I’ve been doing a lot of talking about pie menus lately, and several people have contacted us wondering what they actually are. Most of the time I mention them when referring to Windows 7, which is the codename of Vista’s successor. With the possibility of Windows 7 receiving an interface overhaul, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see pie menus being used.
I’ve mentioned pie menus because I believe that they are the future replacement of the current right-click menu. How so? They put all of the needed commands in a circular ring around your mouse, instead of in a long menu. This gives you faster access to the commands that you need the most (copy, paste, etc…) and, if designed correctly, would put your most-used commands at the root of the pie menu.
You’re probably still a little confused about how the whole thing works, so I searched for a good 2-hours trying to find a decent example of a pie menu that everyone can play with. Finally I came across a Windows app called Orbit that is completely free, and if you download one of the nightly builds you won’t even have to install it. You’ll probably find that it has some pitfalls, so watch my demonstration below before you go and try it out.
The brief video that I put together first walks you through the various settings that Orbit has, and then I demonstrate how the pie menu actually works. This one has a unique feature that I had never seen in a pie menu before, and it is something that I believe could make me much more productive. So checkout the video and then I’ll explain a few things afterwards:
As you can see, the pie menu is capable of putting a lot of useful tasks immediately around the cursor, meaning you have to move your mouse a minimal distance to get to what you’re looking for.
The feature I found to be unique to this pie menu is the list of running applications. Not only was it able to show which apps I had running, but it also showed a screenshot of what they looked like. I have to admit that I was thoroughly impressed with Orbit considering that this version had not been updated in well over a year.
So how is this actually useful? Imagine that your cursor is at the top of the screen, and you want to switch applications. Right now you have to move your mouse all the way to the Taskbar on bottom of the screen just to do the switch (unless you use keyboard shortcuts). Having a pie menu available lets you perform the switch in much less time than navigating all the way down to the Taskbar.
Now imagine a pie menu that not only contains your running applications, but also holds shortcuts to your favorite programs and your most used commands. A pie menu that adapts to my needs would surely be worth its weight in gold.
To my surprise, there is a lacking of applications that implement useful pie menus, but if I had to give a gold star to any of them it would be Orbit. It has a nice interface and a lot of features, but you can’t really control the programs that show up. The bad news is that development on the Orbit application also appears to have stopped early last year.
So where are all of the cool programs? I don’t know, you tell me. Microsoft gave a demonstration back in 2005 for where they thought Windows would be in 2010, and it used pie menus for a majority of the tasks. I’m not saying that it’s a sure thing for Windows 7, but I think we should be getting used to the idea of working with pie menus.
I do have another cool thing that I found regarding pie menus, but I’ll save that for tomorrow’s edition of CyberNotes!