If you are developing a Windows application, the correct term to use is “Exit”. This is spelt out in Microsoft’s Design apps for the Windows desktop guide, under the “Standard Menu Bars” section.
If you are developing a Mac application, the correct term to use is “Quit”. (Your menu item must read “Quit AppName“.) This is spelt out in Apple’s OS X Human Interface Guidelines, under “The App Menu” section.
In general, you should follow the platform’s user-interface guidelines when you are developing apps so that your app is consistent with all other apps in the same platform, so as to reduce your app’s complexity and learning curve for your customers.
The following table summarises the conventional terms, which are platform dependent.
On Windows, you run an application, then exit it. Ditto for Unix command line tools. However, both old documentation and pretty much all windows 8 documentation uses Open/Close.
On a Mac (which deep inside is Unix-based) you open an application, but then quit it.
You close a window or a tab (both you can also open).
Sources: Mac Basic, OS X User Experience Guidelines, Windows 7 Using Programs, Windows 8 Getting Around your PC Guide.
Consider the following when deciding on a term to use:
- Run – A nearly pure programmers’ term. Technical novices shall not understand why you ‘run’ programs.
- Exit – Some users may think (based on real world experience) that when you exit something you can return to it.
- Close – Same as the previous one, when you close something you can re-open it. There might be some confusion with closing windows here as well. Notice that you can have two types of behaviours depending on the OS:
- The application truly terminates (like would be on Windows 98).
- Or it just moves to the background (like on Windows 8 – where you can really open/close/quit). So I would suggest keeping this term close to this type of behaviour.
- Open – The term is generally not ambiguous.
- Quit – Should signify to the user that the application does terminate completely (rather than stay at the background).
I don’t know if your user base is international but I guess it is of varying levels of English and varying levels of IT skills. Exit is universal for leave, quit and go away (remember not everyone thinks like us geeks!)
Take these users:
The grandma who has just got her first laptop
I want this to go away … quit [negative connotations, implies it is final, sometimes forever]
I want this to go away … exit [can be related to in real life]
The person who speaks enough English to get by
I want this to go away … leave [localised terminology, can also mean “to leave something in a room” – confusing to those not fluent in the context]
I want this to go away … exit [globally recognised terminology, doesn’t need context – can stand alone strongly]
I am sure there are more examples I could bore you with but I guess you get the gist. Just think about it this way, what sign did you see driving down the highway?
Also this is a screenshot of a random selection of windows I have open – don’t reinvent the wheel 🙂
Update for Mac Users:
I would say firstly go with what is right for the platform, but if it is a web app where that is not an option say I would also apply this example
- On a Windows Quit has the same connotations as a above
- On a Mac(/other) Exit is not the norm, however it is still expected and I beleive this would still be ok in terms of breaking the flow. It isn’t like you are replacing Quit with Renounce for example!