Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sun 11th Nov 2007 15:52 UTC
Graphics, User Interfaces This is the fifth article in a series on common usability and graphical user interface related terms [part I | part II | part III | part IV]. On the internet, and especially in forum discussions like we all have here on OSNews, it is almost certain that in any given discussion, someone will most likely bring up usability and GUI related terms - things like spatial memory, widgets, consistency, Fitts' Law, and more. The aim of this series is to explain these terms, learn something about their origins, and finally rate their importance in the field of usability and (graphical) user interface design. In part V, we focus on modes.
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Doc Pain
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" Ok, modal dialogs _are_ evil in that they limit what you can do without any reason."

I know a whole administration application for healthcare (i. e. for psychologists) that has a main window it uses to show a wallpaper, and everything you do opens a modal dialog window that does not appear in the window list, so you can't minimize the application; furthermore, it repeatedly steals focus and foreground (in "Windows", both are the same). That's stupid.

"But I think we shouldn't focus too much on the disgusting caps lock key."

I don't know if it has been mentioned before in the discussion, and I think I didn't read it in the article, but I think it's worth mentioning why the caps lock key does only affect letters: It's because only letters have an upper case, which is called a capital, and caps lock means "capitals lock". This is a definition some of you may know from typesetting where you call uppercase letters capitals. The correct terms are majuscles (capitals) and minuscles (lower case).

On some keyboards, there's a key called "shift lock" whick exactly does what it promises: It sets the shift modifier into lock mode, so even number keys and other characters that are no letters are shifted - lowercase letters into uppercase and numbers into special characters.

"It's not annoying because you have no idea what's going on, it's annoying because 99.9% of the time you hit it by accident. This particular issue stems from the stupid keyboard layout rather than from the modal nature of the key itself. People wouldn't hate it so very much if it had a size and position like one of the function keys."

You're completely right. There are keyboard layouts where the caps lock key is located at the bottom line, right next to the space bar (IBM XT keyboard), and the control key is located between the left shift and the tabulator key. It's far more complicated to hit caps lock on such a keyboard by accident.

"Instead it sits right there on your beautiful home row, along with keys you use at least a million times more often."

I often use it after #define. :-)

Of course you're free to remap the keyboard as you like (using tools like xmodmap for example). And if you've got an IBM keyboard (1351865 et al.) or one built by Sun (type 5, 6, 7), you can remap them in reality, too.

"Having no modes at all is like cramming all functions of a programming language into a single namespace. It means that the individual identifiers/actions need to be more complicated - either just plain longer or you need to use quasimodes like "escape meta alt control shift", a term used to ridicule emacs."

And, of course, we now remember the famous symbolics keyboard with the modes shift, control, meta, super and hyper. :-)

Edited 2007-11-11 20:24

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