. (How's that for obvious?) In other words, a contextual menu should only present you with those options which are appropriate to the item you control- or right-clicked. Yet in Accordance, you can select any kind of text and go to any kind of resource. If you select a Greek word, you can obviously go to a Greek lexicon to look it up. But you can also go to an English Bible dictionary, a commentary, a theological work, etc. If the resource you choose contains any Greek at all, it will be searched for the word you selected. Likewise, if you select a verse reference, you can look it up in a commentary, or you can choose to search for it in any Hebrew lexicon, Study Bible, Topical resource, etc. So if you can select a word and go to anything, how do you put all those options in a contextual menu without clogging it up with too many choices?

By the way, have you ever looked at the contextual menus in most Windows programs? They're ridiculously long and complex, largely because the rest of the interface is so unwieldy that users are forced to right-click just to be able to find the features they're looking for. Worse still, some options are only available through contextual menus. Yet if a contextual menu gets too long, it becomes proportionally less contextual and less convenient. This was an interface gaffe we really wanted to avoid.

Our solution was to give the user a few basic options via the contextual menu, rather than every possible one. For example, when you control-click a selection of text, you get a lot of options to choose from. Yet if you go to the Lookup option, you'll see that you can choose from "Dictionary," "Commentary," etc.

Selecting Dictionary will take you to the default tool for the language of text you have selected. If you select Hebrew text, you'll look up the selected words in a Hebrew lexicon such as Koehler-Baumgartner. From Greek text, selecting Dictionary might take you to BDAG. From English text, Dictionary might take you to Anchor Bible Dictionary. It's simple, it's quick, and it's contextual. We could have placed every Accordance module in various submenus of the contextual menu, but that would have rendered the contextual menus unwieldy.

I've now told you more about contextual menus than you ever wanted to know; but I think it's important that you understand the thinking behind the implementation. For experienced users, contextual menus will mean greater convenience than ever before. Yet with new users in mind, we've been careful not to use contextual menus as a cover-up for otherwise sloppy interface design.

So far I've really only previewed some of the minor enhancements you can expect in version 7, while dropping hints about some of the major ones. Did anyone catch my repeated references to "slideshow mode" this week? What about the Compare Texts feature mentioned above? There's a lot of exciting stuff I haven't even begun to cover, so next week's blogging should be even more fun!





Comments:
David,

Wow! You blogged everyday this week! Can you tell us the anticipated release date of version 7? My guess: May 30. That's "a few weeks away" and still "this month" and it leaves you another week to get us all excited about it. Care to confirm/deny?
 

Fantastic! I'm ready to purchase. When and how much?
 

Robb,

In the words of Tom Cruise, who is no longer nearly as cool as he was when he delivered this line, "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you." ;-)

But you know, that's such an intricate piecing together of clues that you should consider using those skills to write a novel--you'd make millions!
 

If these features alone were the only upgrade to 7.0 I would purchase it in a moment. Great work.

Jeremy A.
 

David,

I've appreciated and enjoyed your blogs, but one element of the last two has grated on my nerves: the consistent use of "he" to refer to a "generic" Accordance user. Some of us are "she's," and some of us haven't heard "he" as a gender-neutral pronoun for decades. Could you either 1)use the singular they or 2)use "she" for
Accordance users on occasion? (either within a post or from one post to the next?)

Thanks,

Lorinda Hoover
 

Yippee!!!!!
 

I noticed that about slideshow. what do you mean?
 

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