The misused mouse, part 1: The story of the mouse’s decline

Now, I am by no means hoping to abolish the mouse. Its price to performance ratio is unmatched, and the best alternative pointing device (the tablet) can’t be found for much less than an order of magnitude greater expense: hard to justify for the relatively small performance edge it offers. What I do wish to decry is the enormous reliance on the mouse to cover every possible user interface situation, failing to take advantage of other, better designs. Years of lazy design and low opinions of the user’s desire (even ability) to learn have left us with a constant testing of Fitts’ Law for such trivial tasks as saving, broken paradigms (what about a real-world button relates to replacing an old document irrevocably with the current one?), and a user experience that is more patronizing than productive.

Let’s start with a few key ideas about interface devices. The keyboard is quantized (that is, it consists of discrete units of input, like a piano’s notes), while the mouse is continuous (its input ranges without breaks across the entire screen, like the strings of a violin which cover every possible pitch in their range).

Now, think about the actions you perform on your computer in a given day. You type, save, open, close, select, resize, navigate, refresh, cancel, approve, and perform scores of other actions.

Now divide the tasks into groups. Which ones consist of discrete actions, and which require fine, continuous control? I’ll be generous (and rude to my fellow console text editors—I know vi/emacs can both comfortably rely on keyboard input only) and say text selection and input positioning, color selection, drawing, and most (spatial) navigation is most naturally, perhaps even most effectively, performed with a continuous input device such as a mouse.

Now, for the discrete actions: type, save, open, close, refresh, cancel, approve, and most of the other basic actions. In fact, I’d say many users could count scores of daily activities that are discrete, whereas breaking a dozen continuous actions would be a challenge. (Let’s put aside all window management like switching between windows, resizing them, moving them, and so on. These mostly seem continuous but I’ll explain in a later post why they’re usually not.)

Now, which of those actions are new users taught to do with the discrete input device? Typing.

Now, advanced users have memorized ways to do a large fraction of (or, if they’re fanatical, all) discrete actions with their discrete-input device. If you’re looking for evidence of the superiority of a keyboard over a mouse in most situations, look at these users. There is a strong correlation between how much time a person uses computers (especially professionally) and how much they switch away from the mouse whenever readily possible. I challenge you to find a hundredth as many IT professionals who prefer the mouse as who prefer the keyboard when either will perform a given action.

Further advantage of a keyboard over the mouse lies in “muscle memory.” (For those who might not be familiar with the term, it’s the re-enforced skill of repeated actions—and the reason we can speak, write, type, and a host of other skills, without having to consciously perform every muscle contraction in careful coordination.) This, however, isn’t because it’s quantized, but rather because our position on the keyboard is generally absolute, whereas whenever we grab the mouse the cursor could be anywhere. In fact, there are only five pixels we can hit with our eyes closed—the one we’re on plus the four corners. That’s less than 1/150,000th of the median computer screen’s real estate that can be associated with muscle memory. The keyboard, on the other hand, can be entirely memorized (or close to it) in the course of general computer use. With combinations of control, alt, and shift, and even the more modestly skilled typists have literally hundreds of key combinations they could hit rapidly, even with their eyes closed (and that’s ignoring key-chaining that programs like Emacs use).

Now, consider that without on-screen controls, the entire screen could be devoted to content. Certainly that’s a small gain in most programs (perhaps 10% on average, based on a wholly unscientific guess by me), but in more complex programs (like Photoshop) tools and controls can account for over a quarter of the screen. Save most of that space and you’ve upgraded your monitor by several inches diagonal. Furthermore, these same controls require the user to switch between their keyboard and mouse frequently. Perhaps it isn’t the most criminal of inefficiencies, but it’s still squeezing in more work to the same ends.

“Okay,” you’re thinking, “you may have me convinced that a keyboard is a better fit for most actions, but let’s see you convince the average computational neophyte that hiding everything behind obscure key combinations is somehow an improvement. The very euphemism for the user-unfriendly cruelty of engineers is the mystical incantation of button pressing on a VCR needed to banish the blinking 12:00 until the next power outage. How could transferring this blind manipulation to computer’s user interfaces possibly improve the world?”

The reason you say that is that you are still thinking in the framework of traditional GUIs. I never said “blind,” “hiding,” or “obscure.” Note also that I didn’t claim the transition would require no adaptation by existing users. Such a claim would be a lie for any changes.

What I am claiming is that, with a little thoughtful work, a keyboard-centric interface would be at least as usable a mouse-centric one. Xerox Alto’s revolutionary mouse (once filtered through Apple to the Macintosh), is rightly credited with bringing usable, accessible (in the social/intellectual, not physical, sense) computing to the mainstream, but we’ve strayed from good design, by forgetting about other input devices. In my next entry, I will explore one possible design for applications to largely eliminate the use of a mouse in favor of the more appropriate keyboard—without reducing usability.

Without further ado, I give you a proposal for a mouseless graphical user interface.

Update: It seems, as I peruse Jeff Atwood’s site, he has mentioned the efficiency of the keyboard over the mouse, which, according to Jeremy Miller is “the first step to coding faster.” I’m glad these gentlemen recognize the utility of the keyboard, and I’ll forgive Mr. Miller’s programming-centric view of the benefits. Perhaps a few more people will join the team.

56 Responses to The misused mouse, part 1: The story of the mouse’s decline

  1. Pingback: The New Interface Advocate » Blog Archive » The misused mouse, part 2: A proposal for a nearly mouseless interface.

  2. Pingback: The New Interface Advocate » Blog Archive » The misused mouse, part 2: A proposal for a nearly mouseless interface.

  3. Pingback: The New Interface Advocate » Blog Archive » The only two interface designs ever conceived:

  4. Wow an HCIer actually speaking about expert interfaces, how novel.

    Til HCI takes expert interfaces seriously computers will be unusable toys (Macs).

  5. The one bad assumption here is that the user is a GOOD typist, probably a TOUCH typist. For those of us who were never able to master the arcane art of touch-typing, the keyboard is NOT that great – you have to look down from the screen to the keyboard, figure out where your fingers are (no better than trying to figure out where the mouse cursor is), and enter some weird and wonderful key combination. Ctrl-S ad Ctrl-C are standard, but too many of them aren’t.

    If you are a clumsy typist (like me), the mouse is just BETTER!

  6. Pingback: thak’s cool links » The misused mouse

  7. I’m sorry to be an ass, but you’ve hit upon one of my pet peeves:

    “Without further ADO”

    “Adieu” is French for good-bye; “ado” means fuss or bustle.

    e.g., “Much Ado About Nothing.”

    Also, nice article.

  8. I used to feel the same way, then I discovered that the mouse can be a ridiculously useful input device, with simple gesture software.
    StrokeIt (no affiliation, just a loving user of many years) has changed the way I use computers, but unfortunately it’s only windows and I have yet to find a worthwhile Linux or OSS substitute.
    Eg. To close a window, no hunting for the tiny box, just hold the right mouse button and draw a “C” on the window to be closed.
    Maximize/minimize, just a quick slash.
    Copy, vertical line up. Paste, vertical line down.
    Once you do it a few times, you’ll never want to use a machine without it again. I can only imagine how awesome it must be on a tablet PC, as I don’t have one to play with.

  9. Spoken like a true engineer geek. You’ve distilled the UI experience down to its essentials and come up with the perfectly optimized efficient system… EXCEPT, no consideration for learning curve. The world had more “regular people” than robot-like engineer geeks. That is the big failure in what you describe above.

  10. I completely agree. Any task I can perform on my keyboard, I perform on my keyboard. When I’m forced to use an application which is heavy on the mouse when there are obvious keyboard ways to do the same things, I get very annoyed.

  11. The keyboard is, undoubtedly, the fastest way to perform computing tasks. Not only that, it’s also the most comfortable since the wrist only needs to move over a small area on the keyboard. But the problem is not the users who are most used to mice, but the interface designers who generally assume that everybody uses a mouse.

    For example, try browsing the web without a mouse in Firefox. You can’t, right? Some browsers such as Konqueror have special features for keyboard users, for example typing CTRL twice will associate every link on the page with a different key.

    I think the interface designers must design the GUI in such a manner that keyboard usage is not just easy and intuitive, but f***ing obvious, like the Konqueror example.

  12. I’m an AutoCAD user, and I was taught to use AutoCAD by entering most of the commands into the command line, rather than with the mouse. I try to customize the command shortcuts so they only use the keys accessible to the left hand so I can keep my right hand on my mouse. I’m convinced that this makes me and my fellow keyboard commandos several times faster than your average mouseketeer. The AutoCAD mouseketeers are not as bad as the people who don’t use desktop shortcuts for frequently-accessed, deeply-buried folders, but I digress.

    Thanks for the article.

  13. I don’t think Mr. Barnes considers all the possible ramifications of HIDs. Much of his argument in favor of keyboards assumes a perfectly functioning human memory; completely aside from an ability or inability to touch-type, the ability to *remember* keyboard shortcuts is critical to succesful use of a keyboard in that fashion. Not all humans have a perfectly functional memory. It also depends upon how many different applications a person uses, and with what frequency; someone who uses dozens of applications and many of them infrequently will not be able to remember keyboard shortcuts with any reliability. If that person also possessed ADD traits including a poor memory, the problem would be magnified substantially.

    Mr. Barnes’ arguments dismiss the existence of both power-user geeks who use many dozens of applications and people with ADD and poor memory. Unless Mr. Barnes wants to put up the cash to buy everyone in those classes one of the fancy expensive new programmable OLED keyboards and then personally invest the time to ensure its perfect cooperation with every application, he might be better off keeping his HID opinions to himself.

  14. Been there, done that. Ain’t so…

    “We’ve done a cool $50 million of R&D on the Apple Human Interface. We discovered, among other things, two pertinent facts:
    – Test subjects consistently report that keyboarding is faster than mousing.
    – The stopwatch consistently proves mousing is faster than keyboarding.”

    page 26, “TOG on Interface” by Bruce Togazzini

    Enjoy the book: ISBN 0-201-60842-1

  15. Welcome to the world of…

    This experimental interface designed by Apple creator Jef Raskin has almost all of the ideas from your proposal, plus many more.

  16. Pingback: Mumblings of a Web Developer » The keyboard and mouse as input devices

  17. I am glad to see someone thinking about this again. My wife is a medical transcriptionist by trade and is constantly complaining about having to use a mouse. Her point is that anytime spent navigating is lost income.

  18. I think a really fast way to make much better use of the keyboard instead of the mouse, would be to make the ‘¬’ (to the left of the ‘1’ key) bring up an onscreen window that shows the 12 function keys, and each of the keys would perform an action (ONLY after ‘¬’ had been pressed), such as Open, Save, Save As, etc.
    For more than 12 functions, you can then show a second row, which use Shift + F1, etc. or possibly, F1 –> F10, etc., where pressing ‘¬’ –> F1 would then take you to the second row of F-key options. (It could be ‘¬’ –> F12)

    So to save a file, I’d just press ‘¬’, and would immediately see all the available function key options at the top of my screen (it could take up half of the screen, it wouldn’t matter, it’s only there while you select the F-key you want to use).

    Then I’d press F3 (for example) to Save, then the window would disappear and be replaced by the conventional Save window.

    Or I could press ‘¬’, then F1 to bring up further options, then F5 to choose ‘Preferences’.

    All of these actions would become rote for people as they used them every day, in each application.
    ‘¬’ F1 F5 – in about one second.
    ‘¬’ F3 – in about one second.
    Much less complicated than learning
    CTRL + SHIFT + S – all having to be held down simultaneously, and with no onscreen help.

    I apologise if this has already been invented, but if not – please remember I invented it!

    Adam Bond
    Bristol, U.K.

  19. What a comepletely Biased and idiotic article. Wow the only thing you really applied the situation towards were things like officework. The mouse is an extremely useful tool that has alot of precision. While i admit the keyboard is better for certain short cuts during things like video editing; you comepletely left out a Huge Category in Computers and Media. Gaming. The PC gaming industry would be nowhere without the mouse and its precision, and making things like 3D models and environments would be nearly impossible. Lets think would you want to make a 3D model of a car using a keyobard? no this Article was a waste of my time and you should consider everything surrounding the mouse before making a bunch of snobby garbage such as this.

  20. “it’s [the keyboard] also the most comfortable since the wrist only needs to move over a small area on the keyboard.”
    Language typing allows the fingers an adequate range of movement to reduce the chance of RSI but the continued use of keyboard shortcuts, such as maintaining a finger on the crtrl key, increase it greatly. In this regard the MAC interface with a single-click mouse which relies on multiple modifier keys creates more ergonomic issues than Windows.

  21. I have first hand experience with quantifiable numbers supporting this article. My experience with AutoCAD goes back to the mid-80’s with keyboards and digitizing tablets.

    When the first Windows version of AutoCAD was installed in our office, drafting productivity when down. My job was to find out why. What we found is that the draftsmen that continued to use keyboards and digitizing tablets were more productive.

    In one case a previously very productive draftsmen slowed down because he stopped using the keyboard thinking clicking was faster. When we looked at the metrics, he went back to keyboard and returned to his previous high performance status.

    In fact, we also found digitizing tablets faster as well (even with buttons) because they can be configured to be absolute rather than relative (like a mouse) so for people that can touch type and have good muscle memory the table is much faster!

  22. Consider this: I’m reading this blog with Opera browser that has no other visible user interface except subwindow tabs and address bar. I can drag down with right mouse button to open new tab, drag line left to go back, down and right to close tab, etc. And these simple gestures always work no matter where on my screen or how long line I draw. With keyboard there is always a change to press wrong key but once you learn mouse shortcuts it’s really hard to draw a line to wrong direction.

    It’s just funny how most people seem to think only way to use mouse is by clicking some buttons.

    Well, that probably wouldn’t work with software that has dozens of functions like text editor but I can tell at least web browsing by drawing mouse strokes is clearly faster and more intuitive than reaching for keyboard shortcuts.

  23. Those of you complaining about the usability of the keyboard because you’ve been too lazy to learn how to touch type need to grow up and learn it. (Do you still ride a horse because learning to drive is a hassle?) I can type far faster than I can write anything by hand and I shudder at the thought of talking to my computer all day (do your co-workers really want to listen you say, “ok computer open FireFox, now go to h-t-t-p-colon-foward slash-forward slash… ” etc.)

    Additionally, your complaint about non-standard key commands just isn’t true. Ctrl – S, Ctr-Shift – S, Ctrl – F, Ctrl – C, Ctrl – X, Ctrl – V, Ctrl – A, F5, Ctrl – O, Ctrl – N, Ctrl – P, etc… these are all standard in just about every Windows App. I’m not including the Windows key shortcuts because you probably don’t even know they exist but suffice it to say that they save me a lot of time over the course of a day. (linux fan boys: most people own windows, so that’s my example, you can calm down now).

    The Apple Human Interface example just isn’t believable – what tasks are they testing and what users are testing it? Are you saying that using the keyboard exclusively is slower than the mouse? There is simply no way using Ctrl – C and Ctrl – V is slower than mousing.

    Consider moving between fields – Can you really say that it’s more efficient to stop, move your hand to your mouse, click the next field, and then resume typing rather than just hitting “tab”?

  24. And if you cannot get rid of the mouse (I fear it is too entrenched), at least outlaw the wheel. The amount of time I have wasted watching colleagues scroll to the bottom of a long document three lines at a time!

  25. Oh, where do begin? I seem to have been caught off guard by my slashdotting.

    First, I don’t know what possessed me to use adieu instead of ado. I blame spell check and 3 A.M.

    cybertrash Says:
    I used to feel the same way, then I discovered that the mouse can be a ridiculously useful input device, with simple gesture software.

    Ah, yes. I actually use radialcontext in Firefox, and love it for when I don’t have my hands buried in my DataHand. I was planning on a companion piece to this exploring the other ways of using a mouse that would better suit its strengths. Check back in a few weeks for that one.

    Arby Says:
    Spoken like a true engineer geek. You’ve distilled the UI experience down to its essentials and come up with the perfectly optimized efficient system… EXCEPT, no consideration for learning curve.

    If you examine the system I linked to, there’s not that much of a learning curve to get at least as good as the “traditional” design, and you only have to “learn” one key. Sure it’s not the most perfectly intuitive system, but it’s not too terrible, either.

    Mark A. Craig Says:
    I don’t think Mr. Barnes considers all the possible ramifications of HIDs. Much of his argument in favor of keyboards assumes a perfectly functioning human memory; completely aside from an ability or inability to touch-type, the ability to *remember* keyboard shortcuts is critical to succesful use of a keyboard in that fashion.

    he might be better off keeping his HID opinions to himself.

    I’m sorry you feel that way. I like to imagine that the open exchange of ideas (even misguided ones) enhances a society more than hiding anything at all controversial or uncertain. As for the memory issue, take a look at the design. There is less need for memory in my proposed interface than with now-standard designs, thanks to the redundant words with the icons.

    tjp xoxy Says:
    Been there, done that. Ain’t so…

    Well, I’ll certainly buy the book and look at the context. Thanks for the info.

    TuringTest Says:
    Welcome to the world of… Archy.
    This experimental interface designed by Apple creator Jef Raskin has almost all of the ideas from your proposal, plus many more.

    I’ve looked at that work, and my understanding was that the primary focus on the project was removing the walls between applications and the imposition of an arbitrary workflow on users.

    Ian Says:
    What a comepletely Biased and idiotic article. Wow the only thing you really applied the situation towards were things like officework. The mouse is an extremely useful tool that has alot of precision. […] you comepletely left out a Huge Category in Computers and Media. Gaming. […] would you want to make a 3D model of a car using a keyobard? no this Article was a waste of my time and you should consider everything surrounding the mouse before making a bunch of snobby garbage such as this.

    My limited scope was a consequence of my 80+ hour work weeks, and assumption that readers could extrapolate the examples to other software. I also never said to get rid of the mouse. The idea of the article was that the mouse is misused not that it’s intrinsically flawed.

  26. All interesting. The novice/expert transition is actually well supported by the Windows UI, and not so well supported in OS X. I have to say, the lack of keyboard support in OS X has led me to decide to install Windows on to my 6 month old MacBook. I tried it for months, but have given up – I just can’t live with the amount of mouse work OS X requires!

    Here’s a CHI paper about mechanisms for supporting learning of keyboard shortcuts, a well done piece of work:

  27. I think the author needs some serious perspective. There are FAR too many uses for a computer to justify abandoning mice. Assuming that people do nothing but read, write and edit text documents, never straying far from save, open and print functions, is very closed minded.

    1. Games would be my first point. Outside of those few games which use the keyboard arrors to navigate, the mouse is ESSENTIAL to play.
    2. Art would come next. As much as I hate to draw with a mouse, I can, and I can’t imagine regressing to days of the etch-a-sketch to dial in an image. If I really need the pencil touch to draw something, I’ll use my tablet.
    3. Surfing. Nobody I know likes to surf the internet without a mouse. And few of them even know how because nobody tells them to tab through the links.

    My point is, if all you’re doing is reviewing text all day, why do you even need a computer? Throw it out the window and dust of that old typewriter.

    Not to mention… how many neophytes do you think there are who do coding?

    There’s reinventing the wheel and then there’s abandoning it. You’ve chosen the latter.

  28. AT LAST, I’m not the only one to consider the keyboard the main input device. In my case, I had to rely on the keyboard alone. Back in 96, with my powerful 80386, the COM port could be used to /either/ the mouse or modem, so if I wanted to go online, I had to ditch the mouse.

    Now, thanks to that forced training, and having only a six-and-a-half fingers typing technique, I fly on the keayboard. My job involves creating macros in Excel that can toy in anything on the computer (even the mouse clicks when absolutely needed). Knowing the keayboard shortcut saves enormous time and– well, you already said the rest.

  29. You want to take my mouse away? I would sooner strangle you with the cord before I let that happen. Why don’t you get two keyboards and tie them together with duct tape so you can feel ULTRA EFFICENT. Double the keys, double the speed!

    More IT professionals prefer the keyboard to the mouse? Not only do you need a wider sample for accuracy, but you need to look into why. I think it has more to do about attitude than what “works best”. I’ve seen too many in the industry that do something they THINK is right, when it’s far from it.

  30. You seem to be considering mainly mouse or keyboard. How about mouse and keyboard? Have you played, or looked at, the game World of Warcraft? I strongly suggest it as a case study for user interface designers. One of its main distinguishing advantages is a very, very customisable user interface. It is possible to control virtually all character actions within the game (movement, use of attack forms, selection of targets hostile and friendly, bringing up of inventory menus and maps, etc) with both or either mouse or keyboard. Players can use LUA scripts (or more correctly, the majority of players can use LUA scripts created by a small minority of programmer-players) to put rows of “buttons”, much like Windows’ or Ubuntu’s accessibility on-screen-keyboard, pretty much anywhere on the screen, and can bind keys to have the equivalent effect of mouse-clicking on the button.

    In actual play, it is fastest to use the hotkeys (mostly, the number keys) to activate the speed-dependent abilities such as combat spells, and select the non-speed-dependent abilities such as out-of-combat buffs with the mouse. You can arrange similar abilities in similar places (for my own warlock character, I have all of my enhancement spells on one bar, my food/drink on another, and my pet-summoning spells on another). To move around I normally use the WASD keys, but on occasion will switch to the mouse for jump-shot, a manner of moving that allows you to face forward while occasionally shooting directly behind yourself, or to move in confusing, chaotic ways during player-vs-player combat.

    Specific keyboards, such as a Z-board, are available for WoW players. These contain keys bound to more standard functions in the game, such as character emotes (short action scripts, eg bow, or dance, or make a rude gesture), or access to menus. This is analogous to the calculator/email/browser shortcut keys on most modern keyboards. There are also more of the user-programmable keys, and more simultaneous key presses (meaningful chords, if you like) can be read.

    Actually, chording is a whole other issue that you might like to consider – I notice you’ve barely mentioned it, other than Control! :) In theory, there are least 6 chordal keys on the standard keyboard, without requiring users to re-learn currently non-chordal keys as chordal keys. Use F1-F12 as chordal keys, and we effectively have 1000+ keys on the keyboard!

  31. Pingback: one of me » the home of paul turnbull » Blog Archive » links for 2007-07-09

  32. Since most of y’all keyboard nuts seemed to overlook it, go back to the posting by tjp xoxy. It is a peculiarity that even though people *think* that using a keyboard is faster, this is *not* true. There are multiple studies, not just those done at Apple, that show this is the case. Keyboard short cuts are *not* faster than using a mouse.

    So, do you want to believe what you believe, or do you want to look at the objective facts?

    Now, as to why people perceive the keyboard as faster, that’s a relatively deep question about human perception. And another is why people won’t go check what others have spent lots of time and money investigating.

  33. It seems like muscle memory is an important part of using a mouse as well. That muscle memory can help you get to the general vicinity of where you want to go and then a very specific application of hand eye coordination gets you the rest of the way. You may be able to break this down into specific mouse gestures.

    Also, you (hopefully) can do a lot better than locating just 5 pixels. You can locate many “areas” of the screen quickly with a flick of the wrist.

    As an example, try a game with an invisible cursor:

    I’m an efficiency fanatic so I make a coordinated effort to learn keyboard shortcuts. But when I get away from text editing I find that a lot of what I do is efficiently done with a mouse.

  34. To those berating the Mac’s single-button mouse. Come ON!!! This is 2007. I’ve been using multi-button mice on Macs for over 10 years… and I still prefer the keyboard. It’s not about additional modifier keys, since on the Mac these are based around CMD as the main key with shift/option/ctrl as additional modifiers. The advantage the Mac has over Windows systems is it’s sensible system of mnemonic devices for kbd shortcuts. For instance, Save is CMD-S, Print CMD-P, Quit CMD-Q etc… these are global, meaning that you learn them once and they apply to all applications you use. The more apps you use the more shortcuts you actually learn, not the other way around. If I have to use a Windows machine all day I end up with RSI in my left hand from the silly stretch you have to attempt to the CTRL based shortcuts or having to contort my hand into some strange shapes for the ALT based ones. With the Mac the CMD key sits under your thumb, so for most shortcuts it’s not an uncomfortable task. Seriously. I’ve been using these machines for up to 18 hours a day over 20 years and a Mac has never once given me any form of RSI whereas my Windows PC’s often give me tendon pains after a mere 4 or 5 hours.

    Spot on article, and for David VomLehn, I think you’ll find that if you carry out tests on subjects – half of whom know exactly where in menus features are and half of whom know the keyboard shortcuts for those features, the keyboard jockeys win hands down everytime. I’m sorry, but that’s fact – try reaching from your keyboard now and getting to File>Quit or hitting a close gadget and consider how much quicker it is to just key CMD-Q with your left hand… even if you have a head start and your right hand is already on the mouse, having your left hand on the keyboard makes the shortcut faster.

    If anything, I think one major issue with the QWERTY kbd design is that there isn’t a left-handed version avaiablle (ie: POIUYTREWQ rather than QWERTYUIOP) just as there are left handed mice (or even the option in modern OS’s to switch left/right mouse buttons for lefties)… this would allow them the same keyboard shortcut freedom the rest of us have.

  35. The fallacy that this article seems to fall into and that the commenters mostly accept is the idea that interfaces have to be either/or. As Apple’s own Human Interface Guidelines used to recommend, a program ought to have both a mouse-related and a keyboard-related version.

    I take this instead as a plea for interface designers to stop neglecting the “power user” keyboard commands, to pay more attention to how the commands can be accessed through keyboards.

    In Mac OS X, for example, I can navigate the Save and Open dialogs entirely by keyboard, using tricks like Command-Up Arrow to go to the directory above, Command-D to reach the Desktop, Command-N to create a new subfolder (which the dialog then enters), and so on.

    Accomplishing these tasks in most Windows programs requires many more keystrokes to tab to the button, tab back to the window, change the name of the new folder, enter the folder, and so on. In Windows I can even rename other files and do other tasks not related to saving or opening the file, something I consider a ticking time bomb.

    I think the argument is valid: stop thinking solely about the mouse, and pay more attention to improving the keyboard-based interface.

  36. I would like to re-iterate for those of you who keep flaming me for trying to get rid of the mouse. Despite my flippant title, I am not trying to get rid of anything. I am just trying to raise the question of whether we’re using the right tools for the right jobs.

    And for those bothered by my site’s color scheme/size/watever, I’m still working on it. Calm down and I’ll have something more usable up shortly (even if it *is* just the default WordPress theme).

  37. Yeah, why no pie menus? Also no mention of Analogous Key Arrays, altho those aren’t as well known.

    Take a look at Archy for a keyboard-only interface.

  38. I was saving the pie menus for my mouse article (to be balanced against these keyboard menus).

    I mostly approached the “traditional” uses of the mouse here, and pie menus aren’t very mainstream, despite their vast superiority over linear menus. Despite M
    r. Nelson’s allegations, it was not, in fact, a consequence of ignorance.

  39. hejdig.

    Good article. Well written.

    There is a best of both worlds I believe, to let the user choose between mouse and keyboard. And this solution is already in use in well behaving applications in Windows.

    Like this:
    Start Microsoft Word. Type away.
    To save either: grab mouse-click(-click)
    or if you use the visual clues: alt-f-s
    or if you have decided to remember: ctrl-s

    The above is an example.

    Shortcuts like (alt-f-s) don’t have to be remembered, they are easily visible in programs that follow the rules of Windows (if the user hasn’t turned off the underscores witch unfortunately is standard in WinXP)

    Use Opera as browser and mouse gestures and easy ways to manipulate fonts and colours will make other-screen-and-font-sizes-than-the-author-prefers easy to read anyway.

    Contrary to the writer I don’t believe “power users” use the keyboard. I am a programmer and so are my colleagues. Too many of them use the mouse to the extent that some programs they make are not usable by keyboard.

    Mainly I use the keyboard while working and mouse while surfing and doing continous stuff like drawing.


  40. while i do agree largly with the point you raise, i do feel that you are wrong in some key areas. Such as trying to find the mouse cursor, frankly this has never been an issue for me, i do play a lot of video games with my computer and maybe that is what sets me apart from you. My mouse skills are very good and while i do know and use a lot of the keyboard shortcuts available on the GUI i do find that i can do things just as quick with a mouse and even faster in some occations.

    The though of never using a mouse has never arised for me mainly because of gaming, things like copy and paste, the most basic of uses on the computer are definitly much faster with a keyboard, however if i had to move my courser with the keyboard all the way to the text i wished to copy, hold shift and select it all then Ctr C and Ctl V, i belive i would be swinging from the rafters of my house with my excriment all over the floor from the shock of the quick jerk of the rope around my neck snapping it quite nicley….

    the thought is definitly unique but the GUI without a mouse is a life i choose not to live.

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  45. Colin Perry: you’re showing ignorance. You don’t have to hold the up arrow and wait a whole minute to reach the beginning of the document. Ctrl-Begin moves cursor to beginning in most apps. If you don’t want to go to the beginning, but somewhere a long way up, use Page Up to make it 40 times faster than with the up arrow. And if you want to select *all*, there is Ctrl-A.

  46. I applaud your efforts and I can clearly see the potential in where you’re going with your idea.

    However, most people (and I generalize, but I’m prety sure I’m not far from the truth), aren’t touch typists, know exactly where every key is on their keyboard, or have good muscle memory. I’ve been using computers since the Morrow/Tandy days and while I can type very quickly, I still require quick glances at my keyboard. I’m not an efficient typist, nor is my memory able to memorize the keys even though it’s been years. BTW I’m a power user that prefers a mix of both mouse/keys. Recently 1/2 my keys have their printed letters worn away (I game a lot) and my mistakes in input have been horrifying. Muscle memory is definitely NOT there…and I’d hardly call myself an uncoordinated person.

    A person using many different and advanced programs would also have a veryhard time memorizing keyboard commands simply because, apart from general commands like “save” etc, most of the shortcuts and bindings are different from program to program. It also complicates matter even more when, to be efficient in one program, you set up bindings and macros that will deviate even more from everything else. That could explain why my memory of keyboard shortcuts are so horribly bad for a power user.

    Even the combo of using mouse + keyboard, no matter how efficient, will lose out to the mouse as a single input device in certain areas. One of which is that often times, we have the other hand occupied as well; eating a sandwhich, drinking, working a calculator etc…

    This idea you’re looking into is in terms of absolutes. You either use both hands or you’re crippled if you can’t use both hands.

    I can’t see the day I could hand over a computer with such a UI design to my mother, for instance, and not have her totally freak out and go catatonic because there are no cues. A lot of people who use computers use it as a tool to accomplish 1 or 2 functions and nothing more. Many don’t have the intention or interest to delve any deeper than they need to. To these people, CTR + V is considered pretty advanced. To these people, the use of CTR, ALT and SHFT are arcane and no amount of “education” or training is going to ge them to see it.

    UI, in many instances, is about designing to the lowest common denominator. By doing so, it makes it generally easy and generally efficient to use. The operative word is “generally”.

    The only groups of people I typically see using keyboards as a preferred input device are IT/Tech/Programmer types. Most people are in between (and a lot of power users fall in-between as well).

    Anything that requires a user to use 2 hands when 1 will suffice (apaer from typing), is not good UI design. It may be the most efficient, but it won’t be liked, understood or be “easy to use” by the general populace.

    I would dare to say that if it hadn’t been for the mouse, the personal computer would still be relegated mainly to businesses and IT professionals. Very few people would have it in their homes and very few, even still, would use it the way it is used today.

    So while the keyboard may be more efficient and faster (I don’t disagree), the mouse + graphical icons is infinitely more user-friendly to the layman than arcane button combinations that could or could not be consistent from one app to the next.

    And to a poster above about how we should learn to all touch type. It reminds me of when my mother used to get irritated with us because we didn’t have 20/20 eyesight like the rest of everyone in our family. She used to say, “Why can’t you just see properly like the rest of us! Just take off you glasses and see properly. You don’t need glasses.” Sure, if we actually had 20/20, I’d gladly throw away my glasses. The reality was I had 380/400.

  47. One thing I also forgot to mention is that at the very basic level of UI design, presenting a user with too many options at any one time tends to make them panic and/or freeze or go into bouts of indecision. In this way, a master menu bar with single column drop down menus breaking up options into visually digestible segments is more user friendly than providing a whole page or 1/2 page of info all at once. It’s information overload. Too many options all at once.

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  49. What about the START button for finding menus in the first place?

    Fitt’s Law surely indicates that it is far easier to right-click in the (root-window) background than it is to have to hit that itty-bitty piece of real estate all the way across the (2560×1600-physical, 3200×2400 virtual, in my case) screen.

    That practice goes back as far as I’ve been running a windowing system (SPARC 2 in the early Nineties); the way window-manager developers have been abandoning it in favor of the Windoze “find the start-button” approach is HCI-idiocy.

    I’m talking about *you*, KDE4.

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