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Every time I install VS (whichever version going back years) it installs with the Solution Explorer on the right. Now as most UIs have the navigation in a left hand column (and at the top of the viewport) and the content to the right of this navigation this always seems wrong to me.

So I drag the solution explorer to the left of the screen and dock it there. But I've never seen another developer do this.

Considering how most programmers usually like to customize their environment, adding their favourite text editor, browser, plug-ins, greasemonkey scripts etc why do Visual Studio developers never seem to make this simple UI change? Does anyone else do this or am I just screaming in the dark?

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I prefer it to be on the right, since I read from left to right. –  mauris Mar 15 '11 at 12:06
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Because it's the right place to put it. –  DavRob60 Mar 15 '11 at 12:09
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If you actually choose C++ as your default environment (this is asked the first time you start up), the solution explorer is on the left (it mimicks the pre .net visual studio interface and keyboard shortcuts, which I still prefer). –  fretje Mar 15 '11 at 12:42
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I also prefer the having the solution explorer on the left. One reason I like it like that is that because the text in the file viewer is left-aligned, this arrangement means most of the code is in the middle of the screen, rather than all the way over to one edge. –  Ergwun Jul 22 '11 at 12:51
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I agree completely. It seems to completely go against the trend of a tree view on the left, with details on the right. I've never understood why. I always change mine to the left-hand side. –  Yann Duran Apr 15 '13 at 14:10
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4 Answers

up vote 21 down vote accepted

User Interface design is not a pure science, primarily because people's preferences are different. However, there are a few principles that we've learned over the years:

  • The eye naturally gravitates to "power points". i.e. in art it is the golden rule, and photography it is simplified to "the rule of thirds". In essence if you drew a grid on your screen three cells across and three cells down, the points where the lines intersect are the power points. These are very important real estate, and it also explains why the 1/3-2/3 split works so well.
  • We've learned that there is an order of importance when we learn to read. In short, the most important column on a the screen is the one that comes first in reading order. For us western hemisphere folks, that means the left (left-to-right reading order). For folks in the middle east and some far eastern countries that means the right (right-to-left reading order). For other folks in other far eastern countries that means the top (top-to-bottom, typically right-to-left reading order).

Using these two principles, we can organize the screen in a way that users can get the most out of it. The MS Visual Studio developers surmised that the source code is the most important element, and the other panels support that content.

Now, if you have a preference to have the navigation on the left, it is because you place a different value on the importance of the navigation than the VS developers. Neither position is right or wrong. If you find yourself jumping from file to file often, it can be handy to have the navigation on the left.

You'll notice that even in this site, the content is on the left and the navigation and support information is on the right. This echoes what the designers felt were the most important aspects of the site.

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Great explanation. Now I know how I came up with my answer. –  JeffO Mar 15 '11 at 12:35
    
+1 and also: I seldom use the project-explorer (prefer Tabs/Search via shortcut), but I always want to see code. So that makes priority even clearer for me. –  Flo Feb 19 at 10:49
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It's similar to Adobe Photoshop. Toolbox on the left, navigation (layers, etc.) on the right.

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Never isn't correct but it's rare. When helping a colleague I noticed that his solution explorer was on the left of his screen. It's rare enough to notice when someone does change it.

As to why we keep it on the right? Visual studio often used to loose your view settings resetting them to their original state. Dragging the solution explorer each time you open VS becomes tiring quickly.

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Really I should have said 'I've never seen anyone else do it'. –  amelvin Mar 16 '11 at 0:41
    
+1 I put all my windows as tabs in the centre, nothing on the left or right, I'm sure lots of people have all sort of weird arrangements –  jk. Feb 19 at 10:52
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The left gets saved for items that I'm currently using more frequently. Digging into a database and need to know table structure, the Server Explorer gets placed there. Same as if I'm dumping a bunch of controls on a form, the Toolbox ends up there.

I pay less attention to items on the right. If I've opened a few files and need to go back and forth, I'd use the tabs at the top.

Besides, what can be simpler than doing nothing?

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You really use the Toolbox and Server Explorer more than the Solution Explorer? Wow. –  BFree Mar 15 '11 at 16:42
    
Like @BFree I'm not convinced that more traffic passes through the toolbox than the solution explorer. –  amelvin Mar 16 '11 at 0:43
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