DevExpress Newsletter 29: Message from the CTO

02 June 2010

Here’s my message from the 29th DevExpress newsletter. A bit of fun this time:

Keep your hands on the keyboard

This morning I was writing a link-rich blog post that involved cutting and pasting URLs from Firefox into my document. I'd get to a point in the flow of the text where I wanted to link to extra information, switch over to Firefox, use Google to find the required web site, copy the URL, switch back to Word and paste it in as a link.

Sounds simple enough, except that my hands were wandering all over the place, from keyboard to mouse to keyboard and back again. The amount of time I was wasting was incredible. Trouble is: I'd forgotten -- or didn't even know in the first place -- what the keyboard shortcut for the address bar was in Firefox. And I use Firefox all the time, every day.

So I decided on an experiment. I looked up the keyboard shortcuts for the commands I use most often, practiced for a little while to make sure they started to gel in my autonomic nervous system, and then went back to my post. The next time I needed to add a link, it went like this: highlight the text that should be linked, Ctrl+K, Alt+Tab, Ctrl+K, type in the search term, Enter, multiple tabs to get to the entry I wanted, Enter, Ctrl+L, Ctrl+C, Alt+Tab, Ctrl+V, Enter.

Bingo. No searching for the physical mouse, no wiggling it to find the cursor on the screen, no tracking it to make sure you're pointing at the right place to click, and so on. Just some fairly simple keyboard shortcuts.

So, my question to you is: how keyboard-friendly is your application? We spend quite a bit of time optimizing for the mouse in our apps, but how much care have you spent on satisfying users who like using the keyboard?

And I don't just mean throwing in lots of Ctrl+Shift+this and Ctrl+Alt+that just to say "we're fully keyboard friendly". Take our Refactor Pro! for example: there is just one keyboard shortcut to remember. When you press it, Refactor! tries to work out whether there is just one possible command available -- in which case it executes it -- or many -- in which case, a context menu is displayed and you use the up/down arrow keys to select the option you want.

Take a moment to navigate your app with the keyboard. Was it a good experience?

(Video here. Extra bonus points for my really observant readers: the keyboard I’m waving around is a thin HP keyboard for one of their TouchSmart PCs, but the mouse is an Apple Mighty Mouse. It was the only one we had handy in the studio that wasn’t wireless.)

I was reminded of this topic this weekend (I recorded the video with Jeff a couple of weeks ago) because I was using a MacBook instead of my usual Dell laptop. Just for a change and also to experiment to see if I can live and work with a dual-mode machine: will my next laptop be a MacBook Pro? By default, the function keys on my MacBook were not F-keys but functions like brighten/dim screen, volume control, etc. Not only that, but certain of them were defaulted to Exposé functions. So there I was in VMWare Fusion and I pressed Shift+F10 for the context menu (the Mac’s trackpad having no right button) and my Fusion window shrank Exposé-style. Whaaa?

Sometimes the keyboard is your only barrier against the insane forces of darkness. Or something...

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