This is one of the biggest flaws of Windows and Linux’s UI. Using the close button, which is suppose to exit a program, to instead minimize a program to the notification area (aka system tray) where it can continue to run but not have any windows open. All it takes is an extra button added next to the “X” close button but no one wanted to do it so here we are boys and girls. Lying and tricking users into thinking a program closes when it really continues to run in the background. Or worse, annoying them with notifications telling them that the program is still running in the system tray. This is like duct-taping a flat tire. If it’s broken it needs to be fixed, not Jerry-rigged.
There are 2 different types of programs
Folders, web browsers, email and chat windows, and Photoshop are made to be interacted with and closed when done. But programs like Steam, Skype, uTorrent, instant messenger clients, virus scanners, music players, and others are designed to not be interacted with frequently and instead just allowed to run in the background while you’re working on other things.
Is that both of these types of programs, interactables & forgettables, both use the close “X” button to do two different things. Forgettables just want to run in the background and stay out of your way, but no one bothered to give them their own button to ‘minimize to system tray’ so they use the “X” close button, which is bad because it confuses users and is inconsistent.
*The area around the clock in Windows and Linux with all the icons is the “Notification Area”, which is technically the correct term but developers and users recognize “System Tray” more as it’s a more suitable name for its purpose, a tray for the system where running programs are stored.
This is not about making the window controls look pretty, this is about trying to predict how users will actually end up reacting to and using the window controls. Most users just click towards the big red button and assume it will close the window of the program and exit the program itself. They’re probably not going to spend too much time looking at what symbol the big red button has inside of it. Also, users have gotten use to thinking that the button on the outside means close and exit. So it’s not an easy problem to solve. Also, only programs that are expected to run in the background should actually implement option 2-3 into their window controls.
- Option 1 – If the close button is really going to minimize to the system tray then at least let me know
- Pros – doesn’t take up more space, keeps it simple, performs the same action as before only now the user is informed of what’s going on.
- Cons – users might not pay attention to the symbols, creates an inconsistent and incorrect experience where the big red button is suppose to exit a program and close its window but other times doesn’t and makes you have to go through a program’s menu (file>exit)
- Option 2 – Offer both the close button and the ‘minimize to tray’ button side by side.
- Pros – makes a user think about what they want to do and lets them choose
- Cons – takes up more space, also how would you order it? close button first, ‘minimize to tray’ button second? or the other way around. By habit a user might end up closing a program like Skype when they really meant to just close the window and keep the program running in the background. Forces a user to think about what they want to do and interrupts their experience.
- Option 3 – Offer both buttons but put extra emphasis on the ‘minimize to tray’ button.
- Pros – Chooses for the user, user ends up using the program the way it was intended but also has the option to close and exit using the “X” button. If an unsuspecting user doesn’t know what they want they’re more likely to click the bigger red button which is probably what they wanted to do in the first place.
- Cons – takes up much more space.
Personally I think Option 3 is best for users as they’ve learned to click the big red button to make the program go away. The types of programs that will use option 3 are the types that should be minimized to tray anyway (like instant messengers, anti-virus, backup programs) so this option works out well.