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The File Menu


The File menu has been around since the dawn of user interfaces. But do you know what? It has overstayed its welcome. file menuThe File menu has been abused in far too many applications.

A File menu should deal with files. That’s it. Open a file, save a file, print a file, quit editing the file. Some, no.. most applications have been using the File menu to do everything from opening new windows to changing preferences. They don’t belong there: opening a new window should go in a Window menu, and changing preferences should be under Edit or Tools.

One thing that drives me nuts is how Firefox’s preferences are found in different locations on all 3 platforms.

  • Linux: Edit -> Preferences
  • Mac: Firefox -> Preferences
  • Windows: Tools -> Options

This is just getting ridiculous.


Here are some specific instances I’m talking about. I’m not trying to pick on any application or developer, these are just applications I have installed at the moment. But they should be fixed.

  • Firefox, Epiphany, Opera, and many other browsers are abusers of the File menu. A browser generally does not have a whole lot to do with files at all. Two, maybe three items on their File menus might actually fit. But things like Open Tab, Location, and Send Link? No. It would make more sense to rename the File menu to “Browser” or “Web”.
  • GNOME System applets like system-config-printer-applet that only have one option in their File menu: Close. Really?
  • Seahorse has a File menu that will create, import, or export keys and passwords. It kind of makes sense, but a something like “Key” or “Keyring” sounds more in-context.
  • GNOME Terminal has a File menu that doesn’t have a thing to do with filesgnome terminal.
  • Evolution has a huge File menu that has little do with files. “Mail” or even “Evolution” would be more appropriate.
  • Synaptic‘s File menu could be “Package,” but considering there is already a Package menu other things would need to be reorganized.
  • Olive‘s File menu has more to do with branches, though some items would fit as File.
  • GConf Editor‘s File menu has five items for managing keys, two of which are disabled unless you know what you’re doing.
  • D-Feet has a File menu that allows you to connect to different D-Bus sessions. I can’t quite put my finger on what this should really be labeled.
  • Devhelp, a documentation browser, has a File menu that opens new windows and prints.
  • Many, many more.

Again, if you’re a developer of something on this list, don’t feel too offended. Glade (a GTK+ designer program) sticks a File menu on new menubars by default, so it may just be an oversight. That doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be fixed.

There are programs where it does make sense to have a File menu: Gedit, OpenOffice.org, GIMP, PiTiVi, and other applications that edit files as their main function.

Instead of dropping the File menu, it should be renamed to something more useful. Even though many applications abuse the File menu, there are plenty that do not. Banshee has a Media menu; Rhythmbox has Music. Most GNOME games have a Game menu. Baobab has Analyzer. Totem: Movie; Vinagre: Machine; Empathy: Chat; Gwibber: Gwibber.
Yes, even renaming your File menu to the name of your application might even be a good option.

So the next time you’re designing a GUI, keep in mind that your menus should make sense. Do that and we’ll have world peace. Well, maybe not, but it will shut me up.

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