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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shift, caps lock, and usability
by RandomGuy on Sun 11th Nov 2007 18:34 UTC
RandomGuy
Member since:
2006-07-30

I think this might be yet another issue that confuses new computer users but is actually helpful for pros.
Ok, modal dialogs _are_ evil in that they limit what you can do without any reason.

But I think we shouldn't focus too much on the disgusting caps lock key. 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.
Instead it sits right there on your beautiful home row, along with keys you use at least a million times more often.

But I think modes per se are a good thing even if they cause mode errors from time to time.
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.

I haven't used emacs or vim nearly enough to decide which is saner but I am constantly annoyed by the damn shift key. The problem is that I stop pressing the shift key long before the other finger can reach any of the non home row buttons and it only gets worse with time. I guess my brain is just hopelessly modal and I cannot get used to holding down the shift key for so long. So if anybody knows, please tell me:
Is there any way to alter the function of the shift key so that you don't have to hold it down while typing the character that you want to be uppercase?
Not like the damn caps lock, mind you, it should only turn the very next character into uppercase, not everything you type after pressing it.

Edited 2007-11-11 18:35 UTC

Reply Score: 2

umccullough Member since:
2006-01-26

Is there any way to alter the function of the shift key so that you don't have to hold it down while typing the character that you want to be uppercase?

Some operating systems have "sticky keys" for accessibility assistance...

In Windows for example, you can turn on sticky keys and other accessibility options by hitting the shift key 5 times in a row to bring up the settings dialog.

Reply Parent Score: 4

RandomGuy Member since:
2006-07-30

Thanks so much!

Although it is sort of embarrassing to find out your laziness is so extreme that you have to click on the wheelchair icon ;)

Reply Parent Score: 2

Doc Pain Member since:
2006-10-08

" 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. :-)

http://www.pfu.fujitsu.com/hhkeyboard/kb_collection/images/symbolic...
http://home.hakuhale.net/rbc/symbolics/symbolics-keyboard.JPG

Edited 2007-11-11 20:24

Reply Parent Score: 2

RandomGuy Member since:
2006-07-30

Yeah, good old xmodmap. I'd be so screwed without it...
That symbolics keyboard is hilarious!
Of course, I don't remember it - it's probably older than me.
Hilarious nevertheless!

It's a shame that today most keyboard manufacturers seem to lack creativity to do something different - other than sticking a few more media keys on the stupid thing.
One thing I'd love is a split space bar so that I could use the right part of it as a space bar and the left as a control key or whatever...
Of course it'd need a jumper to make it usable by left handed people - assuming that most right-handed people prefer to use their right hand to press the space bar like I do.
The function keys are great and all but there's not a snowball's chance in hell that I can reach them without leaving my home row...

Reply Parent Score: 2

Thom_Holwerda Member since:
2005-06-29

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


The new Apple keyboard "senses" accidental hits. You need to press it slightly longer for it to activate itself - which in itself can be annoying when you do in fact need the caps lock key.

But nice effort nonetheless by Apple.

http://rentzsch.com/notes/applesantiCAPSLOCK

Reply Parent Score: 2

RandomGuy Member since:
2006-07-30

The idea by itself makes a lot of sense.
Apple's mostly about making things easy and usable for the general public.

I wonder what they've been smoking, though, because they're doing it _in_hardware_.
I mean, I know about Apple being a hardware manufacturer but still 250ms is a _long_ time if you type reasonably fast and remapped the key.

And if somebody buys Apple stuff and (also) uses a different OS I'd say there's a significant chance that he has remapped caps lock to escape or control...

I also wished they were being more transparent about this matter because this is the first time I've heard of it and if they decide to silently introduce this hardware feature to macbooks there will be some people screaming bloody murder.

Then again, no matter what Apple does, there's always some screaming and bitching ;-)

Reply Parent Score: 2