Friday, September 22, 2006

The Programmer's inner Designer: syntax color tweaking

Ever since I started writing code, I've always found great interest in Syntax Coloring. At the same time, however, I found it a bit weird that I enjoy tweaking and re-tweaking my syntax highlighting colors so much.

I was very happy to see a few recent posts over at coding horror about syntax coloring and programming font choices and immediately felt the need to share my own thoughts about syntax color palettes.

During my work with .net in the last 4 years, I've slowly tweaked my color scheme to the screenshot above. It uses the font Tahoma Bold even though its not a fixed-width font. At it's brightest days, there were 4 of us using it. We once shouted the RGB values of the entire palette across the workspace to a person sitting in a distant cubicle. (that was before we realized we can export the palette from the registry...)

I always wanted to have a small slider in the IDE's toolbar that would allow the user to slide all the hue values of the syntax colors so the user would be able to create a new color palette for each file, or just play around. Since the original palette is usually already color-balanced, shifting the entire palette around the hue axis should not break much of that balance, and it would create fun results. (see the screenshot above)

I think this coloring customization is appealing to people in the same way that desktop wallpaper and ring tones appeal to others. Customization of apps one uses every day is just fun. When you spend a few minutes thinking about it, it's a lot like your clothing choices. People are actually trying to communicate something about themselves using their ring-tone choices. People are communicating something about themselves with their clothing & wallpaper choices.

What are we saying about ourselves through our syntax color scheme choices?

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