[whatwg] modal and modeless windows

Matthew Raymond mattraymond at earthlink.net
Mon Jun 27 12:10:03 PDT 2005

Karl Pongratz wrote:
> Well, if you have a Wizard with 6 steps done by AJAX, how do you explain 
> to the user that he/she can't anymore use the web browser back/next 
> button to navigate through the Wizard? Imagine you are at Wizard step 6, 
> have filled in a ton of form fields and accidentally click the web 
> browser back button, it will lead you somewhere, maybe to a resource you 
> have visited before the Wizard resource. Does that sound as a logical 
> browsing model which a user will ever understand?

    Actually, the logical thing would be to have each step as a separate 
AJAX-based web page, where changes to fields are reported back to the 
server. The server then keeps track of the values of the fields for each 
step and can repopulate the fields when you use the forward and back 
buttons. No modal windows necessary.

> Beside that, how many desktop applications do you know which don't use 
> modal and modeless windows?

    In most cases, if you show me an application with a modal window, 
I'll show you an application that needs to do away with a modal window. 
The use cases for applications that truly need modal windows probably 
overlaps the use cases for XULRunner-base applications quite nicely.

> I know many without a back/next button, but 
> none without modal window support comes into my mind.

    Considering that back/next buttons were invented later, that proves 
little. For instance, any kind of preference or settings dialogs you can 
think of could be put in a collapsible sidebar. I personally worked on a 
project where they had forward and back buttons for three different 
levels. Wizards are a perfect example of back/next as well, and there 
are plenty of those.

> Is the web browser 
> damned to limit it to back/next only? Will the only alternative be Java 
> Webstart, Microsofts XAML or Flash to get a desktop like user 
> interaction model?

    I can't think of much you can't do with these technologies that you 
can't do with existing web app technology. It's simply faster or has 
more native features. For instance, menus are easily simulated by 
DHTML-based web apps. Similarly, you could easily simulate modal windows 
by using a few <div> elements and disabling various controls. 
Considering modal-anything is generally considered bad UI, I don't think 
we should encourage it, especially when it's so incompatible with 
current browser usage.

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