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There are currently two (or maybe three) competing designs for inspector windows that contain a medium to large amount of information.

On the one hand, there is Finder, along with older versions of OmniGraffle, and Microsoft Office, which use disclosure triangles (or buttons containing a disclosure triangle) to show or hide segments. OmniGraffle is slightly more sophisticated in that you can dock or undock individual segments, but it’s basically the same style.

On the other, there are the new iWork applications, and (to a degree) the newer version of OmniGraffle, which use a toolbar or a bar full of buttons to control which “page” of information you can currently see.

Does anyone have any reason to prefer one design over the other?

Here are some pictures to remind you if you’ve forgotten what they look like:


Hmm. The iWork one is conceptually messy, as it has effectively two levels of tab control. The Finder one is quicker to work with if you need to refer to two sections at once, but unless you have a 30” screen you need to micromanage it to keep it small enough to fit on-screen. The Finder one also has space for textual labels, which tend to be more obvious and less arbitrary than icons. I think I prefer the Finder one overall. -JensAyton

In my experience using both styles, I find the iWork style inspector easier and quicker to use. It also has a higher density of controls. However, I’m not totally happy with either style. As Jens mentioned, the double layer of tabs is messy. - WarrenDodge

The fact that there is a tab control in the top page of the iWork inspector is a bit of a red herring; perhaps I should change the page on the iWork inspector :-) BTW, the fact that you need to micro-manage the Finder style on many systems is something that I’d largely forgotten, but now you mention it I remember finding that irritating myself. I’ve seen at least one variant of the Finder style where the inspector automatically folds up some or all of the sections you aren’t using, and though I’m not a huge fan of that idea myself, it does seem to offer a partial solution. –AlastairHoughton

The Finder window has 5 sections, while iWork has 10. That could be a thing to consider if you’re choosing between the two. –DavidCatmull

The Finder window is nice looking, but I hate having to collapse and expand just to get to a lower section. The iWork style was not intuitive, but I much prefer that style now that I am used to it. - KevinHoctor

From a UI perspective, the Finder one isn’t so great because the location of the buttons move. This is not the case in iWork, and thus the iWork style encourages so-called “muscle memory”. Further, the iWork style implies a mutual exclusion between the tabs whereas the Finder style allows you to simultaneously see different functional groupings. The problem with the tabs is that it forces you to click on a different tab to get to a different functional grouping. However, although you don’t have to switch tabs in the Finder-style dialogs, you have to micromanage what you’re seeing. Personally, I like the style used in Adobe’s new Lightroom software. All the functions are displayed (and collapsable) Finder-style, but when the vertical size of the palette becomes too large for the screen, a scroll bar is introduced to scroll the entire palette contents. Management is quick because you can use the scroll wheel to quickly navigate to a functional grouping. They also allow clicking on disclosure widgets with modifier keys to do things like “show only this grouping”, “show all groupings”, etc. - MikeManzano

I’ve just been playing with Finder, and Finder’s Inspector will scroll also, though modifier keys don’t have any effect. –AlastairHoughton

iWork works around (hah) the pane-modality issue by allowing you to open multiple inspectors. In general, the Finder model seems better-suited to displaying information, while the iWork model makes it easier to lay out controls for modifying settings. –BenStiglitz