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Mozilla The Internet

Pie-Menus in Mozilla 373

Posted by Hemos
from the get-the-new-features-on dept.
pronik writes "The Optimoz project on MozDev had two main development branches. While the first one, Mouse Gestures have been a success, we had to wait for the second, also very promising one: PieMenus. Now the wait is over! First implementation of PieMenus for Mozilla - RadialContext - is available for installation and testing!!!"
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Pie-Menus in Mozilla

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  • I've seen was in Return to Zork back in 1994. Super cool. Anyone else have any good examples of pie menus? We're considering using them in a game and seeing more would be neat.
  • by duck_prime (585628) on Friday August 23, 2002 @12:41AM (#4124583)
    ... Don't they only work well with Apples?

    Maybe with ice cream on the side...

    • Years ago at Educom, I gave a demo of pie menus, NeWS, UniPress Emacs and HyperTIES to Steve Jobs. He was jumping up and down, pointing at the screen, yelling "That sucks! That sucks! Wow, that's neat! That sucks!"

      He had just finally released the NeXT computer. This was his big debut after such a long wait (remember the "NeVR" t-shirts?). The NeXT Computer had the best user interface in the whole world. All other user interfaces sucked in comparison. And the NeXT didn't have pie menus, therefore pie menus sucked. If you can follow that train of thought outside of the reality distortion field.

      I gotta hand it to Jobs. Once he makes a decision, he sticks with it -- you gotta give him that. As far as I know, NeXT in its current incarnation as Mac OS/X still doesn't have pie menus.

      -Don

    • by Pig Hogger (10379) <pig.hogger@gmai l . c om> on Friday August 23, 2002 @09:47AM (#4125896) Journal
      I guess they are called "pi" menus, due to their round nature and 3,1415926535...
  • And for dessert:

    • Apple
    • Blueberry
    • Pumpkin
    • Pecan
    • Hair
    Okay, enough puerile humor for one day...
  • by T-Kir (597145) on Friday August 23, 2002 @12:43AM (#4124589) Homepage

    Select one from the following (thinking of the Sims, but we'll call GeekSims(TM)

    - Order Pizza

    - Fall asleep at computer desk

    - /. another site into oblivion.

    - Get the geek community to ping -f M$


    Any other options are welcome.

    • Here's a screen dump of PizzaTool, that ran on the Sun under the NeWS window system, and actually faxed a PostScript picture of the pizza (along with the text of the order) to Tony and Alba's pizzaria in Mountain View:

      http://catalog.com/hopkins/images/pizzatool.gif [catalog.com]

      It was written entirely in NeWS PostScript, and shipped with OpenWindows 2.0 (but with the faxing option disabled).

      Ironically enough pizzatool didn't use pie menus. (There were too darn many toppings to choose from, which wouldn't have worked well on a pie menu.)

      -Don

  • wow (Score:2, Interesting)

    by SlugLord (130081)
    These pie menus are really irritating... I guess it could be useful and would reduce the distance the mouse would have to travel, but I can't imagine why anyone would actually use these.

    That being said, yay for Mozilla. A browser that actually runs without a 50 MB footprint and supports actual standards. That and you can get all kinds of silly do-dads on them like pie menus. (Yeah, I just glanced at pie menus briefly so maybe I've missed some really useful part of pie menus.

    On the other hand, mouse gestures could be really useful, assuming you didn't accidentally use them when you didn't want to.
    • "I can't imagine why anyone would actually use these."

      Because pie-menus rock my world! ;)

      Ever played Neverwinter Nights? How about The Sims? The pie menus in those games allowed for a clean, straight-forward user interface. The great thing about pie menus is that you can get to a lot of different options in a fast, easy, simple to remember, low click manner.

      Fantatsic stuff.

      /mike.



    • Re:wow (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Elbereth (58257) <krachtm@yahoo.com> on Friday August 23, 2002 @01:08AM (#4124688) Homepage Journal
      I'm a couple months from hitting 30, and I've had bad eyesight since forever. I almost went blind in one of my eyes when I was five. Perhaps because of this, my hand/eye coordination isn't so hot. This means that having oversized buttons or selection areas really makes my life a lot easier.

      I can't really say that I find pie menus to be revolutionary or fantasically useful, but they are a million times better than the eight point font text links that I have to click on all the time. Luckily, Mozilla grabbed a Konqueror feature that allows you to override the minimum font size on a page. Right now, I have it set really high, but it's still a pain in the ass.

      One day, you too will have bad eyesight, even if it takes another 20-30 years for you to experience the annoyances that I'm facing. I don't think you'll really appreciate alternative user interfaces until then. I know I didn't, back when I could sit down at my computer without wearing glasses.

      Anyways, if we can dumb down user interfaces enough so that everything is self-evident, it will help more people get involved with computers. My six year old nephew gets confused rather easily when he sees too many options available to him. If he could browse the web as easily as he reads a book, I bet he'd be taking high school courses by the time he was ten.
      • by willfe (6537)
        Woah there :) Nobody bashed the folks with bad eyesight :)

        Hell, even with 20/20 vision I keep things in a fairly large font size on a 21" monitor. I *hate* trying to read small text. You're exactly right in that it's horrible in these gigantic menus with dozens of items in them.

        Thankfully there are things that can be done to fix this in most applications. Mozilla, for instance, respects your user preferences set in the GNOME control panel. Its minimum font size feature is good for web pages whose designers thought "it looks great on my 21 incher, so it must look good even on those cheap 15 inchers!".

        You're also exactly right that this is a step in the right direction. It's a beta release -- these guys were undoubtedly just curious to see if it would even work at all. Now that it's proven to be functional, folks can start focusing on the usability issues. Bigger icons for people (like you) with poorer eyesight than "average", different levels of "complexity" for different users (four or eight directions for novices, maybe sixteen directions for foolish persons ;), and tweaks for what options live where, and how "deep" in the pie they're positioned.

  • Waste of time (Score:2, Insightful)

    by ToasterTester (95180)
    People have been trying to find a use for pie menus for over a decade and still haven't. I first saw it tried back in the late 80's on a Mac. I saw it tried again in the early 90's on Windows. All it proved to be is a nice programming challenge. Now they popup again. The example using it in a game has kind of a lame cuteness factor, but that's it. Something for a graphic game.
    • Re:Waste of time (Score:3, Insightful)

      by snake_dad (311844)
      I assume that you also have no use for mouse gestures. Because that is really what this is. It's mousegestures, with a GUI tool to help you remember which gesture does what. It is one of the greatest features that can be added to Mozilla, IMHO.
  • helpful animation (Score:5, Informative)

    by sc00p18 (536811) on Friday August 23, 2002 @12:57AM (#4124646)

    For those who don't already know what a "pie menu" is, here is a nice animation that may be helpful. [berkeley.edu]
  • Great!!! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by friedmud (512466) on Friday August 23, 2002 @01:09AM (#4124691)
    After surfing with this for just the past 10 minutes I can already tell that it is a feature that I will not be able to surf without ever again.

    It is EMENSELY powerful when you combine it with tabs. Using it to close tabs and surf back and forth through tabs is a breeze and really saves on the mouse wrist gemnastics.

    This is a great tool! Thanks mozilla!

    Derek
    • Mouse? There is no mouse.
    • Re:Great!!! (Score:5, Funny)

      by Spelling Fairy (603345) on Friday August 23, 2002 @02:22AM (#4124884) Homepage
      ...la la la...

      The spelling fairy floats toward you and you wince as she whacks you over the head with her wand... but suddenly you realize how to spell "gymnastics."

      The spelling fairy floats off into the distance, singing.

      ...la la la...

  • But back in the day the SNES game Secret of Mana had a similar system that was more suited to controllers.
  • Gee thanks (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bogie (31020) on Friday August 23, 2002 @01:12AM (#4124700) Journal
    Those of us who test nightly builds are now not able to access the mozdev projects.

    Slashdot really needs to start hosting its own mirrors for stories.
  • Okay, maybe I'm just a complete and total idiot, but I didn't see anything about working piemenus for mozilla on that page. I saw piemenus for IE, and some ideas for plans for piemenus for mozilla, but no actual mozilla piemenuing code.

    Is it just in the concept page, or can somebody point me at actual code?

  • Excellent! (Score:4, Funny)

    by nizo (81281) on Friday August 23, 2002 @01:21AM (#4124726) Homepage Journal
    In my mind's eye I see an image of selecting an item from a newfangled animated menu, each time causing a little pie icon to fly across the screen and splat onto the Bill Gates image that appears randomly in the background. We certainly need more features like that in open source software (beats a talking paperclip anyway).
  • Pie menu advantages (Score:5, Interesting)

    by uhlume (597871) on Friday August 23, 2002 @01:31AM (#4124756) Homepage
    As I understand it, the primary advantage of pie menus over standard linear/cascading menus is that they leverage muscle memory for enhanced speed and accuracy in menu selections. In essence, pie menus are not unlike a gestural control scheme with training wheels -- a series of selections from a cascading pie menu effectively forms a complete mouse-gesture, which can later be replicated without conscious reference to menu labels. This allows novice users to make selections cognitively by following menu selections, while more advanced users can simply remember the series of mouse movements required to reach a given selection.

    More info here [catalog.com].
    • I don't know. Vertical menus leverage muscle memory as well, except that the movement is in a fixed direction with variable distance, rather in variable directions with fixed distance. I don't feel there's much difference between the two options.

      But: pie menu navigation is not a fixed distance motion. The motions are actually more complex. For menus with more options, the target area must be farther from the centerpoint... 3 given menus with different numbers of options require 3x the number of types of movements because of the varying distances off center. On a vertical menu, the movement to get to the "first" menu option is the same for any length menu... and this is very powerful when the first option is also the most commonly selected.

      It's my personal belief that pie menus are more of a perceived advantage rather than a true advantage. The complexity of motion makes you feel more industrious... although you may not be getting work done any faster at all.
      • by Ian Bicking (980) <ianb@colo r s t u d y .com> on Friday August 23, 2002 @03:56AM (#4125090) Homepage
        Maybe you have better muscle memory than me, but I absolutely have no ability to automatically hit menu entries. If you think you can, then try it out: try to select "reload" from the context menu with your eyes shut. And without practicing -- you can remember any one distance by practicing, maybe any two, but menus are typically longer than two entries.

        If you can't do it with your eyes shut, it isn't muscle memory. I have fantastic keyboard muscle memory, but even then it's clearly not distance memory. On a keyboard, I remember the hand positions -- because the base of my hand doesn't move as I touchtype, each key makes my finger curl to a different degree. When hitting keys that require me to move my hands -- function keys, for instance -- I have a great difficulty doing it without looking. After repetition, I can remember a small number of distances -- to the backspace key, for instance -- but it is very limited and requires constant reinforcement.

        This all is true of mouse movements as well -- muscle memory for distance just sucks. How often do you make a mistake that you move your mouse in the wrong direction? The only time I've had that problem is with the iMac mice that were easy to hold sideways. How often do you move the mouse the wrong distance? I do that many times each day -- I went to edit this last sentence, and moved my mouse about two pixels below the text box, requiring a correction. Hell, I probably make those mistakes on at least 10% of my mousing -- though I suspect it's closer to 80%, when you consider that almost all mousing involves a large movement to the general area (which is inaccurate), and then a series of smaller corrections until you are within the target area.

        • You want me to hit "Reload" with my eyes shut? Ok... Ctrl-R.

          The only thing I regularly do with the context menu is Save Link As... and the Get rid of frames submenu. Everything else I use from that menu (generally only "Open Link in New Tab") I try to use another shortcut.

          Gestures and radial submenus are interesting, and I'll give them a try, but they don't solve the problem any more elegantly than the existing solution (at least for me).
      • wadetemp said: "It's my personal belief that pie menus are more of a perceived advantage rather than a true advantage. The complexity of motion makes you feel more industrious... although you may not be getting work done any faster at all."

        What objective facts are your personal beliefs based on, or are they purely subjective? Question: How do you know that your personal beliefs are not merely a perception of knowledge than true knowledge? Answer: subject your theories to experimentation.

        Have you performed any emperical experiments to determine if pie menus have an advantage over linear menus?

        I'm sorry your personal belief contradicts my own emperical experience. In all the experiments I have ever done, and all the ones other people have done that I have read about, pie menus have been proven to be faster than linear menus.

        Here are a few references to experiments measuring the usability of pie menus [piemenu.com].

        So it's not at all subjective or based on personal belief. The effect of Fitts' Law is quite easily measured, which should eliminate the need for resorting to the exposition of subjective personal beliefs.

        Here is one such experiment that you can try for yourself (which requires Internet Explorer). Fasteroids [piemenu.com] is a free game that lets you compare pie menus with linear menus. Take the pie menu challange! Fasteroids tracks your selection speed and error rate, so you can compare pie menus and linear menus for yourself.

        -Don

      • I totally agree,
        Personally I would hate the idea of pie menus. My muscular control of my hands in a arbitrary angle is far less than in a vertical/horizontal movement.

        I found it very dificuly(almost impossible at times) to get some of the gestures in black and white and the leash ended up getting detached half the time(most annoying during a fight)

        Give the design of most things (several thousand years of design in some cases) it would appear that that is true of most people.

        Pie menus also have a back tracking problem (unless you use semi pie menus)

        Personally I prefer keyboard shortcuts which I can remember easily (just like a bit of music, alt+s, f) or (esc , esc , q , ! , return). or whatever.
  • by extrasolar (28341) on Friday August 23, 2002 @01:42AM (#4124788) Homepage Journal

    I don't know if anyone remembers UWM [sourceforge.net] which was (and still is) a cool X window manager that uses pie menus instead of pop-ups.

    It doesn't seem to be in active development, but it is a rather minimal window manager so I doubt you'll have any problems using it.

    It has some nice looking borders too.

    Hmm...gives me memories. Downloading... :)

  • Uhh ok. (Score:5, Informative)

    by jeti (105266) on Friday August 23, 2002 @01:43AM (#4124791) Homepage
    1. I'm the author. And in half an hour I'll
    go surfing the atlantic coast of france for
    14 days. That's one of the reasons I didn't
    announce the project more widely. I can't
    give immedeate support.

    2. You can find the home page of the project
    at www.gamemakers.de/mozilla/radialcontext .
    Mozilla users can test the feel of the menu
    by just right-clicking. Other users can have
    a look at the overview of the functionality.

    3. I have implemented the menu so that it can
    wander with the mouse. That makes it possible
    to move the mouse _exactly_ like you would do
    with mouse gestures.

    4. I've been using the menu exclusively for
    months. It works wonderful once you've gotten
    used to it. But the menu seems to be extremely
    confusing on first try. I'm still working on that.
    Please sit down calmly and try it out for a
    minute. Don't give up after 20 seconds. It's
    worth it.

    6. In case my poor server gets slashdotted:
    You can check out the .xpi archive from the
    optimoz CVS, which has a web interface.

    Going surfin,
    Jens
    • Re:Uhh ok. (Score:2, Troll)

      by kcbrown (7426)
      I'm the author. And in half an hour I'll go surfing the atlantic coast of france for 14 days. That's one of the reasons I didn't announce the project more widely. I can't give immedeate support.

      Sorry, but you can't do that. Now that everyone knows about your project you'll just have to cancel your vacation and support the project, just in case anything goes wrong!

      Or, at least, that would probably be the case if this were a product written for your U.S.-based employer. Fortunately, this is a free software project so you shouldn't have that problem here. Enjoy your vacation dude -- sounds like you're going to have some great fun! Wish more people out there in the working world, at least here in the U.S., could do the same...

  • I've been waiting for this.

    What would be incredibly helpful, for those of us still without scrolly mice, is up-and-down "scroll page" pie menus. Right click, move up, page goes up. move down, page goes down.

    Just one more way to reduce my total caloric expenditure. :-)
  • This is the coolest thing I've seen in Mozilla yet. I thought tabs were great, but wow...after spending a minute or two getting used to navigating the right-click pie menus, I really, really like them. Hooray!
  • Googles cache of http://optimoz.mozdev.org/piemenus/ [216.239.37.100].
    Mozilla.orgs routers are fried alread whew!
  • by jfern (115937)
    Can I use Mozilla to throw pies at Bill Gates? That would an interesting bug, um I mean feature.
  • I have this installed currently on my Moz 1.0 install - and I want to uninstall it - does anyone have ANY idea how? I don't care if I have to edit some files - I just want to go back to the old method (I actually like this new system, but for some reason it has a bug that annoys me - you select an option on the ring, like "new tab", and when you return to the original tab, you are in "hightlight mode" where your mouse is highlighting everything - annoying).

    Help?

    • by Anonymous Coward
      If that behaviour annoys you, use the right mouse button to select and not the left button. Or, better and faster, just keep the right mouse-button pressed and release when you have chosen.
      But you are right, it is a bug and the programmer (who ran out of my room one minute ago to go surfing) knows it.
      bye
      Martin
  • http://www.weebl.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/b3ta/pie.htm l [blueyonder.co.uk]

    Hey, if Weebl likes pie, you should, too!

  • Standard features of Mozilla linked to mouse-actions (right-click, middle-click to open link in new tab, etc.) and mouse-gestures (using the right mouse-button).

    Naturally, I couldn't set RadialContext to the left button, since I need that button to select text and click stuff.
    The middle button couldn't be used because in that case I won't be able to open links in new tabs by clicking them with this button.
    The right button couldn't be used because in that case it would interfere (practically disable) mouse-gestures.

    I refuse to use modifier keys since that would nullify any advantages these pie-menus might have over the standard menu in regards to efficiency.

    So in short, I installed RadialContext and discovered that it interfered or even rendered a number of standard and added (mouse-gestures) features of Mozilla unusable or made them much more cumbersome to use.

    It's a nice idea, but needs some more thought in regards to its implementation.
  • by altgrr (593057) on Friday August 23, 2002 @03:21AM (#4125008)
    As much as I hate to say it, the studies by Nielsen et al are actually worth something here. A context menu arranged in a circle will be easier to navigate, because you memorise direction as well as distance [asktog.com] (look at the answer to q7 on the page).

    Also, pie menus will be advantageous because, unlike keyboard shortcuts, they will be displayed whenever called upon. Further, arrangements such as piemenu-Left to go back, piemenu-Right to go forward, are intuitive.

    Overall, this is a development in UI design that I'd like to see used more. I first saw it used in the extra software supplied with a Genius wheel mouse.
    • Well, since you specifically mention Nielson by name and nobody else, I should point out that Jakob Nielson has pretty much ignored pie menus and has very little to say about them on his web site, but for a brief mention in his CHI'88 trip report [useit.com]. Maybe he talks about them in some of his seminars, but I've never heard of him evangelizing the use of pie menus or developing products with them.

      On the other hand, Gordon Kurtenbach and Bill Buxton have done a huge amount of valuable emperical research and commercial product development with pie menus, gesture recognition and other topics. They designed the Alias|Wavefront Maya user interface, so it's no surprise that it uses marking menus (which they call their gestural modifications to pie menus).

      And of course Ben Shneiderman also talks about pie menus a lot, and writes about them in his books.

      -Don

  • NWN! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Jade E. 2 (313290) <slashdot@NOspAm.perlstorm.net> on Friday August 23, 2002 @03:27AM (#4125026) Homepage
    That site fails to list what is probably the second most well known use of 'pie' menus, after the Sims. Neverwinter Nights! The context menus you use to do basically everything are radial.

    That brings up another good point, which is that from what I've seen none of the radial menu implementations (Moz's or his javascript ones) implement hotkeys, which for a lot of users (read: me) immensely improves speed. I didn't like NWN's radial menus at all, especially since they have a 9th zone in the middle, which is the 'close menu' or 'go back' function. That meant that you had to move the mouse a significant ways towards each icon, eliminating a lot of the speed gain. Then I found out that the keys on the Number Pad were hotkeys for each of the 8 directions (with 5 being a hotkey for the center zone, and 0 being a hotkey to popup the radial for your character.) After that I loved them. Need your familiar? 0-4-1. Need rapid shot mode? 0-3-7-3. That saved all my quickslots for spells, potions, and other life-saving bits. I played most of that game with my right hand on the mouse and my left moving between asdf and the number pad.

    Of course, I have no idea whether I'll ever find a 'real' use for being able to 10-key with the wrong hand, but you never know. :)

  • Now we can finally have tabbed pie menus!

    And if there isn't enough room in the pie we can have coencentric choices!

    (Remember how tabs started simple and then turned into multi-rowed or side scrolling stupidities?)
  • This really reminds me of menus in Maya. But Maya's menus seem to be a bit more context sensitive and have text labels insted of small icons. It would be much better if the labels in mozilla were always visible and not only after a few seconds. Does anyone know what file should I edit to get that behaviour? I guess I would just have to change some "delay" value.
  • by KidSock (150684) on Friday August 23, 2002 @05:14AM (#4125231)

    <select name="pie">
    <option value="Apple" selected>
    <option value="Cherry">
    <option value="Blueberry">
    </select>

    Mmm, blueberry.
  • by Ian Bicking (980) <ianb@colo r s t u d y .com> on Friday August 23, 2002 @05:37AM (#4125287) Homepage
    A number of people here have criticised this, saying that pie menus have been around for a long time and no one uses them, and they are just a plaything. I disagree. But while I think there is significant stagnation in UI inventions, it is not purely because of inertia that pie menus have not caught on.

    One of the biggest advantages to pie menus is that you can learn the motions, and perform those actions automatically without visual feedback. This is very hard to achieve with drop-down menus.

    However, in a large number of applications this is not particularly useful. I don't think pie menus are very useful when learning the application -- with a menu of items, it is fairly easy to scan through the descriptions. They are listed, top to bottom, and this is how we are used to reading (not top-left-right-bottom). It's also easy to skim a large number of menu items by dragging the mouse through the menubar. The only payoff for pie menus is later when you have memorized the action.

    In most applications you won't have a chance to memorize the action. Most menu actions will only be performed very sporatically -- the user might only use the application once a week, or they might use a wide variety of actions which are too large to fit on a pie menu. My (wild) guess is the user has to use the particular action at least two times a day on average to learn the motions ("muscle memory").

    One exception might be a word processor or a spreadsheet -- there's lots of repetitive tasks. However, in these situations keyboard shortcuts are superior -- the user is already using the keyboard, and moving from the keyboard to do gestures will not help them.

    The other big exception is the browser and games. People have mentioned games already -- they are novel interfaces, and you are already expected to learn a lot of new rules to play any game, adding the pie menu interface isn't a difficult. With the obsessiveness of gaming, and the need to simplify oft-repeated actions, pie menus are a perfect fit.

    Then there's browsers: when using a browser, there are a small set of actions that are repeated over and over (back, forward, close, etc). People also use a browser for long periods -- hours each day -- so they have time to learn even fairly complex actions. Lastly, they usually browse with the mouse, not the keyboard. Just like mouse scroll wheels are a useful alternative to the keyboard shortcuts (the arrow and page up/down keys), gestures can be a useful alternative to other keyboard shortcuts (Ctrl-Left, etc).

    The other area where pie menus would seem very useful would be visual editing environments -- things like Photoshop or Blender -- where you are working largely with the mouse, and do so for long enough periods that you could build muscle memory for your most often used actions.

    • by SimHacker (180785) on Friday August 23, 2002 @07:20AM (#4125441) Homepage Journal
      Pie menus are useful in many but certainly not all situations. One major reason they haven't caught on is that most widely available window systems and toolkits don't offer pie menus as a default component, so it's orders of magnitude harder for developers to use pie menus than linear menus. And since most people are understaffed on a tight schedule, they use linear menus instead. I guess you would call that inertia.

      Games are naturally one of the best ways to overcome this inertia, because it's acceptable to experiment with new user interface designs. Often, the whole user interface is part of the game, and designed and coded by hand instead of being built out of off-the-shelf components (like MFC or the Mac Toolbox).

      The pie menus in The Sims required integrating the 2d overlay gui toolkit for the text labels, with the 3d character animation renderer for the head in the center, with real time image processing effects for the shadow. No off-the-shelf software could have possibly supported that, but it wasn't an issue since the entire user interface was custom designed and coded anyway.

      Component software offers a way out of this catch-22 for other more normal applications than games, but it's only starting to catch on, and has its own host of problems and compatibility issues. Nobody can agree on which standards to use, and the standards that aren't obsolete and abandoned just keep changing faster than anyone can keep up.

      It's impossible to design the perfect pie menu component for all applications, because every application has its own unique set of demands. But fortunately it's quite easy to code up special purpose custom pie menus for any particular application, since the algorithm is so simple, especially compared to gesture recognition.

      But pie menus require the application designer to take a lot more care in arranging the menus, than just dumping a bunch of commands into linear menus. Menus with too many items are a bad idea in general, but pie menus with too many items are horrible. So if you're going to use pie menus with a large number of dynamically generated items, the user should be able to scroll through the menus in groups of 8 or so, instead of being faced with a giant pie menus with lots of extremely thin slices.

      Pie menus are quite useful with systems that enable the user to easily customize their own menus. Maya is a great example of an extremely complex system with thousands of commands, that's used in many different specialized ideosynchratic ways by artist for hours on end.

      So it's extremely important that the artists and tool developers be able to design and edit their own menus, so their own personal most commonly used commands are close at hand. Each user uses the same tool in extremely different ways, so they need to be able to customize the interface and build their own menus.

      However, most users aren't trained in interface design, and it would not immediately occur to them to use an even number of items, or that left, right, up and down are faster to select than the diagonal directions. So it's good if the pie menu editor can automatically (unobtrusively and without animated paperclips) assist the user in designing easy-to-use pie menus.

      For example, ActiveX pie menus support features like automatically raising the number of menu items up to 4 or 8 to keep them even, limiting the number of active items to 8 and allowing scrolling, and laying out the items in left-to-right, top-to-bottom reading order instead of circular clockwise or counterclockwise order. There are many other possibly useful features and heuristics to be discovered and implemented.

      The most obviously beneficial applications of pie menus are the window manager and the browser, two applications that users struggle with constantly. Anything that can be done to make such commonly used interfaces quicker and easier will add up to a lot of saved effort over time.

      In the late 80's, we developed a hypermedia browser and authoring tool named "HyperTies" which used pie menus and tabbed windows, at the University of Maryland Human Computer Interaction Lab, under the direction of Ben Shneiderman.

      The authoring tool was based on UniPress Emacs with tabbed windows, implemented in NeWS. Emacs, the NeWS window manager and the HyperTIES browser all used pie menus. The browser had a pie menu with left and right for scrolling to the previous and next pages, up going to the index, and down to the table of contents. The pie menu on links let you get a defintion without following the link, follow the link in the current page, or open it up in another page (to the left or the right).

      HyperTIES authors could define their own pie menus with links as well as scripts to control applets written in PostScript. For example, we had a text editor applet and a font selection pie menu that used the distance to smoothly select the font size. (This was years before Java, using Gosling's previous scripting language PostScript in NeWS, and his other previous scriptiong language MockLisp in Emacs).

      The NeWS window manager with pie menus and tab windows was quite satisfying to use, so I redesigned and rewrote it several times in different versions of NeWS. Since Sun cancled NeWS it's not available any more. But here's a streaming Quicktime movie of a demo from around 1992, running on a SparcStation 2: Pie Menu Tab Window Demo [lushcreations.tv].

      -Don

  • Last (and first ;) time I've seen pie menues in action was about 1993 in that Sim City clone that ran on SunOS (on SPARC hardware, of course :).

    - Hubert
  • The e-mail client is still broken. Somehow I don't like reading all the hype about new features, faster rendering etc. while essential basic functions still don't work reliably.
  • I've been using mouse gestures for quite some time, and love them. I was wondering how this would compare to them. At first, I was afraid it would slow me down, adding menus to my mouse gestures.

    After just a few minutes of experimentation, the thing I like most about these pie menus is that the two mouse gestures I used most (Back and Forward) still work! I just right-click and move left or right, and can ignore the menu. At the same time, these pie menus add menus, which allow me to see what other options I have available without looking at the config or documentation, like I have to do with mouse gestures for gestures that I have yet to memorize.

    Great work. One thing I love about the Mozilla is the truly "innovative" atmosphere where people aren't afraid to try new things. Bravo.

The trouble with the rat-race is that even if you win, you're still a rat. -- Lily Tomlin

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