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> Yes. We had drag and drop UIs decades ago.

We had _simple_ drag and drop UIs decades ago.

Computers operated within a lot more limited constructs back then. UI windows didn't resize, or it was reasonable to expect that they're fixed. How did those drag and drop tools back then handle creating a UI for screens ranging from 400pt wide to 2560pt wide?




> How did those drag and drop tools back then handle creating a UI for screens ranging from 400pt wide to 2560pt wide?

For simpler forms you'd just set anchoring properties of the widgets in question (akRight/akBottom in Borland's VCL or whatever its counterpart is called in WinForms or what was its predecessor). Nowadays it's even easier with things like, say, GTK's HBox/VBox.

> Computers operated within a lot more limited constructs back then.

Resource limits didn't stop web browsers of the era from rendering complicated tables in a variety of sizes.


In WinForms, it's still called Anchor (it really did take a lot from VCL), but since enums are scoped in .NET, you have Anchor.Left, Anchor.Top etc.

WinForms also had Dock (Left, Right, Top, Bottom, or Fill) which basically forced the control against that edge of its parent, taking up full length and/or height accordingly in one dimension, and using the explicitly specified size in the other. With multiple controls with Dock, they'd gradually fill the available space in Z-index order, stacking up against each other; then whatever control had Dock=Fill, would fill the remaining space.

So yeah, resizable windows were common, and easy to deal with. The real problem is dynamically sized controls themselves, e.g due to DPI changes, or because the control contains dynamic content of unknown size. With those, anchors no longer work well, and you need some kind of box and grid layouts. Which are available - but it's kinda hard to edit them visually in a way that's more convenient than just writing the corresponding code or markup.

The closest I've seen to visually editing UI that can accommodate dynamically sized controls was actually in NetBeans, which had its own layout manager for Swing. That thing allowed you to anchor controls relative to other controls, not just to the parent container. Thus, as controls resized according to their context, other controls would get moved as needed:

https://netbeans.org/kb/docs/java/quickstart-gui.html

https://youtu.be/_ZW4ktG1DEE?t=129

Still, you needed to be very careful in the UI form editor, to make sure that controls are anchored against other controls in ways that make sense.

Fundamentally, I think the biggest problem with UI designers today is that they can't really be WYSIWYG, the way they used to be in the RAD era. The DPI of the user machine might be different, fonts might be different, on some platforms (Linux) themes can be different in ways that drastically affect dimensions etc.


> Fundamentally, I think the biggest problem with UI designers today is that they can't really be WYSIWYG, the way they used to be in the RAD era. The DPI of the user machine might be different, fonts might be different, on some platforms (Linux) themes can be different in ways that drastically affect dimensions etc.

WPF and UWP can deal with it perfectly fine.


Last time I checked the WPF designer, it used canvas by default - which allows you to put elements exactly where you want by simple drag and drop, like the old times in VB6 or Delphi; but then nothing actually reflows or resizes etc at runtime.

If you choose to use layouts, it can display them, but editing it with a mouse is no longer convenient. It's easier to just drop into XAML and hack on it there. On every project I worked on that used WPF (which is quite a few by now), nobody on the team actually used the UI designer, and everybody would switch the default mode for .xaml files in VS to open the markup directly, rather than the usual split view.


WPF designer default template is a Grid layout, so it must been a very long time ago.

As for devs preferring to type by hand, well their loss I guess.


Using anchors and docking was extremely intuitive and easy in WinForms, I miss these heavily. I'm trying to build an UI with Qt Designer right now and using layouts instead is quite a pain when building something sophisticated. Perhaps everything can be done with them but becoming fluent in their behavior and tweaking is going to take time.


> 400pt wide to 2560pt wide

There are 2 major strategies for responding to such a difference:

1. Vector scaling. It will make the difference irrelevant and the resulting UI will look approximately the same on whatever a resolution.

2. Capacity scaling. I.e. keep the same font letting more information to fit in the control without scrolling.

It may be a little bit hard to formalize but these two can be combined intelligently. It is also important to know which one the user prefers (e.g. I mostly prefer the second while many prefer the first).


Note I mentioned display _points_ rather than display _pixels_ - how do you create a UI that scales from a phone to a 27" monitor. This is more than just scaling up assets and turning on word wrap.


> This is more than just scaling up assets and turning on word wrap.

Why? What else is there? I'm actually curious. I personally have never dealt with displays bigger than 1280x1024.


> UI windows didn't resize, or it was reasonable to expect that they're fixed.

This isn't true at all. The original Mac in 1984 had resizable windows for most apps. Most other WIMP GUIs followed suit.


An early desktop publishing program, Ventura Publisher (v3 of 1990) could easily reflow complex document layouts and allowed alternate stylesheets to be applied to the same text. This is not exactly UI, but the layout was more sophisticated than what HTML can do. The idea of same content and different rendering is certainly not new.


Interface Builder has been building complicated and resizable UIs for literally decades.




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