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
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

Doc Pain Member since:
2006-10-08

"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."

Oh, there are a few, let men mention this one: http://www.artlebedev.com/everything/optimus/

Or this one: http://pfuca-store.stores.yahoo.net/haphackeylit1.html

But what you see in the store is useless in most cases and will break after one year intensive use. I don't consider it normal use what most home users do - they usually don't touch the the keyboard unless it's completely unavoidable. The best keyboards I've used are the IBM 3270 style keyboards and their PC compativles, no stupid... erm "Windows" keys at all. :-)

"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..."

There are Dvorak keyboards with a split space bar, but I don't know if the two physical keys do return different signals...

"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."

I think keyboard design did not take left handers into mind until today... Just imagine, Return on the left, and the numeric keypad on the very left. Interesting scenario.

"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..."

That's true, of course, but not intended as well. You might find the "Happy Hacking Keyboard" interesting because its concept of the Fn key for the function keys (layered on top of the number keys, I think).

A similar approach could be seen in the 70s before the 3270 (or kind of) by IBM, I can't tell you the model, it's down in the cellar. On this keyboard, there was an Alt button right next to the space bar which made 1..0 act as PF1..PF10.

Oh, and don't forget what Cherry (in Auerbach / Oberpfalz, Germany) offers: http://www.accesskb.demon.co.uk/cherry.htm - see the G80-2100, G80-3190 and G80-5000, and maybe the G80-11900.

Actually, I'm typing on a Sun type 6 USB keyboard. No comparison to the IBM - http://www.theochem.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/~axel.kohlmeyer/pics/ibm-key... -, but the programmable function keys on the left and top right indemnify a lot. Similar to this one - http://www.sunshack.org/data/sunpix/type6_kbd+mouse.jpg - but in german layout.

As an addition to one of my former posts:
http://wotsit.thingy.com/haj/images/ibm-keyboard-2.jpg
This is where IBM put the caps lock key on the original XT keyboard.

Edited 2007-11-11 21:53

Reply Parent Score: 3