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Part II: Fundamental Java Application Design
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6: Behavior
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Operational Feedback

Users interact more smoothly with your application if you keep them informed about the application's state. The information you provide can include a response to an action that a user is intentionally controlling (such as changing the shape of the pointer), or you can offer feedback about actions that the application is performing on its own (such as a long copying operation). This section focuses on feedback about operations that the application performs on its own once the user initiates them.

You can use three kinds of visual feedback for operations that take a long time to complete:

  • Pointer feedback--changes the shape of the pointer (which tracks the mouse or other pointing device)
  • Progress animation--an indicator such as a progress bar that shows what percentage of an operation is complete
  • Status animation--an animation that shows an operation is ongoing

Animation is especially beneficial when you want to communicate that the system is busy. Progress indication shows users the state of an operation; status animation lets users know that an application or a part of an application is not available until an operation is done. For more about animation in your interface, see Animation.

  When your application is processing a long operation and users can continue to work in other areas of the application, provide them with information regarding the state of the process.

  During a long operation, when users must wait until the operation is complete, change the shape of the pointer. For example, an application's pointer might change to the wait pointer after the user selects a file and before the file opens.

For information on the JFC-supplied pointer shapes available in the Java look and feel, see Table 6.

  Use a wait pointer whenever users are (or could be) blocked from interaction with the application for more than 2 seconds.

  Use a progress bar whenever users are blocked from interacting with the application for more than 6 seconds.

  Use a progress bar when users want to know when or whether the operation has been completed, and the absolute or approximate proportion of completion can be determined.

  Use a status animation when an activity will take 6 or more seconds and you can communicate only whether the process is live or not.

Progress Animation

Progress animation consists of a progress bar or percentage indicator that is generated by an application. You can use progress animation to describe any job in progress.

The most useful form of progress animation, a progress bar, is an interface element that indicates one or more operations are in progress and shows users what proportion of the operation has been completed. The progress bar consists of a rectangular bar that fills as the operation progresses, as shown in the following figure.

Figure 76   Progress Bar

 

Progress Bar

You can orient the progress bar horizontally, so it fills from left to right, or vertically, so it fills from bottom to top. Within the bounds of the progress bar, you can display a text message that is updated as the bar fills. By default, the message shows the percentage of the process completed--for example, 25%.

  If you know the estimated length of an operation (for example, if the user is copying files) or the number of operations, use the Java look and feel progress bar. This bar fills as the operation progresses.

  When the user performs an operation whose function can be accurately estimated, show the time remaining as part of the progress bar. For example, you might use the message, "Two hours and 18 minutes remaining." In most cases, you will need to base your estimate on typical throughput and adjust your estimate as you determine how the current system load or network delay affects throughput. These calculations sometimes result in an increase in the remaining time.

  When the user performs an operation on objects of known size, or when only the number of objects is known, equate the length of the progress bar to the total units of work to be performed.

  Update the progress bar to show the proportion completed at least every 4 seconds. If you overestimate how much is already done, the progress bar can remain at 99 percent until the task is complete. If you underestimate how much is already done, fill the remaining portion of the progress bar when the operation completes. The percentage done should never decrease.

  Use the most accurate form of progress bar (time remaining, proportion remaining, objects remaining) available, given the data you are trying to time.

  Users cannot interact with a progress bar. If you would like to enable users to set a value in a range, use the slider (implemented with the JSlider component).

Figure 77 shows the use of progress animation in a progress dialog box.

 Click here to view the corresponding code for Figure 77 (also available on the book's companion CD-ROM).

Figure 77   Animation in a Progress Dialog Box

Dialog Box Animation

Status Animation

When you have no numeric information on which to base your progress estimates, use a status animation to reassure the user that an otherwise invisible activity is still in progress and the system has not crashed.

A status animation is a sequence of images designed to inform users that an operation is in progress. A status animation loops endlessly until the operation finishes or the user acts to stop the operation. The animation reassures users that an otherwise invisible activity is still in progress and the system has not crashed. Because the display duration of any status animation is often unknown, you should design the loop to run continuously until the operation completes.

For each status animation, include a still image and an animation. The still image indicates that a process has stopped or that the system is inactive. Make the still image different from the animation sequence so that users can easily tell whether an activity is in progress (though possibly stalled) or the system is quiescent.

  When creating system status animation, consider the target users and their environment. If the animation needs to be visible from across the room, a bolder animation coupled with sound might be effective. On the other hand, that same animation viewed by a user sitting at the workstation would be annoying.

  When feasible, let users configure system status animation, so they can adapt their systems to the environment.

  In your status animations, provide two files, one an animation sequence to display the active status and the other a still image to display the inactive status.

  Screen readers, which are used by people with visual impairments, do not recognize images. Use the accessibleDescription field to describe what is represented by the animation and change the description appropriately when the status of the animation changes. Make sure that this information results in a propertyChange event so that the user can be notified of the change.


Java Look and Feel Design Guidelines, second edition.
Copyright 2001. Sun Microsystems, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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