Being a Mac OS X user, I've implemented a popup engine which slides from top (transition is about 300 ms, see video) and stays hooked to the top.

Sliding popup style

Most people (all developers at the moment) say they're not used to it. They feel better which the classic approach, where the popup is centered.

Center popup style

Eclipse's behavior is different on both OS, but I can't afford both. Put aside the design aspects, which is the best cross-platform behavior in terms of user experience?

Note: I know these screenshots are full of UX errors (Eclipse…), I'm only concerned about the position and transition of the popup.

  • What do you mean by slides from top to bottom and stays hooked to the top' Also, if this is an animation transition effect, how long does it last before it comes to rest and is usable?
    – JonW
    Jul 5, 2012 at 14:32
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    @JonW Question updated with a video link. Jul 5, 2012 at 14:39
  • Centered on the window is what I am used to, but I am primarily a windows users. I would probably be a little surprised to see the pop down from the top of the window in a windows application but I don't think I would struggle to use it. Jul 5, 2012 at 14:41
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    I think the flaw with both examples is that the background isn't grayed out. Provided you gray out the background, I think he position becomes less relevant since it is so much easier to spot regardless of position.
    – DA01
    Jul 5, 2012 at 17:05
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    I am more concerned about the y/n/c buttons being the wrong way round relative to the OS than the position. Jul 5, 2012 at 17:57

3 Answers 3


I think this centers around knowing your audience. If your audience is going to be primarily Mac users then use that default, otherwise I would defer to Windows' standard. The reasons being:

  1. Something like 50% of users are Windows users compared to about 10% Mac (I could dig up the article later if you'd like) - even those who aren't are at least familiar with Windows' centered modal
  2. A centered modal feels more intuitive and indicates that you must first address the modal before continuing, plus it is likely where the users main focus is already
  • I know most people are used to the classic style (even on Mac). The question is more about "is this the right way to do it?", which doesn't always boils down to "are your users used to it?". Jul 5, 2012 at 15:29
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    I see what you're saying. For me, the two important aspects to consider are 1) how easily and quickly can users adopt and 2) how does it affect efficiency. In this case, I think a centered modal allows for better adoption (which translates into more positive use later) while minimally affecting efficiency, if at all. As a bit of an aside, I would use a centered modal to indicate that an action must be taken before continuing, which is saving (or not) in this case. However, you could use the slide in to indicate a non-critical system message that may or may not have an associated action.
    – Ben
    Jul 5, 2012 at 19:30
  • Let's go for the Windows behavior. Jul 6, 2012 at 14:15

If the popup is only activated by the controls at the top of the screen then showing it at the top would make it easier for the user to click on buttons on the popup since the cursor is at the top of the screen. But if the popup is activated from different locations in your app than I would suggest placing it at the middle since the cursor will be closer to the middle than to the top of the screen. Also user's eye might be more in the middle of the screen if they are working on content editing so interaction can feel less jumpy if the popup is in the middle.

  • This specific pop-up seems to be generated by closing the app without saving, which can be done from titlebar, menu, keyboard shortcut and OS taskbar. The question is: Is this the real use case? Jul 5, 2012 at 18:00
  • The use case is "the application is asking me something". The source might be any interaction with the application. Jul 6, 2012 at 14:11

In addition to Ben's good points, another point is that if the pop-up isn't docked and is instead floating, it can be moved. This enables you to move it aside to help you decide.

E.g. See what it is that you haven't saved, assuming that the unsaved tab is in the view, since the window is currently non-focusable.

  • I'm not sure that's a valid argument, because allowing to move the popup somehow implies that you can put it away and do something else inside the application. Jul 6, 2012 at 14:14
  • Not if the background window is disabled. If the pop-up starts at the top, it hides the tab document titles. Jul 6, 2012 at 14:58
  • I'm not sure if there's a case where you're right (considering the "save" popup, the name of the file is in the popup), but I get your point. Jul 6, 2012 at 17:04
  • You are assuming there is only one open file, also the user might want to see the changes. Jul 7, 2012 at 0:44

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