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Communicator Seamonkey
UI Specification

Dialogs UE Framework

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Last Modification:
Author German W. Bauer 
Initial Creation Date:  09 April 1999 
Status: Preliminary Specification - use at your own risk, implementation information forthcoming
Overall Seamonkey UI Homepage
Navigator Seamonkey PRD

Design Overview
Design Cheatsheet
Design Details 

Specific Dialogs:

  • Navigator dialogs (forthcoming)
  • Messenger dialogs (forthcoming)
  • Ender Dialogs (forthcoming)
Feature Team

Older spec, will be updated



This document desribe the cross-application (and where possble cross-application) dialog layouts, as well as general guidelines for creating dialogs that do not fit in the standard templates/categories.


  • Keep the dialogs consistent accross apps, platforms - even after functionality may get dynamically added after the launch of Communicator Seamonkey
  • Allow for platform-specificness when needed/evidenced by usability testing, such as e.g. for placement of command buttons
  • Simplify consistent implementation of common dialogs through use of templates.
  • Simplify consistent construction of special dialogs through the use of modules and widgets that can be combined.

Target Audience

The target user for this feature are all Communicator Seamonkey users as described in the Seamonkey PRD

User Tasks

Fundamental Tasks Intermediate Tasks Advanced Tasks
Common to all data view panes
  • Perform task secondary to main task in the primary window, such as setting preoperties
  • Get informed about error messages, potentailly harmful actions or obtain informational messages


 Using/navigating dialogs via keyboard only

Design Cheatsheet

Design Philosophy


Web Look and Feel

Sea-Monkey will be the first application to have a platform independent look and feel. To this end, there will be one set of dialogs for both Macintosh and Windows. The issue that has not been decided is whether we will have a cross-platform command button order, or whether we have to implement specific command button orders for Macintosh and Windows/Linux. At any rate the design will be made flexible anf modular so we can implement such a platform specific order of button without re-doing each dialog 2-3 times.

The other things that's different from designing dialogs in tradional OS based resource systems is that the elements do not rely on a fixed position system, but behave more like HTML 4, in that elements resize themselves based on the space thaty their contents request. That in turn is dependent on font size used, localization etc.

Dialog Details

Modeless and modal dialog boxes

Dialogs can either be modeless or modal, or modal but movable. Which one should be implemented when?

Modal Dialog Modeless Dialog Movable modal Floating pallette
Modal dialogs block users from interacting with any app until the dialog has been dismissed Modeless dialog boxes let users freely interact with the application or any other app, but are still associated with the 'current' window of the app (unlike a palette window tyoe, see below) This type of dialog lets the user switch to other apps, but not to other windows in the same app. Palettes float on top of all document window and interactively lets users change properties. Palettes do not get dismissed, but changes made to properties get refelected in the document immediately. Similar the palette updates its properties display to relflect the current selection. This funct. can be displayed in both a palette window or a toolbar.
  • Use this when this intermediate task in the dialog should be completed before going on with the app
  • Use this style when there are alerts that have to be dealt with immedaitely
  • Use this when there's a risk to allowing dialog boxes to go behind other windows too easily. Novice users are click-happy, and they can lose track of modeless windows very easily.
  • Use this when users have to perform a task repetetively (like Find/Replace)
  • Use this when users have to see and interact with the application to see the effects of changing values in the dialog (e.g properties)
  • Use this when there might be multiple dialogs open of this at any one time (e.g download progress)
  • Use when dialog task should be completed before gong on, but users need to see context of current window.
  • Use when properties need to get changed repeatedly and users need direct feedback from the document

Dialog Box Types

Dialog Box

Use for peripheral tasks that do not require the user to go back frequently. Dialog Boxes can use tabs for navigation, opne or more controls to manipulate settings and a row of command buttons to back out of or make settings stick. In the XPFE implementation dialogs will use the native window frame, but the controls are rendered through Gecko


Alert Box

Use for notification of end users. Include fatal errors in the application, warnings or informal advice (see below). An icon will identify the nature of the alert, usually accompanied by a descriptive text. Command buttons are line up at the bottom and may include all or some of these: an OK button (to acknoledge the message, or to confirm an action) a cancel button to revert the action and a help button.

Info Question Alert Fatal Error

Example: Entering SSL transmission Alert


Allows users to pick a font or color, preview can be added here too. Some of these dialogs are going to be native such as the file picker. Use to pick things that are not changed repeatedly

Example: File Picker

Properties dialogs

Use this to let users investigate and change properties of the current context/selection on an ongoing basis.

  • Use with Palettes float on top of all document window or with toolbars, when user needs direct and frequent feedback, and the dialog task is directly related to the task in the document window.
    Example: Editor widget
  • Use with a movable modal dialog when direct feedback is not required or the task in the dialog is changing setting not directly related to the task in the main window, in order to not clutter up the main interface.
    Example: Prefs dialog

Design Details

General Dialog Layout Framework

All dialogs will follow a similar model and display three main modular sections:

A content area that contains the widget or message text, resizeable based on content required width
A horizontal command button area that will be replace-able (based on platform). Placed at the bottom: Min. height 30px.
Optional: A branding area to the left the identifies the owner/origin of the dialogs (may be important in component based world). Placed at the left: min. width 30px.




General Spacing and Alignment

This is the recommended spacing between borders of the dialog and the components.

We recommend a margin of 11 pixels for bottom and left borders and a margin of 10 pixels for top and right borders for each dialog.

A general style sheet for dialog windows will look like this:

#body {margin-left: 11px; margin-right: 10px; margin-top:10 px; margin-bottom:11px; background-color:#CCCCCC; font: message-box;}

Type - Font Usage

Type usage rules are simple:
Rather than specifying a specific font size, dialogs will be subject to style sheets. As default we will specify the CSS2 font "font: message-box;" for dialogs
Bold should almost never be used.
Do not use italic.
Italics should be avoided altogether.
Right align text labels next to edit fields.
Keep text labels brief.

Spacing and Alignment for specific widgets

We are expecting different font sizes on different platforms, as well as different text lenghts in different locals. Since we are using a flexible XUL architecture (is this an oxymoron?), which (simplified view for illustrative purposes) is sorta like HTML, it is assumed best to not specify a fixed grid system for dialogs, but rather devising a flexible, expanding system that can grow for larger font sizes or text lenghts and shring when less width is needed. To that end we will be using a box layout system created by Hyatt and Vaughan. In this light it also make sense to not specify the positions of controls in terms of absolute x,y corrdinates but rather coordinate their spacing and grouping relative to each other.

Through the use of style sheets controls will be 'self-aware' of their spacing needs. Thus we describe here the most commonly used controls and the minimal margins they need around them as well as spacing for grouping if needed. In essence we design a "buffer zone" around each widget. Shown here are the basic style attributes for the default look and feel. In case of buttons the normal, ie. the enabled and up state is shown.

Command buttons

margin-left: 4px; margin-right: 3px; margin-top: 1px; margin-bottom: 2px; border: 1px outset #CCCCCC; padding-left: 4px; padding-right: 3px; padding-top: 3px; padding-bottom: 2px; background-color: #CCCCCC;

Minimal button width should be no less than 60px in dialogs (Don't know how to do this with style sheets/ gecko yet). Attempt to make all buttons on the row of command buttons the width of the largest button, that is set the inner padding of all buttons to match the width of the widest button as determined by the image above.

Image buttons

margin-left: 4px; margin-right: 3px; margin-top: 1px; margin-bottom: 1px; border: 1px outset #CCCCCC; padding-left: 3px; padding-right: 3px; padding-top: 2px; padding-bottom: 2px; background-color: #CCCCCC;  

Text Labels

margin: 0px; border: none; padding-left: 4px; padding-right: 3px; padding-top: 5px; padding-bottom: 5px; background-color: #CCCCCC;

Text Edit Fields

margin-left: 4px; margin-right: 3px; margin-top: 1px; margin-bottom: 2px; border: 1px inset #CCCCCC; padding-left: 4px; padding-right: 3px; padding-top: 3px; padding-bottom: 2px; background-color: #FFFFFF;

Combo Boxes

margin-left: 4px; margin-right: 3px; margin-top: 1px; margin-bottom: 2px; rest TBD

Popup menu button

margin-left: 4px; margin-right: 3px; margin-top: 1px; margin-bottom: 1px; border: 1px outset #CCCCCC; padding-left: 4px; padding-right: 3px; padding-top: 3px; padding-bottom: 2px; background-color: #CCCCCC;

Pick List Boxes

margin-left: 4px; margin-right: 3px; margin-top: 1px; margin-bottom: 1px; rest TBD


Check boxes

margin-left: 4px; margin-right: 3px; margin-top: ???px; margin-bottom: 5px; border: none; padding: 0px; background-color: #CCCCCC;

Radio Buttons

margin-left: 4px; margin-right: 3px; margin-top: ???px; margin-bottom: 5px; border: none; padding: 0px; background-color: #CCCCCC;

Progress Bar

margin-left: 4px; margin-right: 3px; margin-top: 1px; margin-bottom: 2px; border: 1px inset #CCCCCC; padding: 1px; background-color: #CCCCCC;


Grouping with horizontal lines

margin-left: 6px; margin-right: 5px; margin-top: 8px; margin-bottom: 9px; border: none; padding-left: 3px; padding: 0px;


Grouping with group boxes

margin-left: 6px; margin-right: 5px; margin-top: 5px; margin-bottom: 6px; border: 2px ridge #CCCCCC; padding-left: 3px; padding-right: 2px; padding-top: ???; padding-bottom: 3px;


Typical Command Buttons

OK and Cancel Buttons

Apply Button

Help Button

Default Button in Dialog

Templates for common dialogs

Example: Prefs dialog pane

Example: Question dialog

This example shows what it would ook like if implemented a platform specific order of command buttons using the modular approach of having a replaceable command button area at the bottom of the dialog using XUL fragments.



Feasibility issues for XUL/XPFE:

need to autosize dialogs wds based on width, height content requests
what can XPFE do: modal, movable modal, non-modal, palettes?
need to platform specific XUL fragments, e.g. possibly for command button div

todo: need to make spec skin-friendly, need globally shared style properties for that!