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Three questions:

  1. What is the rationale behind changing the close [X] button behaviour (exit the application) to minimise an application as an icon on the taskbar?
  2. Why change close as opposed to the minimise button?
  3. Is there a way, possibly programatically, to ensure that the close button [X] always terminates the application?

I have noticed machines (of non-software developers) getting bogged down because they are running scores of applications. Since I know the application is taking up memory, I use File » Exit or right-click on the icon and then select exit. Both are slower than pressing [X] to exit.

Not everybody knows the difference between RAM and disk space, and even if they did, not everybody has 8GB of RAM to spare.


The questions, as stated, are a bit vague. I was wondering why other programmers consider it reasonable to change the default behaviour for the close button (which introduces a gaping inconsistency between applications)? Most people who use computers cannot tell the difference between:

  • Google vs a Web Browser
  • RAM vs a hard drive
  • CPU vs everything in the case
  • E-mail and Hotmail
  • Loaded programs vs a programs not started

Stating that there's a difference between a window and an application, while technically true, flies in the face of over 15 years of grandmothers knowing [X] means "exit the application". Especially when the minimise button [_] can perform the same task just as well, and does not mean "exit the application".

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migrated from Sep 18 '09 at 1:53

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

up vote 4 down vote accepted

The point of minimising is to get the window out of the way without actually quitting the application, either so that it can continue to do some form of work (or wait for some event) in the background, or so that you can re-open the window quickly and without losing any state.

The close button by definition closes the window. In some cases an application has only one window, and so it elects to quit when its window is closed.

With virtual memory a minimised application that is not actually doing any processing will be paged out to disk and have very low impact on system performance. The real drain on system performance are applciations like virus checkers that do a significant amount of work all the time in the background.

If you want performance on your PC, then don't run so many applications in the first place, or upgrade the RAM, processor, and hard drives (etc) as appropriate.

It would be pretty easy to hook the windows messages and convert a click on any close icon into a WM_QUIT message.

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WM_QUIT. Thanks! – Dave Jarvis Sep 17 '09 at 20:39

The programmer decided that this application should stay running. The close button closes the WINDOW, not the PROGRAM, which windows users often get mixed up. On many other operating systems, the window can close independently of the program.

If you don't like the behavior of your software, get some different software. The Uninstall button is kept under Start->Control Panel->Add/Remove Programs.. or on Vista, WindowsBall->Control Panel->Programs and Features.

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As well, regular users do not know the difference between an application that is running and its main window. These are the same masses of people that do not know the difference between Google and a web browser. – Dave Jarvis Sep 17 '09 at 20:35
This is exactly right.. the window is not (necessarily) the application. Many applications should stay running even when all of their windows are closed. Think of an IM application, and whether it should shut down when you close a conversation window. – Ian Clelland Sep 17 '09 at 20:36
re. WindowsBall, I believe it's called the "orb" – Rob Sep 17 '09 at 21:07
“Start orb” to be precise. But anyone will still understand “Start button”. Furthermore, just typing "features" into the start menu is enough to get the “Programs and Features” dialog, no need to go through the Control Panel. – Joey Sep 18 '09 at 4:51

The rationale (I assume) is that you want the application still running but not "cluttering up" the task bar.

You're right a better way would be to change the behaviour of minimise (possibly by some option on your application) to minimise the application to the system tray rather than the task bar (I've done this in the past).

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Sometimes application developers choose to modify the default behaviour of the [X] close button in this way because the user won't have to wait for the application to start next time they want a window from that application. Things such as Adobe, Quicktime, Firefox are notorious for this sort of thing.

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  1. I know this has been done for a number of applications to "decrease" startup time for the application. Granted it only helps after you've run it once but still, restarting it seems faster ('cause it's just showing itself).

  2. In other cases it's done because the application is used for some time-intensive application and the X was changed so people wouldn't accidentally close the application when they meant to minimize it.

  3. Sure it's possible. For programs you have the source for. If you don't have the source, then you'll just have to remember to make the effort to really close it.

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Most of the applications that I see using this functionality are applications that have two states. One state is when the user is actually interacting with the application's user interface, and the other state is when the application is just 'sitting there' performing its duty. A developer that is developing an application where both of these states are necessary might choose to override the typical "x = shutdown program" mental model in an effort to make switching between states less cumbersome.

An example of this would be Foobar which allows the [X] to minimize to the notification area.

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