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Pop-up windows: hooray to modeless user interfaces

Pop-up windows are a very popular element of the TeamCity web user interface. Consider having a fully-featured continuous integration web-application that collects all possible data regarding VCS changes, tests, build output, build configuration settings, etc, etc, etc. When a problem occurs, we must guide the user through this mish-mash of various data directly (well, ideally) to the problem diagnostics.

Which tests failed?
Who was committing to this build?
Which files?
What code got changed?
Which build output reports are available for this build?

In TeamCity you don’t have to leave the overview page to find the answers. Iteratively, we found the way of showing build details in a modeless way:
teamcity_tests1.gif

Before that we tried showing pop-ups on link hovering, but that required considerable time for our users to get used to.

Today I was absolutely glad to find the very same type of pop-ups on the Amazon site:
amazon_rating.gif

Usually I check the “least star” reviews first, then – the “most stars”. Look - now I do not have to browse through three pages to find the one-star reviews.

These days, people often argue upon usefulness or harmfulness of Ajax possibilities in web interfaces. My experience in developing a highly-interactive web application tells: modeless web user interfaces are much more useful than traditional ones, but as there are still no interaction design rules, be ready to test and change and improve your user interfaces – many times.