With headline features such as comping and VST3 plugin support, it might be easy to overlook some of the more modest improvements in SONAR X3, which can nevertheless make a big difference to your workflow.
So, aside from the headline grabbers, what else has X3 got to offer?
Well, the user interface has had its fair share of attention too, and that’s what this article is about – highlighting an interesting new UI feature that might otherwise slip under the radar.
Let’s take a look at this simple, yet significant improvement, that’s designed to minimize unwanted interruptions.
Too much ‘dialog’?
As we all know, good software gets out of the way and lets you get on with what you do best. Sadly, it’s rarely that simple, particularly with large, fully featured applications like SONAR X3. Sooner or later, the software will need to draw your attention to something.
And it usually happens when you least want it to!
When you’re ‘in the zone’, there can be few things more irritating than unwanted popup messages. Messages that don’t simply distract you, but actually interrupt whatever you happen to be doing by demanding an immediate response. Such messages are usually referred to as ‘dialog boxes’ (on Windows at least), and the user must respond to them before being allowed to continue:
Some dialogs are necessary, important even (like the one above); but for all the useful, relevant questions an application might ask you, there are probably just as many you could do without!
The fact is, dialog boxes interrupt workflow, and should therefore be used sparingly.
So what to do? What if SONAR wants to draw your attention to something that might be important, but could just as easily be considered spam (depending on your point of view)? Why not let the user decide how urgent something is, and action it, or ignore it, as they see fit?
That’s where ‘toast notifications’ come in.
Anyone for toast?
When you start SONAR X3, you may notice (depending on your settings) something similar to this at the bottom right of the screen:
On first inspection it would appear that the VST Scanner has changed a lot in X3! Well, that’s not actually the VST Scanner.
It’s a ‘toast notification’.
This small, unobtrusive window is showing you everything you might typically want to know about your plugin collection when you start SONAR; namely the total number of plugins, and the number of freshly installed and/or uninstalled plugins that were detected. I won’t go into the new background VST scanning feature here (that’s a different article), but it’s the first example of a toast notification you’re likely to see in X3.
After a few seconds, the notification will simply fade away. No buttons to click, just some potentially useful information that you can take or leave.
Are you sure?
So what happens if SONAR wants to ask you a non-urgent question that may or may not be important to you? Let’s use a hypothetical example:
Here, you could answer the question by clicking one of the buttons. Or not. If you ignore it, it will fade away after a few seconds, leaving you to carry on uninterrupted.
That’s the beauty of toast notifications – they don’t require any user input. They simply present potentially useful information, and let you decide whether to act on it or not. If you’re in the middle of something, just carry on!
Although you’re under no obligation to interact with notifications like this, you can if you want to. To stop a toast from closing, move the mouse cursor over it. It’ll stick around until you move the mouse away. To dismiss the notification before it fades away, just click the little button at the top right. You can drag the notification around too, should you wish to move it out of the way.
Of course, toast notifications aren’t a new idea. You’ve probably seen them before in applications such as Microsoft Outlook.
Now SONAR X3 is the first DAW to make use of them, and your workflow will be all the better for it!
Why ‘toast notifications’?
They pop up. Like toast. That is all.
Only the beginning…
So far we’ve only scratched the surface, but the benefit of replacing workflow killing dialog boxes should be obvious. Just like dialogs, SONAR toast notifications can display information and ask questions; but unlike dialogs, you can ignore them if it’s a bad time.
There are intriguing possibilities for the future too. Toast notifications can also be sent to SONAR from external sources, such as plugins and other processes. For example, the VST scan toasts come from the independent VST Scanner process. In the future, we may expose the toast mechanism to plugins via a custom VST interface, if there is sufficient vendor interest.
With SONAR X3, we’ve only just begun the process of replacing some of the less urgent dialogs with toasts. We’ll be using them more and more over the coming months, including in forthcoming patches, so expect to see more of this modest, but worthwhile feature moving forward.