Thursday, 28 November 2013

Timed JavaFX Dialogs

When I wrote the original MonologFX dialogs for JavaFX, I was just trying to clean up a few things I'd done in my earlier project, DialogFX, that I felt could have been done better. Based upon some excellent feedback and suggestions, I rolled out the update...just as the OpenJFX team was releasing their own dialog code that is destined to be in JavaFX/OpenJFX. :-) As I mentioned in this previous post, rather than just hoard the code, I released it anyway in the hopes others might continue to find it useful - and updated the dialogs in the JFXtras Labs library as well - but didn't really expect there to be much continued interest.

I'm happy to say I was wrong. One of my goals was to make a very simple set of dialogs that worked well in most cases and that just "got out of the developer's way" you didn't have to think about extensively to use in your JavaFX application, just "drop & go". They were never meant to be all things to all people, rather a solid option for most use cases. But...

I've gotten some excellent follow-on requests, and I've explored several of them. While I may never have the time to implement them all - and some wander FAR from the original goals - some just fit. One of those ideas was for timed dialogs.

What is a Timed Dialog, and When Would I Use It?
A few developers pointed out that there are occasions when an app is running unattended and dialogs can either a) stop everything or b) pile up by the droves on the user's desktop. And JFXtras implementer Scott mentioned how nice it would be to have an informational dialog that worked similar to a mail notification, popping up and then disappearing after some pre-determined amount of time. The user should also be able to clear the dialog immediately, of course.

Enter the timed dialog. Drawing inspiration from the aforementioned mail notifications and a sample game by colleague Angela Caicedo, I expanded upon Angela's game-switching example to create a (hopefully pleasing) dialog fade in/out effect. Using the number of seconds specified by the developer (you!) via the methodsetDisplayTime(int displayTime), MonologFX apportions a reasonable percentage of that time to fade in, display, and fade out operations...making user input entirely optional.

What Does it Look Like?

It's much easier to demo than it is to explain, so I created a quick video of a normal dialog, then a timed one, in action. Click here to watch it on YouTube.

Limitations, Caveats, "Keep Off the Grass" Signs
A timed dialog is really best suited for informational dialogs - those where there is no user input required, like the aforementioned mail notifications. If a response is required from a user and a dialog disappears of its own volition, which option should be chosen? The "cancel" option would seem best in some cases, and the "default" in others.

Creating the fade in/out effect required a non-blocking implementation, which meant that it would always return a value immediately...and in the current design, that is "cancel". Which again points to using them as informational dialogs, but not for obtaining user feedback.

So for the foreseeable future, timed dialogs are really focused upon and should be confined to use as informational dialogs. If you need the application user to make a conscious choice prior to proceeding, keep that dialog prominently displayed until you get a response!

Where Can I Get Them?

I've already pushed the code to my Github repository for MonologFX and the JFXtras-Labs 2.2 and JFXtras-Labs 8.0 repos. And if you just want to download a .jar file and kick the tires, I've put a copy in the MonologFX repo's dist folder. Just download the .zip file, unzip it, and run java -jar MonologFX.jar for a quick demo.

Odds & Ends

I also made a few architectural changes to MonologFX this weekend during our first-ever "Thanks For Sharing Informal, International HackFest", and more will be integrated over time. Please stay tuned for more information. :-)

Happy Coding!
Jay Thakkar

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