Saturday, November 08, 2008

What should be in an application 2008?

Listed here are features that I want in any application. The features are separate from the domain specific service that the application is designed to provide.


The feature that I want more than anything is search. Everything should be indexed: menus, toolbars, dialogs, windows, selection boxes, shortcuts, help files, configuration files, application components, objects, scripts, the works! It should be possible to make generic full-text searches for anything matching my criteria, but it should also be possible to make specific searches by category or tag. It should also be possible to save the searches for later.

Search should also be available in all places possible. It does not have to be a search field, it can be a selection box or a textfield. It should preferably be integrated into the components to help me out whenever it is possible.

External tools should also be able to search. Tools like Google Desktop and Spotlight, and Launchers like Quicksilver and Launchy must be kept in mind when designing for search.


Anything searchable should also be taggable. It is possible that my terminology is different from the one that the application developers have. I may also want to group things together that does not appear related to anyone else. It should of course be possible to assign multiple tags to the same thing.


Everything should be scriptable. Whatever is possible to do in the GUI should be possible to script. This lets me create my own automated tasks that I can re-use later or share with other users. It should be possible to run and create the scripts both inside and outside the application. The scripts should not be limited to use application functionality, they should be allowed to call operating system commands or other applications. The scripts will thus also serve as plugins for the application.

As with search it is important to have external tools like Quicksilver and Launchy in mind, but when it comes to scripting the scope is wider and you need to think about command line interfaces and other external applications too. Provide many entries to your application.


It should be possible to assign shortcuts to any action available in the system. This includes saved searches, tags and scripts. Shortcuts should allow Emacs-style multi-key-shortcuts, such as Ctrl-C, Esc-V, M.


It should be possible to save the state of the application at any time!. It does not matter to me that a form or that whatever I’m doing is an invalid state. Perhaps I like invalid.

It should be possible to save it anyway. It should also be possible to take snapshots at any time and to reset the application to a previous snapshot at any time. Preferably it should also be possible to compare different snapshots with each other in a useful way.

All in all I want persistence to work like a versioning system giving me the possibility to move through history at my leisure.

Export – Import

Exporting is just a different flavor of persistence. It should be possible to export (persist) the application data into some format that is useful to another similar application. This format should naturally also be importable.

Since exporting is just a flavor of persistence I naturally want versioning of my exports to. Perhaps it’s a good idea to just use git as a persistence engine?


I mentioned validation above on persistence. Validation is a valuable tool in an application but more often than not it gets in the way. The validation should not force me to enter data in a specified order unless it is absolutely necessary. It is good and even helpful to provide hints and markers along the way. But let me work the way I want to work and stay out of my way.

The important thing with validation is that it should indicate an error as soon as it appears but it should not force me to do anything about it until whenever I try to do something fatal such as, to quote Simon Peyton Jones, launch missiles.


I find it really helpful to be able to link things together in Wiki style. The need for this is very dependent on the type of application but I find it very useful to be able to relate one item to another when I commonly need them together.


This list is by no means meant to cover everything, but I think it is a good starting point for anyone who want to make a useful application that can evolve with time.


Bhargav-------------------------------------------- said...

Interesting post. Essentially you are trying to bring the Web 2.0 nature to Desktop. What is more interesting is that I had the same requirements written down for my pet project - Search, Tag, Scripting(I called them Action Commands), Export and Import. My application persistence was termed as "Profiles" and it had profiles for everything including the scripts.

Anders Janmyr said...

Bhargav: I don't think we are alone. I think that it is what most people really want, they may not know it yet though :).

I also heard that Google is actually using search as a primitive in their internal code. I think this is the correct way to see it. Google has made search a fundamental building block in programming.

My Open Source Software Development Blog said...

I think that this is also possible to apply to mobile applications, not just desktop applications. Except for the keyboard shortcuts. Scripting, persistence, Import/Export feels like the most important in mobile applications.