February 23, 2009

Xcode window management sucks

Hi, did you come here to tell me that Xcode offers "all-in-one" editing? Please, don't send me an email. This is addressed in this article if you take time to read it.

I posted some thoughts to twitter last night about how much the Xcode window management drives me insane. What I got back was a huge reaction of “it’s perfect” and “this is how OSX works” Suddenly I was wondering, am I just insane for thinking the window management is absolutely horrible?

No, no. I’m not. It’s horrible. Just because Apple built it, does not make it perfect.

Tabs are the future (actually it’s been the standard for years)

Tabs have clearly proven themselves to be a superior method for editing multiple code files. Why? Because the most recognizable thing about code file is it’s filename. Not the look of the text. Let’s look at this through some examples.

Case #1: Window-based management FTW, Photoshop

Example of window management in Photoshop

Window management in OSX defaults to a new window for each document. This works wonderfully for most applications when you can see the differences visually. Photoshop is a great example. Using Exposé, I can see which document I mean to be working on at a glance The visual representation of the document is the unique identifier.

Some more points on why this works so well:

Case #2: Tab-based management FTW, Texmtate

Example of window management in Texmate

Window management for Textmate is handled via tabs and a persistent sidebar. At a glance, you can see all files you’re currently working on. In the case of Cocoa, you are often switching between interface & implementation files, but this is easily handled via cmd-opt-up, so long as you have the name of the class right, you’ve got the right file.

Some points on why this works so well:

Case #3: WTF-based management FTL, Xcode

Example of window management in Xcode

Window management for Xcode is handled via a combination of this thing called a Project window, which morphs depending on it’s toolbar state, windows for each document, and windows for ancillary programs (like the model editor). Please note I have the same number of windows open in this screenshot as I did in Textmate (7). It’s actually a pretty small program, but completely overwhelming.

Some points on why this doesn’t work so well:

Some may counter, telling me that Xcode offers editing inside the project window. Sure, this works, but offers just as many frustrations.

It’s a shame

It’s a shame, because other than the window management, Xcode is really an awesome IDE. The actual text editing is great as is debugging, scriptability, and file management. It really helps solve all the problems that Cocoa apps force upon mere text editors (long method names, class names, files being in one directory, different types of files in the same directory, etc).

It’s the program’s fatal flaw in my mind. It isn’t that it’s sub-par, or not good enough – it’s downright infuriating to use. I want to do mean things to cute kittens whenever I use it. So I don’t. I use TextMate. Which actually is very good at Cocoa & Objective-C. But it means much more typing (especially with the shift key) since TextMate favors tab-triggers rather than tab-completion.

At the end of the day, this is the kind of stuff I hope Mac developers care about. It’s about making the user experience the #1 priority in software development. And it’s something that I’m confident Apple knows about and intends to fix in future versions of Xcode. Because they care about the user experience.

If you'd like to keep in touch, I tweet @kneath on Twitter. You're also welcome to send a polite email to kyle@warpspire.com. I don't always get the chance to respond, but email is always the best way to get in touch.

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