Right there you hit on a LOT of the problem right now -- because people talk about dialup like it's past tense; when massive swaths of the US still only HAVE dialup -- nothern New Hampshire, Western Maine, The Dakotas, Utah... You get more than 20 miles from a "city" and if you are LUCKY you might be able to get 768kbps DSL. While I can get 22mpbs here in west donkey-plow New Hampshire, I travel 40 to 50 miles north a 33.6kbps dialup is a good day!
... and that's before we talk people on metered connections like our friends in Canada, usage throttled connections like our friends down in the Land of Oz, people tethering to phones in areas where that's the only connection they can get... or just people like me who don't have a 22mbps connection to have websites behave slower than they did 15 years ago. That's 392 times faster a connection, why am I still seeing >30 second page loads on websites?!?
It sure as high explosive double hockey sticks got nothing to do with improved functionality.
Welcome to my world.
The standard lightbox implementation is one of my biggest pet peeves. Honestly, it pisses me off and ALL it's managed to do is train me to always middle click on images to open them in a new tab. With galleries the middle click to open in new tab in the background is actually one of the best bits of functionality you can get. Just open all the thumbs you want to look at in one fell swoop, then tab through them. Admittedly in Opera I have added functionality for that since I turn off the 'close button' on each tab, and have added 'close and go to previous' and 'close and go to next' custom buttons.
Of course, crappy ligthbox-style implementations that break middle clicking and don't even work with scripting off -- those just grind my gears.
But most of my problem with lightbox isn't so much the effect itself as the other things it tends to break/make painful... like actually viewing the image at actual size, like zooming and panning; though again, as a Opera user I'm used to an in-built image viewer that's far, far superior to most of what's implemented in other browsers in terms of pan and zoom.
You're right about the hunting for the close -- a lot of times I can't find it because they constantly move it.
... and that's before we talk animation effects that on anything less than a core2 is cpu chewing at best, painfully slow at worst,
I started working on my own lightbox implementation back in november to try and address the problems I had with it. You can see it in action on my programming page:
Click on the screenshot thumb for paku paku to see it working. I tried to 'fix' a lot of the problems and implement what I consider 'missing' functionality from most... like zooming, click and drag panning, etc. If you click outside the image's view area it closes, in addition to the prominent close and help buttons. The zooming has buttons, and is aware of the mouse wheel.
Even so, I'm not wild about it; I'd probably not use it on a real website, if for no other reason than it breaks forward/back.
(It's a bit slow right now because I'm trying out CSS3 effects -- killing all the box-shadows makes it behave quite nicely... even with the CSS3 it's perfect in IE... Everywhere else, not so much)
About... five years ago Dan Schulz called AJAX "The new framesets" -- and that was NOT intended as a compliment. While it is very nice for certain things like say... inline editing of posts on a forums, using to to replicate framesets, using it to load content into tabs, and every other 'gee ain't it neat' idiotic overuse of it are flat out accessibility train wrecks; you lose the ability to hotlink to the content being loaded via AJAX (which means it's MORE broken than frames!), there is no content scripting off, and for all the talk of 'saving bandwidth' in most cases it takes as much or more once you figure in the size of the scripting.
A perfect example of this is the train wreck of useless garbage Microsoft has turned hotmail into. Megabyte plus of scripting, breaks forward, back, middle click, is constantly having to be patched over and over every time a new flavor of the month browser comes along... webmail on the whole is having all of it's usefulness and functionality trashed by the scripttards who seem to want to throw it at everything.
To the point I've gone back to using mail clients; a technology I had abandoned for being useless compared to webmail some decade ago. Now it's flipped back the other way.
Though admittedly being a Opera user, I have a really good mail client built into the browser.
... and that's the ideal, and in some cases; forum quick reply and inline edits for example, it works like a charm and isn't obtrusive.
But far, far too often people seem to dive for it before even THINKING if they actually need it or not, or could better benefit from optimizations elsewhere (like say, practicing separation of presentation from content, semantic markup and in general not writing half-assed markup!). In a lot of ways the way many people are using AJAX is akin to white-space stripping -- they're using it as a duct-tape and bailing wire fix at best, sweeping problems under the rug at worst.
The same people with code to content ratios in excess of 20:1 and then dive for white-space compression to hide their ineptitude are the exact same type of developers loading pages down with AJAX and other scripting. The net result is making it consume more bandwidth and destroying a good user experience, while they were sold on said technologies having the exact opposite effect.
... and that's BEFORE we talk about the 300k of scripting in 7 separate files external to the document, and 12 images on a page that only appears to use one... or the TEN SEPARATE STYLESHEETS.
But again, the problem isn't the technology, it's how you use it.