Stripes Are Out

AdiumOne of my favorite features in the recent 1.0 release of the Adium instant messaging client is a low-level visual alteration in the display of multiple selections in the contacts list. In previous beta releases (which I’ve used faithfully for some time), when you selected a contact in the list by simply clicking, that name would be highlighted with a gradated color bar. It’s nothing unusual. In fact, it’s perfectly in keeping with the Mac OS X look and feel.

If you selected multiple names, though, that same colored, gradated bar would be repeated once for each selection, creating what I found to be an undesirable Venetian blind effect. True, it’s not so visually offensive that I ever thought much about it, but it wasn’t going to win any awards, either.

Right: Contacts lenses. Adium 0.89’s display of multiple selection is like so totally last year, while 1.0’s display is the new black. (Last names have been removed to protect the innocent.)
Adium 0.89 and 1.0 Contact Lists

Now, when you select multiple names in Adium 1.0, you’ll find something subtly but significantly different. The newest version treats all of the selections as a single group, rather than several individual items simultaneously selected. No Venetian blind effect this time; rather, you’ll see a single color field spanning all of the selections, with a single, much more subtle gradation across the entire group. Much, much simpler, and much, much more visually pleasant.

There’s no good reason why this change had to be made, to say nothing of a business case — Adium is developed for free by volunteers and given away free to all comers. No one — I mean no one — would have complained if it had never been implemented. Nevertheless, someone with a passion for this product took the time out to reconsider the problem, develop a solution, test it and champion it all the way to its ship date. As feature modifications go, it clearly qualifies as non-critical, yet in its final, completed form, it’s elegant, perfectly logical and, now that it’s a shipping feature, appears indispensable.

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  1. Before any confusion starts, the new selection style (as of 1.0.0) only occurs if you use the Regular Window or Borderless Window window style as set in the Appearance prefs.

  2. Yes, sorry, I suppose I should have clarified that too. That’s one way Adium falls down, though: its preference settings, while designed as well as can be expected, are way too numerous and confound clear mental models. They’re far more elegant, but they do have a whiff of Outlook’s too-abundant preferences.

  3. Not to digress too much, but Aidum’s hilarious crash screen illustration showed up on SVN a few days ago, so there’s some more evidence that the developers are really throwing a lot of love into the project.

    Still more evidence of this is the fact that, in the year-plus that I’ve been using Adium at home and work, I’ve never had it crash on me… I had to find out about its cool crash screen from a blog instead.

  4. It is my firm belief that Adium is the best open source app ever developed for the Mac. It is simply a joy to use in every way. If only every application shared its attention to detail and glorious customizability.

  5. That level of attention to detail is impressive. Sadly, it’s quite unusual to see things like that in open source software.

    Hopefully this is an indication of a greater appreciation of design in OS software and a chance that designers can contribute in the future too.

  6. I hardly have a need to select multiple contacts. The only time I select multiple contacts is when I’m moving contacts to a new category. Are there other uses for selecting multiple contacts?

  7. I love Adium, but I really hate that duck. It reminds me too much of ‘Orville’

    Yes, I know I can change the icon, but it’s still there, hiding underneath it all, making me think of Keith Harris and that deeply unfunny show he had.

  8. You know I was a bit of a resentful switcher, in part forced by Apple’s cancellation of the Logic Audio Platinum for Windows platform.

    That being said, I find that the open source tools for OS X are far superior in the respect to the thought that goes into how they would be and are used. I often find myself thinking (not unlike your discovery with Address Book VCard updates) “I’d like to be able to do this.” I try that, and it works!

    To put it in interface design terms the design model and user model on OS X seem to be far closer than on other systems, and I’m not pointing at Windows or Linux in particular, I think it’s a flaw on many systems not just those on multi-purpose personal computing platforms.

    In addition the design of these apps are consistently cleaner and more intuitive. Adium is what an IM client should be.

  9. Beg to differ, but this Venetian Blind effect you consider as an undesirable side effect helps lining up the name of the user with its current status. I find the first option to work better.