A couple of years ago, I discovered a new way to close windows in Microsoft Windows. To be fair, I didn’t discover it on my own – I saw a colleague of mine using the alternate approach, and I asked her about it. I was surprised that although I had used various Microsoft operating systems (95, XP, 2000, 2003), that particular trick eluded me.
Here’s how it works. You know how you can normally close a window by clicking on the top right corner? The “X” button? Well, you can also double-click on the top left corner, and this will usually also close the window.
The reason I say “usually” is because some newer applications, like Google Chrome, for example – are not using the conventional windows style. Aside from a few exceptions, I’ve seen this work across XP, Server 2000, Server 2003, and Vista operating systems. It’s just a little weird in Vista, seeing as they don’t display the icon in the top left corner like they used to.
Single-clicking the top left corner actually brings up a menu:
My guess is that Windows will automatically execute the action written in bold when you double-click, which is Close.
A little research revealed that this feature was initially the only way to close a window in Windows 3.1. Jensen Harris, Group Program Manager of the Microsoft Office User Experience Team, explained it on his blog:
Anyway, in Windows 95 the close box was added to the upper-right corner, but they kept the ability to close windows by double-clicking the product icon on the left side of the title bar. As a result, even some whippersnappers like me who barely remember computers pre-Windows 95 learned to close windows that way.
Whoops, I let out my big secret.
You see, I’m a left-side double-click closer myself. It’s embarrassing, I know, but I just can’t break the habit. Oh so many times during the beta of Office I’ve moved my mouse to the upper-left corner, realized that I couldn’t close the window, and then jumped to the other side of the screen to hit the close box.
We removed left-side close as a planned experiment. If people could get used to closing on the right side, we’d be better off because there wouldn’t be two ways of doing the same simple action. Clearly if we were building a new window manager from scratch with no pre-existing users, we would only have one way to close windows.
But, of course, we have hundreds of millions of users, many of which (like me) literally have left-side close burned into the lower levels of our brain stem, along with breathing and keeping the heart beating. Honestly, I can seem to relearn anything except for this.
Nonetheless, we tried taking this out–we shipped Beta 1 Technical Refresh and Beta 2 this way and waited for feedback. Could people adapt? Not really, as it turns out.
Honestly, we knew all along that there was a strong possibility we would have to find a way to add this functionality back. It was worth a shot, but in the end, creating an affordance for left-side closing eliminates one huge annoyance that stands in the way of some people’s enjoyment of the product.
Like Harris, I too feel like I’m hanging on to an old habit. In Windows Vista, I see that Microsoft is no longer including an icon in that corner in some core places – that, to me, communicates their intention to discourage widespread use of the feature. After all, why would we want multiple ways to close a window with the mouse?