Why is inline autocomplete disabled by default?


Earlier versions of Internet Explorer used inline autocomplete, but newer versions use drop-down autocomplete that requires you to press the down-arrow key to select an item from the drop-down. Why the change?

Because it interferes with normal keyboard operation.

Suppose http://www.microsoft.com/windows/ is in your history, but you want to go to http://www.microsoft.com/. As you type the desired destination, inline autocomplete kicks in and fills in the remainder of the URL for you, http://www.microsoft.com/windows/. If you aren't watching the screen and just hit Enter, you end up going to the autocompleted URL instead of the URL you typed. Oops.

To me, this is a fatal flaw, namely that one has to be watching the screen to perform an operation that one would think consisted purely of typing. In particular, this creates problems for people with limited visual capability who necessarily "type blind" most of the time.

Even using Tab as the autocomplete character suffers from the same flaw. Consider the Run dialog or IE's address bar. In those places, the Tab key moves you around the window. (To the OK, Cancel, and Browse buttons on the Run dialog, or into the web page itself for IE.) If the Tab key were the autocomplete completion key, it wouldn't be possible to Tab around the dialog/window any more. For example, suppose you want to browse around your C drive, so you type C:\ into the Run dialog and hit Tab three times to get to the Browse button. But, oops, the Tab key autocompletes, so instead of browsing C:\, you're browsing whatever directory in your C: drive the autocomplete engine decided to show you.

Comments (33)
  1. Gene says:

    So how do you re-enable it? I had no clue that could be done and I was just stuck with crappy (to me – personal opinion) autocomplete.

  2. YoNoSoyTu says:

    That is the default behaviour of Safari in Mac OS X and it drive me nuts. Nobody is perfect.

  3. Anonymous Coward says:

    Sweeeeet! Thanks so much for fixing this, that behavior drives me insane.

  4. Gene: Start -> Help and Support -> "enable inline autocomplete" -> #1 hit

  5. Ytram says:

    Okay, having a real pain in the butt getting this posted for some reason.

    I was basically going to say that inline AutoComplete doesn’t work exactly as Raymond stated. It will only fill in each important substring, not the entire URL unless the entire URL is just a single domain. In general:

    http://www.domain.com/subfolder1/subfolder2/…/subfolderN/somepage.html

    If you start typing http://www.domain.com, IE will only inline complete the domain part of the URL. If you start typing subfolder1 it will only complete subfolder1, and so on until you get to the final slash in the URL in which case it will start trying to auto-complete the final page in the URL.

  6. This is IMO one of the lamest ‘improvements in VS 2003 : same inline autocomplete in File/Open dialog. How the hell do you easily open a .h file ? autocomplete always wants to open the .cpp :-(

    I hope this is ‘fixed’ in VS 2005

  7. Vitor says:

    I just don’t understand why isn’t inline autocomplete only doing what you want, which is the main domain "http://www.microsoft.com"?

    Isn’t that possible? I mean, that’s what most people would want anyway.

    And if they really want a section of the site, then inline autocomplete would include "/windows" if the user types the "/" after the domain name.

    Why is this so hard to do?

  8. Uhrak says:

    .. especially when everybody other does that already.

  9. Ytram says:

    Vitor and Uhrak: Read my comment above, that IS how IE works with inline auto-complete. Except that a user typing in http://www.microsoft.com/ will still just auto-complete to the domain name. Auto-completion after the domain will not occur until they start typing something after the slash.

  10. mph says:

    I have a slightly different beef with IE6 autocomplete.

    Let’s say I want to go to http://www.microsoft.com. I start typing in the address, but I make a typo:

    http://www.n

    At this point, IE autocompletes the URL to, say, http://www.newegg.com. But I’m typing blind, and can feel that I hit the wrong key. I hit backspace to delete the "n" and hit "m", like I meant to. But the backspace actually just deletes the part that autocompletion filled in ("ewegg.com"), so I now have:

    http://www.nmicrosoft.com

    Twenty years of experience hitting backspace when I make a typo, and it no longer works. Worse yet, there’s a race condition: Sometimes I realize my mistake before autocomplete does its thing, and sometimes I don’t. The effect of hitting backspace depends on which happens first.

  11. Skywing says:

    mph: Actually, for me (when using IE6), backspace deletes the character I typed last and not the autocompleted text, which is not actually included in the text field until I hit the down arrow key to accept autocomplete suggestion.

    The shell Run dialog works the same way for me, too.

  12. Raymond is spot on – inline autocomplete is lousy. Now someone send this blog post to the Office team — Office’s Open/Save As dialogs STILL use inline autocomplete and I get a twinge of irritation every time I have to use its dialogs.

  13. mph says:

    Skywing, I don’t know a lot about MS products, but for me it works as I described. I’m using IE 6.0.2800.1106 on Windows 2000.

  14. Jerry Pisk says:

    VS 2005 (and possibly earlier versions too) has another "feature" like this – Intellisense uses the first option in its list even if you don’t select it and hit tab. Forget about getting a tab inserted. I filed a bug report but it was closed as "by design". Oh well.

  15. Mark Steward says:

    mph:

    Windows XP by default appears to disable inline autocomplete (so only the drop-down menu appears), whereas I remember 2000 having it enabled by default.

    Try changing it in IE’s Advanced Settings – I’m pretty sure the change applies to the Run dialog box too.

    I too get annoyed by Office’s messy Open box (looks ugly, doesn’t copy the rest of the system, ect ect). It should do its own stuff only on old platforms (e.g. Win9x).

  16. mph says:

    Thanks, Mark! Inline autocomplete can indeed be disabled in the advanced settings.

  17. Rowland Shaw says:

    More annoying is typing a UNC path in Windows Explorer’s address bar, just to have it ‘select all’ whilst typing, with the net result of removing the first half of the hostname and or sharename.

    Consistantly annoying.

  18. Puckdropper says:

    Would [CTRL]+[TAB] work for autocomplete in dialog boxes? IMO, it’s easier to hit those two keys rather than the down arrow (which, on a standard 101 key keyboard requires moving your hands from the alphabet keys to another part of the KB altogether.)

    I just tried [CTRL]+[TAB] and it worked the same way as just [TAB].

    To the Windows teams’ credit, Windows has always been excellent about providing an easy way to navigate around with either keyboard or mouse. Since I don’t have space for a mouse on every machine I’m working on, I usually just plug in a keyboard and go.

  19. e says:

    Whoa! There’s a "Browse" button in the Run dialog? I think I use that dialog 50 times a day. I never knew it existed.

  20. Ctrl+Tab is the "change tabs on a property sheet" hotkey. Using it for autocomplete means that an autocomplete inside a property sheet would have a hotkey conflict.

  21. Cooney says:

    It’d also change tabs in Firefox and, I assume IE7.

  22. Sylveste says:

    Personally I make sure to always enable inline autocomplete because I like the fact that it saves me time and generally gets it right.

    Yes, I have to look at the screen when I type. No, I don’t find this a problem.

    However, the IE implementation is much better than the firefox one – the IE one just fills in the relevant substrings as mentioned above, whereas the firefox one just fills in the last complete URL you typed and doesn’t do any splitting on slashes, as well as having a few other flaws.

    In general I find the IE and MS implementations to be very useful and always inline autocomplete.

  23. Norman Diamond says:

    The new autocomplete has problems too. I’m glad that the old autocomplete defaults to off now, for the same reason you stated. But in the new autocomplete, when IE automatically opens a dropdown box and highlights one of the entries, the highlight is false. A frequent example: I type http://k and as soon as I hit the k, IE displays a dropdown box with the entry for http://kakaku.com/news highlighted. I hit the Enter key, IE tries to open http://k which doesn’t exist, and then either gives a DNS error or sometimes I stop it first. If I backspace out of the k, press the k again, and use arrow keys to move downwards and then back upwards in the dropdown list, then the highlighted entry is really selected.

  24. Ulric says:

    The behaviour in Safari, i.e. the old IE behaviour, also drives me mad. I am fighting the autocomplete *every day* as described in the log entry, for example to go to the main page of my blog vs the /wp-admin sub-page (which I had to type in originally ).

  25. Neil says:

    "Even using Tab as the autocomplete character suffers from the same flaw."

    So why hasn’t this one been disabled yet? I’ve had to learn the Alt+F shortcut for Open as Web Folder because I find Esc, Tab confusing – I expect Esc to undo the autocomplete and Enter to finish the autocomplete without submitting the dialog.

  26. m,f. says:

    To: Norman Diamond

    Yes, that happened to me countless times (when i used to use IE…)!

  27. Hexar says:

    Inline autocomplete annoys the crap out of me. Excel 2003 still does it too, according to previously entered fields elsewhere in the worksheet. This is annoying; let’s say I have a previously filled out cell called "Foo Bar" and now I want to enter "Foo" in a cell. If I just type "Foo", and press enter, then "Foo Bar" gets entered. Great. The best method I have for avoiding this is to type "Foo", hit the spacebar, then hit backspace, and this will disable autocomplete long enough for me to move on.

  28. Dan McCarty says:

    Want to go to microsoft.com in IE? Just go to the address bar and type "microsoft" then hit Ctrl+Enter. IE auto-adds the "www." and ".com" parts of the URL and loads it.

    The words offender of auto-complete IMO isn’t IE, but the Run dialog. So it pops up a list of most-recently used items, but to select them you have to use your mouse or move your fingers over to the arrow keys. It makes the list useless; it’s faster for me to just type the entire path. Raymond’s argument against using Tab is easily countered by using Esc to dismiss the list, then using tab to move to another control. Or just use Alt+b.

    BTW, to the haters of auto-complete: once you get used to it it really is faster (honestly, they didn’t do all this research and come out with a technology what was slower). But if you’re not used to it or don’t understand how it works it will slow you down and frustrate you. For most apps that have some kind auto-complete feature there is a way to turn it off.

  29. David Walker says:

    Hexar: That’s an option under Tools/Options, on the Edit tab, called "Enable Autocomplete for cell values". At least that’s where the option lives in Excel 2000; Excel 2003 should have it in a similar place.

    If a software product like Excel has a feature you don’t like, such as Autocomplete, it might just turn out that opening the product’s Help and typing in some word like, oh, let’s say, Autocomplete (in the Answer wizard OR the Index, either one) will reveal a topic called "Turn on or off automatically completing entries in columns". The answer to changing the behavior is both discoverable and documented!

  30. Norman Diamond says:

    Ooooooh yeah, did someone say Excel? I haven’t tried Excel 2003 yet, but here’s that really neat autocomplete feature in earlier versions. The way the IME works, often the Enter key is the only reasonable way to confirm the selected Kanji or even the plain input hiragana or katakana. And in Excel, one press of the Enter key both does a confirmation to the IME and an unwanted autocomplete confirmation to Excel. Then you can’t even just do a single backspace to back out of the unwanted autocompletion, you have to back out one character at a time (or use the mouse to select the autocompleted portion). Why doesn’t it take two separate presses to do these two unrelated operations? One keystroke to use the IME as normal. Then offer the autocompletion and accept one more Enter keystroke to confirm or backspace or other input to kill the offered autocompletion. Fortunately I don’t have to use Excel every day.

    Oh and then there was the skilful typist who skilfully used autocomplete so that every program written by one person would be reassigned to join every program written by one other person, because both of those persons had the same first name. Didn’t even have to use the Japanese version of Excel to do that.

  31. mdi says:

    Ctrl+Tab is also used for switching beetween MDI child windows.

  32. Bit-cycling says:

    Whenever I install Windows on a new PC (which in my daily work happens fair more frequently than I care…

  33. Bit-cycling says:

    Whenever I install Windows on a new PC (which in my daily work happens fair more frequently than I care

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