The Coding Monkey

Friday, October 14, 2005

When Non Technical People Try to Sound Technical

I was recently reviewing a use case for a project I'm working on written by a person in the business group who is really non-technical. The use case said:

When the user tabs off of the [xxxxx] field, and the [xxxxx] is valid, add a pop-up window (non-Modal) to validate the number that was just entered.

Non-modal? I've been writing Windows applications for approaching 10 years now. I've never heard of a "Non-modal" window. I've heard of a modal window, and a modeless window... but never a non-modal one. Did he mean modeless? A modeless dialog to force verification of information is definitely the wrong way to go.

So I sent an email out. It was a long email, explaining the difference between modal and modeless, and what the implications were. For those of you who are unaware, here are the basic difference.

Modal: A modal window is a window that keeps the focus, and doesn't allow you to continue until you dismiss the window. A good example is a standard Message Box with an OK or Cancel button. You can't do anything else in the application until you click either OK or Cancel.

Modeless: A modeless window is a window that stays on top, but can have the focus taken away from it. A good example is the find window in Word. You can find a word, then make changes to the document while keeping the dialog open, and click Find again. Usually you end up dragging the modeless window into the corner and out of the way while it's open so you can still work on the main document.

So as it turns out, he meant modal, not modeless... but in his reply email he confused the two again at one point, which was just... well... confusing. I really wish that non-technical people would not try to use terminology they don't understand. In an attempt to look really smart, he ended up looking kinda stupid.


  • Nah, he only appeared stupid to technical people. Everyone else on the distribution list still doesn't understand the difference.

    By Anonymous Havagan, at October 14, 2005 5:50 PM  

  • Nick, Duncan here... email me ( and we'll discuss your comment about the flair. I couldn't find a link to your feed on your site (or a 'contact' link either for that matter) I'm assuming you have a feed though, and that is an Atom feed...

    By Anonymous Duncan Mackenzie, at October 18, 2005 3:32 PM  

  • Non-modal was the term favored in Inside Macintosh - the Mac hardware/OS reference. Maybe this bloke learned event-driven programming on the Mac first. This could explain more about him than just his use of the term.

    By Anonymous AN, at October 21, 2005 12:06 PM  

  • That's interesting to note about the Mac terminology... as I haven't really used a Mac since 6th grade. No... I take that back... they had a single Mac lab in college that I think I used once.

    But thats not the reason why he said it. He's not a developer... at all. Like I said... he's completely non-technical.

    By Blogger Nick, at October 21, 2005 1:39 PM  

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