July 7, 2013

Simply hold the ctrl key and double click on any non-button area of the window chrome - not the contents”

I work with software, a lot.

It’s probably safe to say I live software. So I’m comfortable with the idioms of software development and software use. The older I get the more I care about software usability. Excuse me while I just explode with apoplexy here at utterly insane software usability design.

My partner teaches courses on how to write for the web. Her background isn’t technical, so for her, a computer is just a toolkit to get stuff done. One of the tools in the toolkit is LibreOffice Impress, the software libre alternative to Microsoft Powerpoint. (Personally, I detest presentation software because it prioritises format over content and it’s so widely abused, but that’s a separate rant.)

Anyway, I noticed she’d accidentally pulled the Slides” pane out of the UI into a separate window. I tried the usual stuff of dragging the window towards various nearly edges to get it to dock back into the main UI, to no avail. A bit of Googling turned up this solution: It’s necessary to hold the CTRL key while double-clicking on any non-interactive part of the undocked pane.

This is just beyond insane in so many ways I simply cannot find words to express my disgust at this user experience paradigm. It’s 2013. We’ve had graphical user interfaces since, I don’t know, 1985 on the Amiga and the mid-1990s on Windows PCs. There is no earthly reason, beyond utter contemptuous disdain for end users, to specify a user interface interaction that requires the user to hold down a meta key and perform an operation normally reserved for file icons. (When was the last time you double-clicked on a web app?) How am I supposed to figure this out? There is absolutely no cue provided by the interface to allow the user to discover this interaction by themselves. I can’t think of a single other user interface interaction convention which would lead me to try this warped combination of very specific actions all at the same time.

Is it the case now that interface designers are off the hook because no matter how obscure the steps required to perform an operation, Google will always serve up an answer provided to some other lost soul who previously found themselves in the same situation?

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