Drawer vs Palette

On MacOS X we have a number of relatively new interface widgets which are proving quite interesting. One is the drawer with many have strong feelings over. I have to admit that at first the idea did nothing for me, especially when seeing it implemented in Apple's Mail program.

However now that I'm working most of the time on a dual screen setup they're really beginning to make sense. My usual working arrangement is one 15″ Powerbook on an iCurve and one 20″ Cinema Display. With so much screen space I rarely have any application's window filling one screen as I was accustomed to doing on smaller screens in days gone by. With help from Expose I tend to have piles of windows open at the same time.

Palettes don't work so well in that kind of setup. On a single small screen they're inevitably squashed next to the relevant document window. On large or multi-screen systems the palette can be left a long way from the relevant window. Drawers on the other hand are elegantly attached to the appropriate window, quickly hidden if needed. Much better when there's lots of screen real-estate. Unfortunately when I'm back on the move again with just the single laptop screen drawers feel a little cluttered and inefficient if I have several windows open.

Below I've got two screen shots. First is a drawer attached to a Pages document showing the various formatting styles. Second is the Word 2004 document with the formatting palette showing the various available styles. This palette is mutli-purpose, it shows styles for whichever document is active but it's a separate window unto itself. If I shift my document onto another screen the palette doesn't move. It gets confusing and slow… your mouse has to travel a loooong way to click something on the palette.

Pages - style drawer open Word - formatting pallette open

A few thoughts on Pages

Apple call Pages 'a word processor with incredible style' but it sure doesn't feel like a word processor to me. From my usage so far, and I'm by no means a Pages guru yet, Pages fills the easy desktop publishing gap left by Pagemaker (or the likes of Serif PagePlus on the PC). Word is horrible for layout but it's a solid tool for the wordsmith. Managing revisions and integration with referencing tools is all solid in Word. Pages is not really built to integrate with third-party tools (developers tell me that it's barely scriptable). The included templates are also a little underwhelming but it's just a beautiful simple app to lay a brochure, newsletter or invitation in. It's Keynote and Omnigraffle for paper documents.

Seeing as it was inevitable that I would upgrade my much-loved copy of Keynote then Pages is effectively a free tool that comes in the same box. I like even more when I put it that way!