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The Miranda Options UI Problem

August 28, 2008 by koobs

A long standing gripe for many of our users has been the overwhelming complexity and inconsistency of our main “Options” user interface. In my opinion there are two main reasons behind this which need to be taken into consideration before attempting to tackle the problem.

1) The goal of ultimate flexibility / customisation

One of the fundamental design goals of the Miranda project is to empower our users with a piece of software that can be modified to be as unique as the person using it, and it is a known fact that a large part of our userbase are what one can only describe as very technically savvy power users. This goal has meant the evolution of an addon ecosystem and community that is rightly the envy of many other projects.

2) Documentation & Guidelines

These two things are critical in the maintenance and growth of software projects in general, and yet they are often left behind as second-class citizens. Without documented guidelines and resources for our developers, we are destined to make the same mistakes, continually chase our tails and fumble in the dark.

On a positive note, two members of our community have been working for some time on potential solutions, and after tweeting about it yesterday (http://twitter.com/miranda_im) I’ve received a couple of requests from users to upload some screenshots.

I wanted to add some context and background to the problem before I did that, and hopefully generate some excitement around what some of our plans are in the near future. On that note, here are two screenshots that are teasers to ideas that FYR and Nullbie have been playing with. Great work guys :]

FYR’s concept is a modernisation on the existing form, moves the plugin filter control, and adds a option searching function.

Options Concept #1 (FYR)

Options Concept #1 (FYR)

Nullbie’s concept is quite a change in strategy, introducing ideas like contextual grouping and a simplification of categories and minimising overly complex hierarchies and nested groups/trees

Options Concept #2 (Nullbie)

Options Concept #2 (Nullbie)

I find both very interesting and full of potential and would love to hear from anyone who’s interested in providing feedback about whats important to them and why, or anyone who’d like to help with coming up with guidelines, conventions or design patterns for elegent and usable user interfaces.

For more information on how you can contribute to the Miranda project, see our How to help wiki article, or come and have a chat with us on IRC


  1. The (current) options UI is one reason i use miranda. In addition to that concept #2 reminds me of trillian, and that scares me 0o

    By Marcus on August 28th, 2008 at 3:18 am #
  2. 2Marcus,

    second conception is not replacement, only as addition for newbie support

    By FYR on August 28th, 2008 at 3:22 am #
  3. As FYR mentioned, nullbie’s concept doesn’t replace the existing UI, its merely a second representation of it. Effectively you can drop into ‘original’ slash advanced mode as you can see in the bottom left corner of the screenshot :)

    By koobs on August 28th, 2008 at 3:23 am #
  4. Please do not follow the Vista trend. For me, the “task-oriented” interface seems to be quite inefficient and irritating.

    By Ippi on August 28th, 2008 at 3:30 am #
  5. Personally i prefer FYRs concept as i know where to find the settings i want to change, but new miranda users should start with nullbies version of the options dialog. It’s like the difference in Windows’ Control Panel in XP and earlier versions.

    By Mineo on August 28th, 2008 at 3:34 am #
  6. I hope the classification can cordinate with that of our Addon site.

    By ADDON on August 28th, 2008 at 3:47 am #
  7. Since Miranda has a whole load of settings. I think it will take doubled time to navigate through beween those settings in #2 Concept Interface, which would bring lot of fuss.

    Maybe we should blend those two together. Simple view for Concept#2
    and expert view for Concept#1
    Miranda’s default option view is never simple enough!

    By ADDON on August 28th, 2008 at 3:53 am #
  8. On the same line as ADDON here. I don’t see the reason for the “expert” switch in the options dialog, as it doesn’t change much for a regular non-geek user, if he even notices, that some items from the tree disappear. The most important settings and required info should be in nullbie’s concept, with the possibility to switch to the actual – fyr’s – one. See, what does a regular user want? Set up an account, set up his avatar and profile, and probably change the looks of miranda a bit. And that’s about it.

    By deb00t on August 28th, 2008 at 4:02 am #
  9. I agree with ADDON&deb00t. If you make view #1(FYR) as expert view & #2(nullbie) as Simple view there would be _2_ views. Both of them with the option to hide/show expert settings would result in _4_ views which is (imho) not a step forward.

    By Mineo on August 28th, 2008 at 4:10 am #
  10. I particulary liked both options. The idea to have a “simpler view” for new users / common tasks is a good one.

    But, for that to work, a good guideline for plugin developers is needed (to tell what to put in the simple view and where)

    PS: This pops the question: is the ‘Use advanced options’ still needed in that case?

    By pescuma on August 28th, 2008 at 5:44 am #
  11. Nullbies idea looks better, BUT look at the current options tree. If every developer can put his plugins everywhere we would get a page with 20 different icons…
    That’s the main problem, nobody can find any option, because there is no logical order in this tree. E.g. the user click on “Status” on nullbies window, the user get all status relevant settings? No, the users still stumble in the dark. Both ideas looks great, but I see not really the benefit for beginner users, if the backend behind the scene is still the same.
    And can someone explain me the “View Help Online” link?

    By Lastwebpage on August 28th, 2008 at 7:58 am #
  12. Proposal #1 is (obviously) already working in the current SVN builds. It actually looks a bit more “modern” now (but the filter box needs more width).

    About #2: Using it as a “simple view” would be an option indeed, similar to Windows’ “modern” Control Panel, but it should at least be possible to choose the default layout on the first startup…

    By just me on August 28th, 2008 at 8:07 am #
  13. I like both enhancements. It would be really nice to have Nullbie’s idea as the “non-expert” options.
    But I think expert settings still need a uniform style. A very strict guideline could be enough, but will be much work to describe. Developers must study these guidelines and work with them. Changing the design of an optionpage would need much work and the work to create a new page is increasing.
    I would suggest some way to simplify the creation of an optionpage and ensuring a consistent layout of the options. I would like a simple XML based page definition (since we got a XML parser inside the core :)) and dynamically creating option pages and controls.
    example: http://www-user.tu-chemnitz.de/~kunmi/miranda%20xml%20option%20example.txt
    As alternative it’s possible to display all the options inside a treecontrol like HistoryStats.

    Just my two coins.

    By Protogenes on August 28th, 2008 at 8:22 am #
  14. PS: This pops the question: is the ‘Use advanced options’ still needed in that case?

    Not really, that’s what I said ;) The simple mode would stand for “unchecked expert mode” :)

    By deb00t on August 28th, 2008 at 12:17 pm #
  15. I definitely think there’s the need for an options page like #2. Someone mentioned the whole Vista control panel simplification earlier, at first i didnt like it and always went back to the “classic” view, however i thought i would give it a chance and spent a couple of weeks familiarising myself with it, and now i like it better than classic view! when i come across a classic view control panel i’m daunted by all the icons and the fact you have to scroll to see them all.
    i think if people give it a chance they will be OK with #2 (assuming it still allows as much configurability as #1).. will having 2 option pages make things really hard to maintain?

    By omniwolf on August 28th, 2008 at 4:52 pm #
  16. I have to say I like both options, however, I don’t know what “hides” yet under interface #2. There is not enough information to go on except that we know the first one, and the second one looks Sweet (that’s good)…

    By YtseJam on August 29th, 2008 at 3:16 am #
  17. (someone have delate the previous postings…)
    Can someone explain me the great benefit for both concepts?
    version 1) great idea, but not helpful always, please search for “slots”, you get the clist_modern settings for the icon slots?
    version 2) I get all status relevant settings when I click on status? And if each developer can create new entries this option page is pointless. No affront, both ideas are great and it would sometimes help to find the correct options. But unfortunately only sometimes. Most of the time the user still stumble in the dark, because the complete option system is not user friendly.

    By Lastwebpage on August 29th, 2008 at 4:54 am #
  18. I am for a merging of both suggestions, too.
    Nullbies concept seems to aim at the same goal Windows XP does with its ‘simple’ view of the control panel.
    I do not prefer it, as I am so experienced that it rather hinders me from being as fast as when using the ‘advanced’ menu – because I know where to find what; but the new user does not know, what Miranda IM is able to do and what can be customized exactly, he is just thinking – ‘Hey, it would be nice to have a new skin for my messaging window – oh there’s a point called , great’.

    What I like at FYRs concept is that the menu points are well labeled – points like ‘Fonts’, ‘Smileys’ are much more obvious than things like ‘TabSRMM’, ‘IEView’ et cetera – the points should be labeled by their function, not by the name of the plugin or something.
    A search function is creat, particularly if it will not only search through the label names, but through the content of these as well. This would be really helpful.

    I would like to thank FYR and nullbie for their efforts, they are both very active and important for Miranda IM.

    By miroerr on August 29th, 2008 at 2:07 pm #
  19. Oh, I forgot something:

    If there are plugins having multiple option pages, like one for main settings, one for popups and one for font settings – please do divide them up to their according main menu points, and do not only publish them under one menu point having the plugins name. This is not comfortable, a user who wants to ‘change the popups containing x’ he will search under Popups and not under the plugins name or one main point he does not even know that it has something to do with the popup.

    By miroerr on August 29th, 2008 at 2:11 pm #
  20. Hello guys,
    For me anything what uses standard win32 controls is fine. For me this is not about look and feel but about access. In build 21 another branch has been added into the options which can’t be navigated using keyboard. I am trying to prepare a patch and I’ll post that in the 21 discussion thread. To the other plugin devs, look how pescuma is doing his options branches and you’ll be fine with me :-)

    By -pv- on August 29th, 2008 at 11:33 pm #
  21. These are both interesting concepts. I agree with Mineo and would combine the two options as Newbie/Expert view. Then I would drop the “Use advanced options” switch and show the (normally hidden) settings by default in the “Expert View”.

    I like that idea, because most “switchers” from the original ICQ client (for example) are seriously overstrained by the load of possibilities to change everything. I can only tell from the experiences I made in other forums, where people are trying out Miranda for the first time.

    By hitmiccs on August 29th, 2008 at 11:43 pm #
  22. I like both ideas.
    Personally, if it was possible, I’d like to see some kind of “option” to use one or the other, but I think it would be too much work.

    As much as I don’t like Trillian and the second one reminds me a bit of it, I think the idea is quite interesting, as the options menue as it is now can be quite… confusing from times to times – even if I am using Miranda for quite a while now, I still struggle to find some options, of which I know they exist (but I don’t know where anymore). Of course that’s partially because of some plugins, too – but in the end, the settings are really hard to find sometimes and once you set up your Miranda, there is a good chance that you hesitate to setup a completely new version, because you know that you have to go again and search some options for hours xD

    As for the first version (and the version right now), it would be very helpful, if the window could be made “strechable”, so longer names can be fully seen without using scrollbars or something like that.

    To sum it up, I would like the idea of a less confusing menue, but it also has to retain full controll possibilities, that it has now – so it’s kind of risky to try that with the second option…

    So, I personally would like to have the first option, as the second is a bit risky, with some tweaks in usability and being a bit less confusing :)

    best regards

    By muli300 on August 30th, 2008 at 12:58 am #
  23. Concept 1 for Expert and Concept 2 for Beginner.

    By dreaven3 on August 30th, 2008 at 3:04 am #
  24. I like both concepts.
    Nullbie’s is great for people that are new to Miranda. I think it’s better than what they get now. I’d like to have it as ‘normal view’.

    As some guys already mentioned, ‘expert options’ are quite useless as only a few new items appear.
    So I would apply Nullbie’s view as default and FYR’s as the expert mode. People who got used to Miranda and want to be able to customize everything will prefer this over the Vista like ‘default mode’.

    By eisteh on August 30th, 2008 at 3:32 am #
  25. I like Miranda because it’s lightweighted and not overloaded with stupid features like all official messengers are. But I never really liked the options menu because it takes me way too long to set up. Since I study Software Engineering i learned one thing: Keep it small and simple. This does not mean to cut down functionality, but to organize it in such way, that the stupid user can easy understand and use it. So, I am really looking forward to seeing an easier Menu in Miranda in the near future :)

    By Zephyre on August 30th, 2008 at 11:49 am #
  26. Although I don’t use Miranda anymore (Linux =D), I find reasonable to have a ‘simple’ options dialog like nullbie’s. But in order to do this, options page needs to be a lot more robust than it is now. Guidelines are our most urgent need.

    By Lunks on August 30th, 2008 at 12:03 pm #
  27. I personally think there is only one way forward and that is to have a similar UI as firefox 3. I particularly like the way it manages the addon. Keep up the good work.

    By TommyL on September 1st, 2008 at 6:48 pm #
  28. The second screen shows an interesting way, in which miranda’s interface can be improved. The lists in the first screen are quite blind. Simplicity and user-friendly colors and icons are very important… we could make up some nice gui for it, if anybody is interested ;)

    By zhker on September 2nd, 2008 at 2:23 pm #
  29. Hallo. Please leave it as it is.

    If you have to change some things, in the current left pane of the Options please but a heading “Basic settings” opened up by default. Under it, put “Advanced settings” with a “+” so users can dig down into for more elaborate control over their Miranda.

    Please do not bloat or unnecessarily Wizard-ify Miranda. I love this app.

    By klond on September 2nd, 2008 at 2:42 pm #
  30. The one thing I miss in Miranda IM is the possibility to enter username and password when you want to log in, not put it in options. This prevents us from using this instead of MSN messenger at work.

    By Moru on September 3rd, 2008 at 1:17 pm #
  31. Could you add something like Firefox’s about:config interface so that the more esoteric and lesser used settings could be removed to simplify the interface.

    By Flenser on September 3rd, 2008 at 1:25 pm #
  32. I think implementing both concepts would increase the filesize of the miranda executable. Wouldn’t it be possible to put the newbie interface into a plugin and ship it with the miranda installer? Advanced users could then delete the dll file or disable it to get the advanced interface.

    By Refeneu on September 3rd, 2008 at 4:16 pm #
  33. I think implementing both concepts would increase the filesize of the miranda executable. Wouldn’t it be possible to put the newbie interface into a plugin and ship it with the miranda installer? Advanced users could then delete the dll file or disable it to get the advanced interface.

    By huanus on September 3rd, 2008 at 4:18 pm #
  34. The 2 approaches reminds me of the Control Panel in XP and after.

    I like FYR’s approach better.
    But Nullbie’s approach may be less overwhelming for a newbie if done correctly.

    By iron2000 on September 5th, 2008 at 11:59 pm #
  35. In my opionion the second concept looks better. But why don’t you implement both and let users choose which one they like better?

    By Tim on September 6th, 2008 at 2:05 am #
  36. First concept is acceptable to be a replacement for standart dialog. A little redesign/regrouping won’t do any bad, i think.

    But second concept is only acceptable as a wrapper plugin for advanced dialog. It might help new users and won’t be a problem for experienced user to delete it right away.

    By bob gold on September 6th, 2008 at 8:19 am #
  37. That was IMHO of course :)

    But please don’t turn Miranda IM into Retarda IM.
    There’s QIP and others for those who can’t or don’t want to handle Miranda.

    By bob gold on September 6th, 2008 at 8:25 am #
  38. FYR’s concept could replace current “settings menu” (but with chance “Show only core settings”) and Nullbie’s concept should be as plugin (not in core) for basic users.

    By Trtkal on September 6th, 2008 at 10:15 am #
  39. Just my two cents, but I like the conceptual work.

    I dual boot between Linux and Windows. When I’m in Windows, I use Miranda IM. When I’m in Linux I use Kopete. I think Kopete is a good example of leveraging features with simplicity.

    That aside, I love how configurable Miranda IM is. But even for a very advanced user, I find myself spinning in circles from time time time in the options window, trying to find or change a preference that I don’t change all that often – particularly once I get all my plugins installed.

    I think Miranda IM could be simplified greatly without over simplifying the program.

    That said, nice work so far, and I’m excited to see where things go…

    By utahnix on September 8th, 2008 at 11:41 am #
  40. Well,I think, that the Nullbie’s view may be useful as a plugin (not integrated into core), which shows basic settings, and which will not be changed by other plugins, as otherwise it would be like a standard menu but just with a lot of nice pictures, and it would be much more difficult to find anything there.
    A better way to make it easier customizing Miranda is writing a good manual on it, I think.

    By Theodor on September 9th, 2008 at 3:31 am #
  41. I’ve just tested new Miranda
    The “Search” function there helps greatly (just try it if you haven’t yet). I think, “simplified look” won’t be as good.

    By Theodor on September 9th, 2008 at 4:11 am #
  42. From another side of barricades: let’s look on Pidgin. I’m using it. Sometimes. Not because I like it. But because there is nothing better for Linux. And I’m dislike it. It lacks almost any configurable options. At all. What a sucking piece of software compared to Miranda. This even caused this sh*t to encounter fork so there is also a bit more user-friendly version exists.

    Really, all you need is a great defaults so most of “usual” users happy with ’em and easy setup of basic stuff like accounts, etc. Maybe even “First Startup Wizard” to make it easier for first-time users to get things working.

    Great defaults also mean great and custom look & feel which should not be overcomplicated and should look great from point of view most of users. Then, users are yours.

    Also it could be not bad idea to remember about “usual” mode and “advanced” mode. So, only skilled people have to mess with all these tons of settings and average Joe rather to cope with few settings essential for basic use.

    By JSmith on September 12th, 2008 at 10:39 am #
  43. I like the second one as addition for newbies to the first one very much :-) looks great and will help spreading miranda in the world :-)

    By buggled on September 15th, 2008 at 12:35 am #
  44. OT:
    what’s up with the forums’ site?
    yesterday: database error
    today: 404 Not Found
    please give it back or post explanation.

    By pepinlebref on September 15th, 2008 at 10:54 pm #
  45. Take a step back. I believe the reason there is a need to create a more “user friendly” configuration dialog is because miranda-im essentially force newbies to have to immediately dive into the configuration simply because the miranda-im out-of-the-box experience is severely lacking.

    Comments here say Pidgin is terrible because you can’t customize it, well for ‘newbies’ you don’t need to. You run it, you add your accounts, it looks clean/professional without having to touch a setting. Get Miranda-IM to that point, and the configuration dialog won’t matter *as much* to newbies. It is not *wrong* to make miranda-im look and behave a certain way be default, not everyone will like it, but then that is why you can configure it, but if it isn’t even usable (yes, ‘usable’ has a range of meaning) before having to configure it, that is *wrong*.

    That all being said, the 2nd mockup would allow for miranda-im to have a focused design goal to create a default user experience that allows newbies to customize a very small aspect of the default experience, without changing that default experience.

    Now, to get really useful, you could design it so that what appears in the newbie configuration dialog is modifiable (xml backend or something) so that various default “user experiences” could be designed, pulling out a specific set of configuration options for a user to be able to change about that experience. This sort of ability would allow custom deployments in companies, schools, or simply passing it along to friends and family.

    Well, that’s all food for thought, maybe some of that will catch some developer’s imagination… :)

    My overriding point was: create a usable default experience, and the need to dive into the configuration dialog becomes a mute point.

    By jugg on September 17th, 2008 at 10:20 am #