Toolbox and Window Management

The Toolbox is a useful new collection of tools that was introduced in Office 2004.  The primary concept was to prevent the possibility of many palettes being opened at once causing a window management problem for users.  In general, it worked fairly well, however, it often collides with the Formatting Palette.  In such instances, users have mentioned that they have to manage these two windows and that they take up a lot of valuable screen real estate.  I personally find it annoying, especially when I am working on my laptop.

To address this primary problem of the Formatting Palette and the Toolbox windows taking up valuable screen real estate, we decided to integrate the Formatting Palette into the Toolbox as another client.  Whew!  Much nicer!  In 2008, there is only one tool palette window... the Toolbox.  Now, the first tool in the Toolbox is the Formatting Palette.

Formatting Palette in the Toolbox

I think this brings all our palette-based tools together in a synergistic way.  All tools are available in one location.  Plus, now there is one less window that you have to manage and move around.  For 2008, one of our goals was to streamline the user interface and this helps by reclaiming some of that valuable screen real estate.

Some customers have said they are distracted by the Fade feature, which turns the Formatting Palette partially transparent upon inactivity.  The effect is cool and some people really like it.  For me, I find it a bit distracting as I keep my desktop very cluttered and I end up turning it off.  For 2008, we have added a new Collapse feature to the Toolbox.  Users can click the Zoom/Resize button (the green button near the red Close button in the Title Bar) to collapse the Toolbox window to just the Title Bar and the Navigation Bar using a nice window-shade style roll-up effect. Clicking the button again will expand, or roll down, the Toolbox to full size.  It is a relatively simple feature, but it allows you to get the Toolbox out of your way without completely closing it and, again helping to maximize screen real estate.

Toolbox Collapse Animation

+ click to enlarge 

To make it even easier, we have added an automatic collapse mechanism as well.  By clicking the arrow button in the top right of the palette title bar, the Toolbox flips over to display the Toolbox Settings where you can set the Toolbox to Collapse after N seconds.  The assumption is that if you haven’t used the Toolbox in a while, we can help by freeing up real estate.

Toolbox Settings

Once the Toolbox has collapsed, you can click on any button in the Navigation Bar or the Zoom/Resize button to expand it back to full size.  You can also double-click the Title Bar to collapse or expand the window, just like the ever-popular OS 9 WindowShade control panel feature.  This automatic collapse feature will hopefully help prevent distraction and desktop clutter, while still providing a clearly visible Toolbox for the user to re-expand.

I know it may not sound like a lot, but we are really trying to think about how to improve the work environment.  I am excited that we have been able to work on small details like this that help in refining the experience.  Moving the Formatting Palette into the Toolbox and adding window-shade style collapsing has made a big difference for me and many customers testing the product.  I find it easier to get to my tools now that they are located in the same place.  Hopefully this will improve the experience for you.