The irritation of single-context applications

April 22, 2008

One of the extra irritations of many single instance applications is that they also are what I will call 'single context applications', applications where you can only be doing one thing at a time. I want applications like my feed reader or my mail reader to behave more like a browser, letting me rip off windows so that I can skip around without having to lose the old context.

For example, consider a mail reader. If I'm working my way through sorting and cross-checking older mail and new mail comes in, I don't want to abandon my place in the old mail to go read the new message. I want to just rip off a new mail reading window and use that to jump to the new messages. And if the new messages need me to look something up in my archives, I don't want to abandon the new message; I want to open another new window.

(If you prefer, substitute tabs for windows in this.)

Of course the irony of praising the browser's approach to this is that modern AJAX-based browser applications can easily throw this away, creating single context applications inside of the very thing that has done the most to show us a multi-context way of operating. (But they don't have to. I'm pleased to see that Google Reader is multi-context, for example.)

This problem isn't unique to single instance applications, but they do mean that you can't get around it, no matter how big a machine or how much memory you're willing to let multiple copies of the program use up. (And single instance applications don't necessarily have this problem, as Firefox demonstrates.)

Written on 22 April 2008.
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Last modified: Tue Apr 22 23:24:25 2008
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