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VCR style icons for depicting debugger actions

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000015097D
Original Publication Date: 2002-Jul-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2003-Jun-20
Document File: 3 page(s) / 47K

Publishing Venue

IBM

Abstract

A debugger is a programming tool used for helping programmers locate and fix problems in their code. Most of the operations associated with a debugger involve abstract terms which are often close to each other, which makes it very hard to come up with suitable icon representations for them. Icons for these operations are required so that these steps can be exposed in toolbars and other parts of the graphical user interface. Faced with this problem, some tools choose not to provide icons for these operations, thus not making them available on toolbars. Users then have to search for these features in less obvious places such as drop down menus, pop up menus, runtime options or command line interfaces. With no iconic representation, these actions have to be exposed in textual form only, which makes it harder to translate the interface for international users. Other tools use language semantics as parts of the icons. This has the disadvantage of tying the icons to a specific programming language. Different icons have to be invented for different programming languages, thus limiting the amount of knowledge the user can carry from one tool to the other. Moreover, in situations where the same debugger is used for more than one programming language, this approach is unsuitable. A third approach is to use object based representations, usually representing code fragments as documents, and representing the flow of execution using arrows. This approach has several disadvantages. It is used by several vendors, thus requiring the designer to modify the representations in often undesirable ways so as to differentiate the icons from those of competitors and avoid copyright infringement. Due to the similarity between the various debugger actions, these icons also tend to be very similar, thus making them harder to distinguish. Finally, this approach generally requires a greater amount of detail to be encoded in the icons, thus making them harder to read at smaller sizes. Icons may be used in different sizes depending on their location in the graphical user interface, operating system requirements, visual display resolutions etc.

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VCR style icons for depicting debugger actions

A debugger is a programming tool used for helping programmers locate and fix problems in their code. Most of the operations associated with a debugger involve abstract terms which are often close to each other, which makes it very hard to come up with suitable icon representations for them. Icons for these operations are required so that these steps can be exposed in toolbars and other parts of the graphical user interface.

Faced with this problem, some tools choose not to provide icons for these operations, thus not making them available on toolbars. Users then have to search for these features in less obvious places such as drop down menus, pop up menus, runtime options or command line interfaces. With no iconic representation, these actions have to be exposed in textual form only, which makes it harder to translate the interface for international users.

Other tools use language semantics as parts of the icons. This has the disadvantage of tying the icons to a specific programming language. Different icons have to be invented for different programming languages, thus limiting the amount of knowledge the user can carry from one tool to the other. Moreover, in situations where the same debugger is used for more than one programming language, this approach is unsuitable.

A third approach is to use object based representations, usually representing code fragments as documents, and representing the flow of execution using arrows. This approach has several disadvantages. It is used by several vendors, thus requiring the designer to modify the representations in often undesirable ways so as to differentiate the icons from those of competitors and avoid copyright infringement. Due to the similarity between the various debugger actions, these icons also tend to be very similar, thus making them harder to distinguish. Finally, this approach generally requires a greater amount of detail to be encoded in the icons, thus making them harder to read at smaller sizes. Icons may be used in different sizes depending on their location in the graphical user interface, operating system requirements, visual display resolutions etc.

The proposed approach has the following advantages:

1. It allows for iconic representation of debugger actions, thus making them accessible to international users without requiring translation.
2. It builds on user's existing knowledge from usage of popular consumer electronics devices such as VCRs and CD players, thus making it easier for users to identify the actions at first glance.
3. It is programming language independent, thus allowing users to transfer their knowledge from using debuggers for different programming languages that use the same icons. It also makes it possible to have icons for these actions in debuggers that support more than one programming language.
4. The icons are more discernible even at small sizes, due to their simple symbolic nature.

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