My view on window titlebars and when they are good and bad
I mentioned in yesterday's entry that I
included the window's titlebar in my little screenshot of
I considered it part of the program's interface. When I wrote that it
was a quick aside, but in thinking about it I think that this is very
close to being my defining view of when window titlebars are worthwhile.
In many environments, window titlebars are not optional; you just don't get to turn them off on Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X (at least not as shipped). However, old-fashioned window managers for X Windows have always let you turn them off, either totally or selectively, and I have been selectively turning them off for years. Depending on what I'm doing, it's very common for most of my visible windows to not have titlebars.
At first it may sound crazy to talk about titlebars as an element of the program's interface, since they are usually supplied by the system. However, titlebars are clearly part of the visual appears of the program as a whole, and all of the appearance of a program is part of its interface. And once they become an element in the program's interface, it's perfectly sensible to ask if they are a useful element or a waste of space, just as you'd ask the same question about other interface elements.
Of course the situation is more complex than this. One of the things that titlebars do is they create a uniform interface; regardless of the program, you know that you find certain information and certain interface elements in specific places and they behave in specific ways. Just as with other standardized GUI bits, this has the cost of not necessarily being ideal for any particular program but the gain of being, well, uniform. So even if titlebars are not a useful interface element, it may be important to include them just because they are a standard one.
Having said that, pretty much every system has conceded that titlebars aren't always useful interface elements and has created categories of applications that can leave them off. Usually we don't call these 'applications'; we call them 'applets' or similar terms, and they live in a special small screen area where the rules are different.
(Well, mostly this is how people have gotten rid of titlebars. Even on systems that try very hard for standard window decoration, there are programs that decide to be special and go their own way. For example, people seem perfectly happy to let music players look nothing like normal programs.)