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Do we “exit” an application, do we “quit” an application, do we “close” an application?

This is in relation to a desktop app. What is the most meaningful term to use?

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30  
Windows command line ftp client may be instructive here (or not): You "close" the connection, then "quit" the client, then "exit" the command window! –  Chris H Jan 24 at 8:58
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I like to "terminate" and "shut down" applications. Sounds powerful >:) –  user1306322 Jan 24 at 10:28
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I kill applications. –  simon Jan 24 at 14:29
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@simon - What do you feel when you kill applications? –  Freiheit Jan 24 at 14:45
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@simon killing an application has a very specific meaning for an application developer: it is ending the application with brute force (ie through the task manager) instead of using the application's options to end its execution. –  Marjan Venema Jan 24 at 15:54

10 Answers 10

up vote 267 down vote accepted

If you are developing a Windows application, the correct term to use is "Exit". This is spelt out in Microsoft's Design apps for the Windows desktop guide, under the "Standard Menu Bars" section.

If you are developing a Mac application, the correct term to use is "Quit". (Your menu item must read "Quit AppName".) This is spelt out in Apple's OS X Human Interface Guidelines, under "The App Menu" section.

In general, you should follow the platform's user-interface guidelines when you are developing apps so that your app is consistent with all other apps in the same platform, so as to reduce your app's complexity and learning curve for your customers.

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+1 for sharing references to the HIGs that spell out the exact answer to the question. –  André Jan 24 at 8:22
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In the Windows context, closeing the last windows normally exits the application, whereas this does not have to be the case on an Apple OS. Stick to the Interface Guidelines of the OS to provide a consistent experience for your user on the given OS is good advice. –  cimnine Jan 24 at 9:24
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For Windows, it depends on the context. Typically an app will have "Exit" on the standard ("File") menu, and "Close" on the system menu. Notpad, Thunderbird, Firefox all have the typical "File"->"Exit", and "System-menu"->"Close". But there are exceptions. Windows Explorer (at least on Win 7) has "File"->"Close", and "System-menu"->"Close". Command prompt ("cmd.exe") has "System-menu"->"Close", and you type Exit to Quit/Close/Exit. As you recommend, it's best to stick with the standards for the OS. –  Kevin Fegan Jan 24 at 10:51
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@Kevin Which makes perfect sense, since exiting is something you do from "within" the app, while closing is something you (tell the system to) do from the "outside". –  Roman Bruckner Jan 24 at 12:18
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Also UI guidelines for other OSs might vary: for example, Gnome GUI for Linux explicitly differenciate Closing a window but Quitting an app: developer.gnome.org/hig-book/3.10/hig-book.html#the-file-menu –  ekapros Jan 24 at 18:12

For an application, I would say that "Quit" is the most accurate and the user is most likely to understand this the best. It sounds more final, as if you are not planning on reopening the app in the current session.

"Close" feels more like you're hiding/removing a window, tab, or other widget/UI element. If you're talking about a mobile app, "close" gives the impression that you can reopen it again without relaunching the app, as if it is running in the background.

I can't think off the top of my head what use-case "Exit" is best suited for.

This is all from personal experience, but I would like to see it reinforced by a study.

Here's a posting from a mailing list, which I'm glad to see reiterates very closely what I've said above. https://mail.gnome.org/archives/usability/2004-April/msg00092.html

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The Terms

The following table summarises the conventional terms, which are platform dependent.

A table showing the various terms used

On Windows, you run an application, then exit it. Ditto for Unix command line tools. However, both old documentation and pretty much all windows 8 documentation uses Open/Close.

On a Mac (which deep inside is Unix-based) you open an application, but then quit it. 

You close a window or a tab (both you can also open).

Sources: Mac Basic, OS X User Experience Guidelines, Windows 7 Using Programs, Windows 8 Getting Around your PC Guide.

The Argument

Consider the following when deciding on a term to use:

  • Run - A nearly pure programmers' term. Technical novices shall not understand why you 'run' programs.
  • Exit - Some users may think (based on real world experience) that when you exit something you can return to it.
  • Close - Same as the previous one, when you close something you can re-open it. There might be some confusion with closing windows here as well. Notice that you can have two types of behaviours depending on the OS:
    • The application truly terminates (like would be on Windows 98).
    • Or it just moves to the background (like on Windows 8 - where you can really open/close/quit). So I would suggest keeping this term close to this type of behaviour.
  • Open - The term is generally not ambiguous.
  • Quit - Should signify to the user that the application does terminate completely (rather than stay at the background).
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I would also say that you can Halt command line tools. –  MattDiamant Jan 24 at 1:04
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Halt sounds more like pausing, indicating you can resume/continue the action later. –  Juha Untinen Jan 24 at 16:07
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For completeness, don't forget Interrupt, Stop and Kill - these all apply to using the Mac command line. There are a lot more signals that all have their own meanings and uses aside from ending a program. –  Patrick M Jan 24 at 19:23
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Mac OS is Unix based... NOW. After OSX came out. The terminology is left over from the old days. Up to System 7, it was written in PASCAL. o_O –  Almo Jan 24 at 20:56
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@Naetmul: The use of Ctrl+Q is not because Ctrl+X was taken, since both were stolen at the same time from Mac OS. Microsoft originally used key combinations with no mnemonic value (F1? F3? Alt+F4? F5? WTF!?) and then stole many of the well-thought-out keystrokes from the Mac, switching Command to Control. –  iconoclast Jan 26 at 18:57

Exit

I don't know if your user base is international but I guess it is of varying levels of English and varying levels of IT skills. Exit is universal for leave, quit and go away (remember not everyone thinks like us geeks!)

Take these users:

The grandma who has just got her first laptop

I want this to go away ... quit [negative connotations, implies it is final, sometimes forever]

I want this to go away ... exit [can be related to in real life]

The person who speaks enough English to get by

I want this to go away ... leave [localised terminology, can also mean "to leave something in a room" - confusing to those not fluent in the context]

I want this to go away ... exit [globally recognised terminology, doesn't need context - can stand alone strongly]

I am sure there are more examples I could bore you with but I guess you get the gist. Just think about it this way, what sign did you see driving down the highway?

Also this is a screenshot of a random selection of windows I have open - don't reinvent the wheel :) enter image description here

Update for Mac Users: I would say firstly go with what is right for the platform, but if it is a web app where that is not an option say I would also apply this example

  • On a Windows Quit has the same connotations as a above
  • On a Mac(/other) Exit is not the norm, however it is still expected and I beleive this would still be ok in terms of breaking the flow. It isn't like you are replacing Quit with Renounce for example!
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+1 Exit is the way to go... buildings have exit signs, roads have exits, many apps that have been around for a long time have Exit under the File menu as you've shown (though how odd is it that Ctrl+Q is for Exit in your SS, lol!) –  Jeremy Miller Jan 24 at 4:37
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Per Heng-Cheong Leong’s answer, the use of “Exit” on OS X would actually be considered wrong and surprising. Your three examples are from Windows; you’d find on a Mac that “Quit” is universal. In this case consistency is more important than obviousness. (Case in point: your example of iTunes—an Apple product—uses “Exit” on Windows.) –  bdesham Jan 24 at 14:34
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Web apps shouldn't have to "quit" or "exit." :-) –  Heng-Cheong Leong Jan 25 at 2:38
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IIRC public signage in Britain uses "Way Out" –  rakslice Jan 25 at 3:43
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Gotta love the irony of Ctrl+Q and Ctrl+Shift+Q for "Exit" on your screen shoot. :-) On OSX it's Cmd+Q for Quit much about everywhere. –  Denis Jan 25 at 14:51

'Close' is the best answer since we open an application

We do not enter an application or start a process when we refer to working on an application, where we could have used exit or quit respectively

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As other answers reveal - your logic is quite far from the norm. –  Izhaki Jan 24 at 11:13
    
Plus, we absolutely DO 'start' or 'launch' an application, rather than 'opening' it — although, quite often, that's done implicitly by 'opening' a file. But 'open' and 'close' tend to be applied to physical-object metaphors like windows and folders and files, not to more abstract concepts like an application or a user session. (Which is why you 'log in' to your account, you don't 'open' it.) –  FeRD Jan 26 at 16:04
    
It also depends on the context and platform –  ashu Jan 27 at 12:26

In my opinion, the 'Quit' action sounds more forceful, so it can be used to close an application which has failed to load or complete an action. It suggests the user wants the application to stop immediately. (For example, "Force Quit" on Mac OSX.) In contrast, the 'Exit' action sounds more gentle, so it can be used to stop an application after it has fully loaded. 'Exit' may prompt the user to save data, whereas 'Quit' will lose unsaved data.

However, as the accepted answer says, you should follow the UI guidelines for the relevant OS, to give the user a consistent experience.

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It depends on the impression you like a user to have when using your application.

If you want people to think someting like they are in a game or on the Internet then you should let them exit those places.

If people should simply use your application, you should let them quit using it.

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Although exit is frequently used I do think that Close is a better choice.

Most applications are created to make procedures easier and faster to perform. Lets say I have to write a paper. Instead of a notepad and a pen I will use MS Word.

Normally I would open my notepad and get a clean page but now I open a new document. When Im done writing I close my notepad, now I close my document.

The word you use really depends on how you describe other functionality of your application. if you have a MDI (Multiple Document Interface) application Exit would be the correct word since you already open many other windows in your application which are closed

With a SDI (Single Document Interface)application, such as Word I think Close would be a better choice, I can hear you say it, But you can open several documents at once. True.. However each document is opened in a seperate window.

Then the third option, Quit.. I think that really depends on what kind of application youre making. If its a game I think this will be a logical choice, other than that I dont see reason to use it.

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Just my two cents on how I imagine the differences:

Exit - To press the x, alt+f4/ctrl q, or use the menu drop down to choose exit Close - To use taskmanager/similar program to terminate the application Quit - To leave the computer in frustration and never open the application again/uninstall it.

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Since nobody has mentioned it:

Depending on your application you might have need for two terms. For example in chrome I can close the whole window, but I can also close just a tab. Same with Photoshop, my code editor, and a bunch of other UIs. Having the same term for two different things is confusing (imagine if there was just one word for open and close). For this reason there can be a valid use case for having two terms.

"**Close tab**" and "**Exit chrome**"

That could have been "Close tab" and "Close chrome", but better to keep distinct actions distinctive.

Aside from this above note to consider I recommend going with system defaults - it's a backbone principle of UI design as covered in Neilsen's Heuristics: Consistency and standards as others answers note. However: if possible have 'matching terms', e.g. enter matches exit, open matches close.

Personally I think exit is wrong for referring to an action you - the user - start.

  1. Exit dictionary definition lists uses of the word for when the individual exits, whereas I am not actively leaving the application - I'm sitting right here - but only the application is leaving. So I would Close the application.
  2. Also on my point about matching terms, I don't enter applications, I open them.
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