I'm curious if there are any studies or articles on this issue.

What I'm thinking about is for example the Winamp implementation where there was a main window and all other windows could be glued to it and then they moved together. I also found an implementation based on modifiers in order to group windows, for example holding CTRL while moving a window next to another would make them move together.

I think there are cases where this could be helpful, in applications with many different types of windows where the user could create a template that he uses often (in Gimp for example you could group tool windows)

So, are there any studies and if not what are your opinions on gluing vs having independent windows or one big one with customizable layout (e.g. Visual Studio or other IDEs)?

Sample GIF

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    I really liked the interface Eclipse offered for re-arranging panes. You could drag and drop panel titles and it would often end up going where I had wanted it to go! – joeytwiddle Jun 4 '14 at 17:50
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    I'd be interested to see any usability studies on this, but I'd be a little suprised if someone has them available. Still, I think it is a very useful feature that at worst should have a toggle icon in one of the lower corners of a window. I often want to dock sub-windows for the same reason that locking external windows together is useful. – Garet Claborn Jun 15 '14 at 1:47
  • The reason I asked about this is that I want to build a very simple to use Java library that does this and was curious what users would expect. First of all I see two ways it can work. 1. Always glue windows and only move them together when the main window is dragged; 2. Have a trigger (Ctrl, Shift, Both mouse clicks) that makes windows snap together and move groups together when any window in the group is moved. – Vlad Topala Jun 15 '14 at 21:48
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    Don't know of any studies on this subject, but it's a common enough in apps with lots of control panels. Always glued together works if there are many little panes that are annoying to move about independently or some panes really make sense to be grouped together. Having a trigger may be helpful if the user needs different grouping of panes depending on their task. This is also dependent on whether users will spend the time to learn the trigger. For something like graphics tool like Photoshop or CDE it makes sense. For simpler apps maybe not. – nightning Jun 17 '14 at 19:26
  • @nightning If you know any implementations that are different or special in any way please do tell :) – Vlad Topala Jun 17 '14 at 20:06

Short answer:

Yes, there are studies that have been conducted and the results suggest that docked window framework is extremely useful for applications that involve constant multitasking.

A recent study conducted by H. Shibata and K. Omura suggest that docking really improves the user experience of working on the application as well as increase in the efficiency (with respect to time) in completing the task. They performed 2 experiments to validate their findings.

Long answer:

This has always been a matter of debate and concern as to how to use the screen real estate that you have available and the tasks that can be achieved over the application. It is an unnecessary burden to have multiple windows or One parent window with multiple children if the application doesnt require the user to multitask. Their more appropriate technical terms would be Single document interface vs Multiple document interface . Wikipedia does provide a comparison between the different document interface designs out there. I would really recommend going through the see also links given in that comparison wiki page for a more detailed description.

Users in the UX forum have already answered to questions that are in the same domain dealt here. I completely agree with @david4dev in his answer and the ideology of @Tsuyoshi-ito that managing windows is sort of like a book keeping task. This other question might also be relevant to what you are looking for. Have a look at this one as well where they really question the need for multiple windows in the first place.

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