Skype 4 beta: the (non-)disabled message entry box mystery

October 27, 2008

Here is the conversation window in Skype 4. I think I was in compact mode when I took this shot, but the discussion below applies regardless of the mode that you are in.

I have a question about this window. And specifically, the message entry box, the one that says “Type a message to Skype Test Call here”:

Why on earth does the message entry box, the main control for carrying out text conversations, look like it is disabled?

The other posts in this series will be about features and concepts that are more ambiguous. I can find arguments to both sides of the discussion for them. But this disabled message entry box, the main place where you carry out conversations, looking disabled… I am simply dumbstruck. This is a mystery. I don’t see any reason why anyone would so grossly violate platform conventions.

As far as I know, it is a Windows convention (and also a Mac, Web and generally every other UI I have seen) that active text boxes have a white background, and disabled textboxes have a gray background. And yes, you can violate all conventions if you have a good enough reason that justifies the cost. But even the most horrendous, crappiest UI-s that are in all other aspects unusable tend to follow this active/disabled textbox convention. Until Skype 4.

So now, when I want to enter a text message, I have already had instances of this most torturing cognitive dissonance. When I start to move my cursor towards the text box, my reflexes say “Dude, there’s no point to go to that textbox, it’s disabled and won’t work”. And then I have this other voice that says “No no, go ahead, it’s OK because this is Skype 4 where this convention does not apply”. But I had to retrain myself.

So, something that is supposed to make conversations really fun and easy, forces you to retrain yourself about one of the most basic platform conventions in order to contribute to a text conversation… not a very bright idea. Like I said, I tried hard to think of ANY reason why one would do this… but I couldn’t.

I am so confused by this that I don’t have anything more to say. Except how I would fix it: simply make the textbox look like a normal active textbox (like it does in previous versions and other platforms) and all this confusion would go away with a snap.

I wanted to get this out of my system because it’s the most confusing aspect of Skype 4 for me to date. The next things will be on the lighter side.