The recent menu

In Bluefish, Gnome, gtk+, open source, Programming on July 4, 2013 by oli4444

The Bluefish mailinglist currently has a discussion on the working of the recent files menu. The current recent files menu in Bluefish shows the N most recent items that are not currently opened.

So if you have 15 items in the recent list, but 10 of them are currently open, Bluefish will only show 5.

Many other programs have a different approach: show all recent files, regardless if they are open or not. In the example above, depending on N, the list would either show 15 files, and only the last 5 would be actually useful (they open a file that is not open yet), or the list would show 5 files, all of them would be open already.

In a text editor like Bluefish you usually have many files open (I consider 10 files open very normal usage). So showing only files that are already open, or showing a very long list where only the last items are useful doesn’t look like a good user interface design to me.

But what to do now? Having a different behavior makes the learning curve for new users higher. What do you think is the best design for a recent files menu?

5 Responses to “The recent menu”

  1. For people with executive function disorder or limited working memory, it really helps if the software does NOT make decisions like hiding useless items. It is much, much more friendly to always show things in the same place, whatever recent actions the user has taken. A list of “recently used files” is a simple concept, but a list of “recently used files, except some that the sofware chose to exclude” is much more complicated, especially if (as I am sure is the case here) some users were not aware of the exclusion criteria, but were aware of the unexpected behaviour.

    Executive function and working memory are issues for anyone with autism, Asperger syndrome, dyslexia, etc, etc.

    • And for people with executive function disorder or limited working memory it is especially important to have only a short menu list.

      Having a short list of recent files in a text editor where it is common to have many files opened simultaneously makes all recent files useless (they are open already), so this is as good as having no recent files menu at all (which is a shorter menu, which is good for people with executive function disorder or limited working memory).

  2. I sometimes use the one in LibreOffice Calc to open the same document twice which can be a useful (so I get two windows).

    IMHO you should study some users and find out whether it’s a problem in practice. I read somewhere that many issues found by usability heuristics turn out to be unimportant in practice. If many of your users are like “where’s my file?” you have a problem when you hide them, otherwise you probably don’t.

  3. In my opinion, make the list expandable (horrible truth, this is a border case where the horrible “hidden menu entries” of office 97 is actually useful). By default, show not already opened ones. If the user clicks, the full list is shown, maybe with an indicator icon showing which files are open. Make this configurable in the options and show a notice/tooltip the first few times the user clicks to expand the menu about the option entry.

  4. Have a look at how the Evince devs are solving this issue:

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