Why does Windows hide keyboard accelerators and focus rectangles by default?


The release of Windows 2000 introduced a new setting: "Hide underlined letters for keyboard navigation until I press the Alt key," which defaults on for most Western languages. What's the story behind this setting?

I still have the rationale from the user interface designer who introduced this feature. Here's a redacted copy:

To support our goal of greater simplicity, we plan to suppress keyboard navigation indicators by default. Don't be frightened...

The idea is to reduce visual noise in Windows, namely focus indicators and access key underlines in menus and windows. Aesthetically, these things are distracting and intimidating. Functionally, they're only useful when you're navigating by keyboard. They don't add significant value when you're just using the mouse. In fact, they're often redundant.

Why now? Every good thing must start somewhere. Windows will look cleaner and simpler.

What's so bad about the way things are? Access key underlines are largely underutilized and are often redundant with Ctrl+ shortcuts within the same menu. There's no indication that you have to type the Alt key to use these shortcuts. Plus, it's just odd to see characters underlined within text all over your display. Focus rectangles lack graphic integrity, and they're often redundant with the highlight on selected items or the default button.

Of course, the keyboard indicators will come back when there is any demonstration of keyboard navigation by the user. The indicators will appear and disappear appropriately. Finally, if you don't like the behavior at all, you can disable it from the Display control panel.

For what it's worth, this is one of the things I [the interface designer] came to Microsoft to fix.

An additional point not mentioned in the original rationale is that with the rise of the web browser as the primary use of a computer, users have increasingly been conditioned to treat underlined text as "Click me" rather than "Use me in conjunction with the Alt key to activate this item".

The thing about seeing randomly-underlined letters all over the screen is a point many technically-inclined people miss. To a typical user, all these indicators scream "Entering a propeller-head zone!" and "You are not smart enough to use this computer."

What does frustrate me about this setting, though, is not its design but its implementation. Using the arrow keys to navigate a pop-up menu doesn't appear to count as a "demonstration of keyboard navigation by the user", which is particularly frustrating since you can't use the Alt key to make that demonstration, for the Alt key dismisses the menu! To see what the keyboard accelerators are for a pop-up menu, you have to find a way to cause the menu to pop up based on a keyboard action (usually hitting Shift+F10 when focus is on the appropriate element). This is often harder than it sounds.

Comments (92)
  1. Neal C says:

    "…you have to find a way to cause the menu to pop up based on a keyboard action (usually hitting Shift+F10 when focus is on the appropriate element)."

    Granted not everyone might have one of these, but doesn’t the right-click key on the keyboard (between right-Ctrl and right-Windows) accomplish the same thing as Shift-F10, only without hand contortions? :)

  2. linuxrocks says:

    I sometimes think that Linux takes the right approach to computer users. On any system, it’s easy to screw things up if you click blindly, and some visual indication of this will discourage people from fiddling around until they have read all the manuals, kernel sourcecode, newsgroups, IRC, kernel disassembly, internet and so on. Seems to me if you have a machine with a butt ugly GUI with a load of xterms on it with single character prompts, ignorant users are much less likely to do anything until they are absolutely sure that it’s safe.

  3. George says:

    Doos these meen the automatic robot software that dose the replay actioning like user must to wait between the ~ALT and the shortcut key or dose the functional stick like it was before. Thanks you very much in advantage.

  4. Centaur says:

    I am concerned that without access keys underlined, users do not discover them, thus missing out on productivity.

    And speaking of popup menus, much of the software out there does not provide any keyboard means of invoking them.

    By the way, it is a shame that system commands Minimize, Maximize and Restore do not have keyboard shortcuts. I have to resort to third-party software to bind them to Win+Down, Win+Up and Win+Home.

  5. George says:

    Please to help me with question. All is gone if it not work these way. All children go without the help.

  6. Kin says:

    > Seems to me if you have a machine with a butt ugly GUI with a load of xterms

    Most modern distros have automated most of the tasks and a modern gnome or kde desktop is all but ugly. Linux GUI is ugly just as Windows is unstable. That is : not anymore.

    In particular, an basic level user will find his way in a Linux desktop pretty easily. Where Linux (or better KDE/Gnome) usability fails is for the average-skilled users – those who know more than the basic totally unskilled ones but less than experts who can overcome usability problems anyway. Particularly problematic is the fact that the average-skilled user is probably the most influential one since he is the one who educates the unskilled ones (he is the guy next door who knows about computers ..)

  7. Ivo says:

    To maximize a window I use Alt+Space, X. All 3 keys are conveniently right next to each other.

  8. George says:

    Please to help. I run the robot to make the fingers move and the ALT+shortcut must to work in the ms range. Why is these all go wrong. Will have none for the children. Make me the answer for helping the test. What else can i? Thanking you all in advantage. George

  9. asdf says:

    Is this the same UI designer responsible for getting rid of menus or putting them below toolbars?

  10. KenW says:

    George:

    What on earth are you talking about?

  11. This is yet another thing that people get wrong when they decide that they’re going to roll their own menu bar. Of the three applications with menu bars I have open all the time (Firefox, Outlook and the Perforce GUI client), only one correctly hides accelerators unless activated with the keyboard. And if I used the platform-independent Perforce client written using Qt instead of the MFC one, I’m fairly sure that all three would get it wrong.

  12. David Heffernan says:

    "users are much less likely to do anything" – doesn’t that just sum up the Linux approach to users……..

  13. Nish says:

    You know what’s funny, Raymond? The Windows team takes pains to hide the menu accelerator keys by default. And the Office team writes a custom menu that shows them irrespective of the system settings – and then of course every 3rd party app out there has to follow suite. That to me, is freaking weird :-)

  14. John Topley says:

    "By the way, it is a shame that system commands Minimize, Maximize and Restore do not have keyboard shortcuts. I have to resort to third-party software to bind them to Win+Down, Win+Up and Win+Home."

    Minimize: Alt + Space, N

    Restore: Alt + Space, R

    Maximize: Alt + Space, X

  15. George says:

    What am I talking is about the automated user of the applications must in the short time use the shortkeys to the application make movements. The automated robot must use the ms time for these and not be afraid it go after the ALT and before the keys. The children will fall down and must be hit with the keys then before the time is late. If the keys are not there because these is more than a facial for these Microsoft nor a functional then the children will be gone. Please to help. Test with the robot and cannot hit the children quick in time. Is OK to understand these?

  16. swe dude says:

    > Minimize: Alt + Space, N

    > Restore: Alt + Space, R

    > Maximize: Alt + Space, X

    Unlike non-menu keyboard shortcuts, those keys does not necessary work in all language (restore is Alt+Space,Å in swedish windows). And secondly, they cannot be typed as fast as real generic gui shortcuts.

    [I switch among English, German, and Swedish Windows regularly. The changing shortcuts is not a problem any more than the fact that the word ‘fast’ means something different in all three languages. You use the shortcut that matches your language. -Raymond]
  17. Georges friend says:

    Hi. George is trying to automate a sequence of user actions against an application like Outlook for functional testing. He is currently relying on shortcut keys for menu actions etc. The fact that the tool streams ALT+’shortcut key’ together seems to fail because of a delay on the application UI side. What George needs to know is if this is an aesthetic change or if it is also somehow functional involving timing related issues. What George needs is to ensure the automated replay of the users interactions with the application is not affected by the ‘aesthetic’ change, and if it is, to what extent he needs to cater for this in terms of time delay in milliseconds (ms). The ‘children’ are the menus that drop down etc. Hope this is clearer. Thanks.

    [This is a purely visual change. Any timing issues you may have are completely unrelated. -Raymond]
  18. George says:

    Is the ‘swe dude’ saying!!! I saying these problems for the automation. Is the ms. Thanking you in advantage.

  19. Adrian says:

    The rationale is pretty good, but in practice it just doesn’t work for me.  I find it distracting that some times the menus don’t show the mnemonics and other times they do.  Asynchronous message boxes and dialog boxes never have the underlines, so it’s hard to dismiss them with a keystroke.  (And is there a keypress to kill the annoying balloon windows that always seem to appear over the text you’re trying to read?)

    Turning off this "hide the underlines" functionality is one of the dozens of settings changes I have to make every time I set up a new computer.

    Personally, I find the mnemonics more consistently assigned, easier to learn, and easier to remember than shortcut keys.  I made a conscious effort to go back to mnemonics from shortcuts after sending several draft emails I intended to save by hitting Ctrl+S in Outlook.

    Now the trend seems to be to hide the shortcuts next to the menu items, presumably to further reduce clutter, but if you never show them, how will we ever learn them?

  20. One of the first things I do when I install Windows is enabled these hidden navigators.  I too wish Windows didn’t add this "feature."  But at least they gave us an option.

  21. swe dude says:

    A shortcut could be easy (short) and typed fast, like Ctrl+C. Or it could be long and typed slow, like

    Up-Up-Down-Down-Left-Right-Left-Right-ABAB-Start. Alt+Enter is an example of a good and fast shortcut with works in mediaplayers and consoles.

    Also, when typing a shortcut like Alt+Space,N the user has to press Space before pressing N. This does also contribute to a slower typed shortcut. Something like Alt+(Space + N) where N could be typed before Space would be better (faster typed).

    > Raymond: …changing shortcuts is not a problem…

    Not to you maybe. To other it is. Both to users and automated scripts. Ctrl+F in a document is usually “find text”, but in swedish Word it’s Ctrl+B (it’s still Ctrl+F in swedish Wordpad), do you find this convenient to?

    [I never even noticed the difference. It’s all automatic by now. But wouldn’t you consider it ethnocentric to use English accelerators for all languages? -Raymond]
  22. Kin says:

    >> Now the trend seems to be to hide the shortcuts

    Now the trend seems to be to simplify the use of the system for the most basic users at the expense of the expert users.

    Really, a number of these features is released every new version of the OS (or of the applications). It started since “hide the extension for known file types” up to absurd utilities like “desktop cleaning wizard” popping up automatically, finishing with new versions of the applications which MIGHT be easier to use for a completely ignorant but trample on every bit of knowledge an experienced user might have (read : the new Office GUI).

    Probably it’s the best choice on a marketing point of view (which btw is THE point of view, Windows is meant to be sold) but spending time each upgrade of anything to remove the check from a number of new options is a pain.

    [You’re certainly entitled to your opinion, but many experienced users disagree with you. You can look at Jensen’s blog for discussion of the new Office interface and how it is received by experienced users as well as novices. -Raymond]
  23. Kin says:

    >> Not to you maybe. To other it is. Both to users and automated scripts. Ctrl+F in a document is usually “find text”, but in swedish Word it’s Ctrl+B (it’s still Ctrl+F in swedish Wordpad), do you find this convenient to?

    Select All in italian Windows is Ctrl+5(numpad) instead of Ctrl+A, requiring training for people used to english versions (which often mean advanced users) AND the use of two hands (well, unless your fingers are longer than 25cm each,  which allows you to select all files easily, to write on a remote desktop without using vnc and to touch the back of your head when cleaning your nose..)

    [I’m always baffled by this “two hands” rule, since you’re supposed to use two hands to type Ctrl+A also! Or does nobody remember their touch-typing training? -Raymond]
  24. Eric Ch says:

    This is yet another one of those annoying features I hate. This and many other features are the first thing I re-enable with a clean installation of Windows.

    It seems that Microsoft is making Windows more and more "user friendly" but in my opinion is just making it harder for users to use their own machine. Check out my blog post about the power button in the Vista start menu as a clear example of a horrible user experience.

  25. Simon says:

    Presumably nobody has informed the Office team of this feature, since Outlook from Office 2007 B2TR underlines shortcut letters in their main menu options by default, and I can’t even find a way of turning this off.

    There really should be better sharing of usability research and decisions across the company, if you ask me.

  26. Ulric says:

    Surely it would be far more perverse

    to simplify the use of the system for

    expert users at the expense of the most

    basic users.

    But there is no proof that this makes the system simpler for basic user.  It’s simply a graphic designer decision.  It’s not true that these are "redundant" with "Ctrl+shortcuts", it’s a strawman argument.

    I have worked at reducing the UI noise in our UI as well, by eliminating lines.  But it’s not just about following basic rules.

    Compare Outlook 2000 to Outlook 2003.  

    In 2003 there is a lot of lines eliminated, but the UI is in fact much more noisy.  The toolbar, for example, is sharp and simple in 2000, while 2003 has a gradient that makes the toolbar look rounded and has more color and shading (there and elsewhere) and less lines.

    An amateur UI designer could say that 2003 is less noisy, but in fact it’s obvious that 2003 more noisy and the information is harder to read.  It hurts usability, but it’s prettied in a screenshot.

    That’s the difference between designing for print and designing for user interface, it’s a total other kind of talent that it takes.

    Also let’s not forget that menus got a whole lot more noisy in Office 2003, with the extra shading and colorful icons, making the  mnemonic issue even more irrelevant.

    Compare Photoshop UI with Corel PhotoPaint for more example of UI clarity vs graphic design.  Photoshop wins hands down.

    It’s really funny that Visual Studio has added two-keys keyboard shortcuts (CTRL+K,CTRL+W).  

    Menus in fact already provide these more advanced shortcuts in a much easier way to document and remember, with the Atl key!  Find In Files was Alt+E,I in VC++ 6

  27. Igor says:

    So, Rover in Technicolor® flipping book pages _backwards_ (probably to be more appealing to RTL reading order users) while you search for files is not distracting and tiny short lines indicating hotkeys under less than 1% of letters displayed on screen are such a distraction?

    IMO, someone out there certainly has some serious logic issues.

    [IMO, somebody doesn’t realize that different groups are responsible for each of those decisions. -Raymond]
  28. Here comes slow but eventual death of keyboard navigation.

    I fear many developers will simply not add keyboard navigation to their apps, because apps they are copying apparently won’t have them.  They simply won’t see it anymore, and it will be gone.

    Of course, you’d think that they develop apps by reading style guides, but you’d be wrong.

  29. Thomee Wright says:

    Or does nobody remember their touch-typing training?

    Interesting you ask.  I muse on the fact from time to time that the way I type is not the way you’re taught.  I use the left shift and control keys exclusively, and when I need to use one with Q, A, or Z, I hit the letter with my ring finger.  This has always felt much more natural to me for some reason.  I also tend to keep my right pinky finger near ‘ and enter, and always type P and ; with my ring finger.

  30. I’m really concerned about some of the ideas Microsoft’s current crop of UI designers have. Here’s a quote from Dave Vronay:

    “When we introduce new features to the OS, we have to take a very long term view. For example, if we want to move people from folders to queries, we can’t do that in one release – we need a 12-year plan. First we keep everything as is but promote searching and tagging, then 3 years later we add some persistent queries, etc. Then after 8 years we make folders no longer the default. Remove them after 10 years but make it so you can turn them on with an option. And finally kill them in 2020. Otherwise users and corporations cannot absorb the change.”

    He said "for example," but I think he is dead serious. The UI changes we see in Vista (hiding menus, hiding the folder tree, and encouraging people to search for programs or documents instead of choosing them from the start menu) are just the beginning.

    In the future, Windows will no longer be a real operating system. It will just be a browser.

  31. mikeb says:

    > Or does nobody remember their touch-typing training?

    Now you’re just making me feel old…  The Underwood I learned to touch-type on had no ‘Ctrl’ key.

    [Mine was an Adler. But you still should have learned to type capital letters by holding shift with the opposite pinky finger. Transferring this to the Ctrl key should not have required a PhD. -Raymond]
  32. David Walker says:

    Sean, your experience (as well as any other single person’s experience) may not really be relevant.  

    I use the Alt key accelerators, and the only reason I ever figured out what they were was that I noticed the underlined letters in menus back in Windows 95.  If I hadn’t seen the underlined letters, I probably never would have investigated to known about the Alt shortcuts.

    I also turn off this "hide" preference as well as turn off the "hide extensions for known file types" preference.  (The architect of this last "feature" thinks that people can memorize all the icons to distinguish the various file types?  Weird.  It’s hard to figure out when files with the same name appear in a folder.)

  33. Maurits says:

    Ctrl+5(numpad) … requires two hands

    Not on my keyboard… I have a right Ctrl key.

  34. JenK says:

    Simon wrote, "There really should be better sharing of usability research and decisions across the company, if you ask me."

    …and I laughed. Hard.

    What makes you think grunts in office and windows have reason to talk to each other? They’re in different buildings. Different orgs. Eat in different cafeterias.

    It’s a company of over, what, 50,000 now?

  35. JST says:

    Funny!

    "the right-click key on the keyboard (between right-Ctrl and right-Windows"

    I have *never* noticed this key before!  And I am a wool-in-died keyboard user of Windows.

    Amazing.  I am such a creature of habit.  What else is my semi-ossified brain not telling me about?

  36. [ICR] says:

    Personaly I don’t think seeing little underlines are going to prompt very many people into thinking "ooh, that must be a keyboard accelerator, and the logical key is…alt!" (obviously oversimplifying the process for humerous effect). But then again David Walker says thats how he found out, so maybe it does help a lot of people. I only found out when I watched my brother program and put &’s all over the place in his menu’s. I always put them in, but I’ve never used them.

    I think Alt shortcuts are indeed dieing. That may be because of the removal of the underline or something else, but I think that if it is it was an unforseen and unfortunate side effect, but the initial concept is a very good one.

    But then you have to remember Office 2007 has a very nice new Alt based menu navigation system, and as everyone always says, everyone copies Office.

  37. michkap says:

    Of course the whole thing got reversed in Vista, and turning this feature off is now an accesibility feature!

    http://blogs.msdn.com/michkap/archive/2006/09/28/774885.aspx

  38. [ICR] says:

    Oh, and I fergot to mention. I agree with David Walker that “Hide extension for known file types” is really quite stupid, but not just for the reasons he suggests. Ever need to create any sort of text based file that has a different extension? Have fun opening the text editor, making the file and then navigating to the folder and saving.

    [“Ever need to create any sort of text based file that has a different extension?” I don’t think my uncle has ever needed to do this. -Raymond]
  39. David Walker says:

    ICR: I didn’t immediately realize that the underlines were for keyboard accelerators, but I figured they had to serve SOME purpose, so I started digging around (or else I asked someone) and figured it out.

  40. David Walker says:

    Raymond: don’t you want novices to eventually learn that files in Windows have extensions?

    [“PCs are hard to use. I should’ve gotten a Mac.” Mac users don’t need to know about file type and creator codes, after all. -Raymond]
  41. Captain C says:

    Grr… You have no idea how many times I’ve had "missing keyboard accelerators/focus rects" reported as a bug in *our* software.

    I’m surprised the UI team doesn’t think that having a visual indication of the focus for items such as checkboxes and radiobuttons is helpful regardless of keyboard or mouse access…

    Please don’t "fix" anything else :-) – instead, leave it on by default and then give us the option of turning it off, or at least take the time to advertise properly a change that has such a large impact.

    Captain C (who’s been reading this blog for years and never been annoyed enuff to post before ;-)

  42. steveg says:

    Ulric said: "It hurts usability, but it’s prettied in a screenshot."

    Ne’er a prettier typo have I seen.

    David Walker: "I’ve never seen anybody use two hands to use control".

    I learnt to touch type on a clunky old manual (42wpm 100% accuracy… Backspace and Delete I curse you to the firery depths, you gave me speed but stole my accuracy) but long ago I gave up using both hands — there were sound mechanical reasons to use different hands (getting enough strength to get a solid A, Q or Z). You can spot people who used to use typewriters by how hard they wack the keys.

    Office 2007: various

    If you’ve used it and you don’t like it fine, but I recommend holding off forming an opinion until you give it a go. Jensen’s blog makes fascinating reading. They have IMO made a couple of mistakes, but overall it’s excellent — O2007 is a transitional release. Office 13 should be superb.

    Oh, hiding accelerator underlines? Dumb decision. Is the long term plan to remove the keyboard entirely?

  43. Ulric says:

    "For what it’s worth, this is one of the things I [the interface designer] came to Microsoft to fix. "

    I find that designer arrogant.  This is really just his personnal pet peeve, there is absolutely no proof that it simplifies windows or make it look less buzy in a way that is significant.  He’s probably some arrogant Mac user who thinks he came in to "fix Windows", that’s basically what he’s saying.

    The result of this change is that new applications aren’t developped with good keyboard mnemonic, when they have mnemonics at all, and often the keyboard navigation simply doesn’t work.  Because it’s off by default, it’s not tested.  Also, applications menues look different on different computers, harder to recongnize.

    The streight of Windows was precisly the productivity and speed.  A computer is not a trivial device, it does require some training and some stuff on screen is always going slightly technical.  

    Just because you got used to menus, doesn’t mean that it’s an easy concept and that the keyboard accel cues are actually scary and impeeding the use (or look!) of the system.

    There is absolutely nothing non-technical about menus, especially *context* menu, for god’s sake.  

    That’s where the arrogance of the designer comes in.  His pet peeve is that underlines are ‘ugly’ so they must be also scary and confusing to virtual users.  Well the rest of the system has much larger hurdles!  If you’re going to go down at that level, most of the stuff in the menus like "Save" are scary and confusing.  All the verbs, the structure is scary.  The underlines are harmless to usability.

    Learning to use the ALT key isn’t necessary, but it should be encourraged because it makes using the computer faster.  It’s what differentiated Windows from other OS, for god’s sake!  It’s not hard to make a colorful, pretty UI, you know.

    If Microsoft continue to gives up on technical users to go for the easy UI candy, it simply makes windows less revelant.  It’s a slap in the face for us supporters.  If it’s just as slow and good to live in the browser, or in OSX or a clone of it in linux, the user will just do that, making windows irrelevant.  Right now, it’s not the case.  Right now, one can get significantly used to windows keyboard productivity and not want to switch because of that.  Example: xcode vs Visual Studio, some of us can’t get any work done in xcode.  But the Visual C++ keep kicking us back since VC++, regressing our productivity for the sake of some hazy UI unification goals in the hands of designers that don’t seem to use the product,

  44. Ray Trent says:

    > Now the trend seems to be to simplify the use of the system for the most basic users at the expense of the expert users.

    Surely it would be far more perverse to simplify the use of the system for expert users at the expense of the most basic users.

    Geez… the people that want to use accelerator keys are *exactly* the same people that can find the setting to turn the dang feature off.

    Speaking of which, remind me again what hiding the underlines does to slow down an expert user that knows the accelerator keys anyway? (actually, I’m sure there is an explanation here, or I wouldn’t be so adamant about turning the feature off… but I’ll be damned if I can figure out what it is).

  45. DriverDude says:

    "Oh, hiding accelerator underlines? Dumb decision. Is the long term plan to remove the keyboard entirely?"

    IMO, the Mac has done that. Most of their menus and dialogs are not kybd-navigatable. That is one reason I hate the Mac UI: after I press Command-W (close Window) to close a document window, I must move my hand from the kybd to the mouse if I want to select "Don’t Save" (the question is "Do you want to save this doc?" and the default is "Save")

    That slows me down. Perhaps Apple did some research and determined that users must pause and think about the ramafications of discarding changes? Ugh!

    And no, not all menu items have accelerator keys; moreover, accelerators such as Ctrl-F10 can longer to type than something like Alt-F, S.

    I’ve often thought Windows is usable without a mouse and a Mac is useful without a keyboard. Both have handwriting recog. Therefore the obvious platform to build a tablet is MacOS.

    As for file extensions, I agree the conecpt of "extension determines type" is a headache at times. But even Mac OS seems to using extensions for type identification nowadays.

    -DD

  46. DriverDude says:

    Evidence that people aren’t learning kybd shortcuts: a popular IM and online harrassment trick is to tell an opponent "press Alt-F4 for instant life/porn/whatever"  Many people will do that and close their game.

    I also know people who cut & paste regulary using the menus. It’s almost painful to watch them reach for the mouse, move to the Edit menu and search for Cut – because different apps put Cut at different positions on the menu.

    -DD

  47. BryanK says:

    > Speaking of which, remind me again what hiding the underlines does to slow down an expert user that knows the accelerator keys anyway?

    Nothing.

    However, hiding the underlines prevents a novice user from ever becoming one of those experts.  The novice will never see that there *is* a shortcut, let alone what it is.  Now, this is not bad, if your goal is to keep users firmly in the "novice" category — but this seems like a bad goal for anyone to aim for.

  48. Anders Munch says:

    Alas MSWin doesn’t hide access key underlines until they are needed.  It hides them *when* they are needed. First, I look at the menu or the dialogue.  Then, I decide whether to use the keyboard or the mouse.  Then, finally, I might depress the Alt key.  At which point it’s too late to show the keyboard acc. underlines, because by then I will have already decided to use the mouse.  

    That unfortunate UI designer doesn’t know what simplicity is.  Omitting underlines entirely would be simple.  Keeping them on always would be simple.  Context-dependency plus a configuration option for old behaviour is not.

  49. Sean W. says:

    I’ve pondered this a little, sitting here reading the comments, and the more I think about it, the more I think this designer may, in fact, have been right.  I was distraught at seeing the Alt+keys missing when I first installed Win2K, and I’ve had them turned on ever since.

    But I’ve just asked myself whether I’ve actually *used* the Alt+keys, and the answer, to my surprise, is that I really don’t.  I’m a serious power user — a software developer — and a touch-typist, and to my surprise, I don’t use Alt+key stuff to do anything.  In fact, I seem to have an aversion to it, because seeing the flicker of the menus at the top when I hit those keystrokes has always been irritating to me (seeing the system menu pop up for Alt+Space drives me nuts; I wish there really were a Win+key to do those keystrokes and avoid the flicker).  Given that most good software these days includes other accelerator keys for all the important operations, the underlined letters really *do* seem to just be visual clutter.

    So…  I just turned them off.  They haven’t done me a whit of good since the Bad Old Days of Windows 3.1, so they’re gone now, and things do look just a little cleaner without them.  Who knew?

    Now all I gotta do is update my own code to observe this setting…

  50. David Walker says:

    Raymond says: "you’re supposed to use two hands to type Ctrl+A also"

    I have *never* seen anyone use two hands for ctrl/c, ctrl/v, or ctrl/x.  (I have seen people use one hand for this many times.)  

    Is ctrl/a different than ctrl/c in the number of hands required?

  51. Igor says:

    >IMO, somebody doesn’t realize that different

    >groups are responsible for each of those

    >decisions

    I am well aware of that but what is the point of one group removing GUI “noise” while the others are adding it?

    I mean just look at Vista, it looks like traditional gipsy dress — intense colors glaring at you all over the place.

    Wasn’t one of the interface rules not to use over-saturated colors?

    What about the common used options such as display properties, why that had to be tucked way out of reach?

    And that User Access Control popping out over the place is surely not distracting?

    It looks to me like Microsoft is intentionally hurting our ability to be productive with all those often completely unneccessary cosmetic changes when in reality under the hood we have the same engine — Windows XP SP2 code base == Windows Server 2003 SP1 code base == Windows Vista code base.

    Tell me something Raymond, are those different groups managed by the same head? Or the head doesn’t know what the tail is doing, and you can even take that literally in this case :)

    In the end it will be like in that old joke — build a system that even a fool can use and only fools will be using it.

    [I think you’re getting worked up over the wrong topic. The point is that underlines scattered all over the place makes it look like somebody dropped a pen on the screen. A dog on the other hand was clearly intentional. Whether the dog was a good idea is a separate topic. -Raymond]
  52. Drake Wilson says:

    DriverDude: there’s an option somewhere in the System Preferences, either under Keyboard & Mouse or Universal Access (can’t remember), that turns on keyboard access to dialog controls with Tab &c. just like Windows and GNU/Linux usually let you do.

  53. Stephen Jones says:

    Hiding extensions is the correct default setting. Without it too many people will rename their files to something that won’t open.

  54. Kin says:

    Ctrl+5(numpad) … requires two hands

    > Not on my keyboard… I have a right Ctrl key.

    Either you have the right hand on the letter part of the keyboard (an useless movement between it and the keypad) or on the mouse (same as above). In both cases you add an hand movement which slows you down.

    Also most shortcuts are on the left side (Ctrl+X,V,C,Z,S,W) and in most use cases, select all is followed by cut (Ctrl+X), copy (Ctrl+C), mouse drag (right hand on the mouse and not on the keypad); the only other common case is delete (either shift+del or del alone) which I admit is easier on the it keyboard.

    > Or does nobody remember their touch-typing training?

    I don’t know how it is in the USA, but here almost nobody have touchtype training, it’s only taught in secretary schools and in the past years (I don’t know after the PC revolution) on a completely different keyboard layout.

    Also even among secretaries, they seldomly apply touch typing rules when doing a series of shortcuts instead of real typing.

    Also I think the most common shortcuts for clipboard ops were moved/copied from Ctrl+Ins, Shift+Ins, Shift+Del to Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V and Ctrl+X because of this "one hand rule" (and maybe because another OS was using those combinations and a desireable user market was expecting those keys). Also Ctrl+Z for undo does make sense under this assumption.

  55. Goran says:

    I liked the change when I first was it in Win2000. I like it still (although I de-activated the option). I noticed it because I do use underlined letters to find keyboard shortcuts all the time. I agree with the designed guy (Ulric: though I have never really used a MAC, just clicked around in it).

    For whiners present here:

    C. Panel->Display->Appearance->Effects->Hide underlined letters…->Stop whining!

  56. ender says:

    [I never even noticed the difference. It’s all automatic by now. But wouldn’t you consider it ethnocentric to use English accelerators for all languages? -Raymond]

    Not at all – if I use the same program in different languages, I want to be able to keep using the same set of keyboard shortcuts (I’m a heavy keyboard user). If that’s not possible, you just wasted your time translating the program to my language, since I’ll simply stay with the English-language version (and I’ll recommend the same thing to people whom I help with computers, because I want to keep using the shortcuts I learned a long time ago – simply because force of habit is hard to break [I couldn’t get myself to switch from Shift+Del,Ctrl+Ins,Shift+Ins shortcuts to Ctrl+X/C/V, even though I’ve been using Windows for 12 years, and I only used DOS programs with those shortcuts for about 2-3 years before that]).

  57. [“Ever need to create any sort of text based file that has a different extension?” I don’t think my uncle has ever needed to do this. -Raymond]

    [“PCs are hard to use. I should’ve gotten a Mac.” Mac users don’t need to know about file type and creator codes, after all. -Raymond]

    Well, I’m not your uncle and I need to create and edit text-based files all the time that do not end in .txt — such as files that end in .bat, .cmd, .cs, .vb, .sln, .c, .h, .cpp, and .xml. And very often I need to specify whether they should be saved as ANSI or UTF-8 or UTF-16.

    And I find Windows *extremely hard* to use with the defaults set to simplify life for people who seldom, if ever, use Explorer. But I don’t mind spending a couple of hours “unhiding” things for their sake.

    But what I do mind is when I no longer have a choice! And with every release, something is removed. In Vista, we lost any effective way to *edit* file associations outside of the registry editor, among other things.

    Microsoft would do well to remember that technical users like me (1) still an important part of their market, (2) spend a lot of time helping non-technical users, and (3) tend to be avid supporters.

    [Technical users like you and me know where the setting is to change the default behavior. This is exactly what you folks ask for and then when you get it you’re upset. -Raymond]
  58. Windows User says:

    “[Mine was an Adler. But you still should have learned to type capital letters by holding shift with the opposite pinky finger. Transferring this to the Ctrl key should not have required a PhD. -Raymond]”

    What do you operate your mouse with, your nose?  left control with left thumb or pinky, appropriate key with whichever finger I can reach it with.  Unless I’m in a word processor using windows is not typing, it’s pressing A KEY to skip a mouse move+click.  Do you really move both hands back to the keyboard to select all files before going back to the mouse to drag them to a folder?  Is that the kind of thought pattern that a PHD produces?  Or are you overgeneralizing a single case to produce what looks like a clever comment?

    [I use my right hand to operate the mouse, but my hands stay on the keyboard most of the time. Obviously there are cases where one breaks the rules, in the same way you might operate the pedals on your car with the wrong feet if you catch your feet in an odd position. Perhaps I need to add BOCTAOE to the end of every paragraph. I was really hoping it wouldn’t come to that. -Raymond]
  59. Forrest says:

    "Hiding extensions is the correct default setting. Without it too many people will rename their files to something that won’t open."

    Doing a rename in Konqueror (the KDE Explorer equivalent) selects the name but not the extension.

  60. Francis says:

    "Aesthetically, these things are distracting and intimidating" is an absurd statement. I have never heard a novice user ever remark on the underlines. Book have page numbers, too–should we abolish those, too?

    Hiding accelerators by default was a terrible decision. I have never heard a novice remark on the "intimidating" underlines. Yet I have taught many a Windows newbie how to use them–and some of them have taken that to heart.

    Regarding the clipboard shortcuts: I believe they were "moved" to X, C, V for consistency with the Mac. Shame. SHIFT+DEL, CTRL+INS, and SHIFT+INS are next to all the cursor navigation and editing keys–so your hand doesn’t need to move when making the selection you copy or editing what you paste. This is a huge boon in, say, Excel.

  61. Cody says:

    Kin:  Where is here?

    I’m from the US and I was taught at school how to use a computer in 3rd grade – though that was mostly getting aquainted with a computer using Macs more than typing itself.  In 6th grade, at a different school (system), they taught us typing for a few weeks.  In 9th grade, at a different school (system), was another typing course that lasts a semester (imagine that).  (I skipped that one after proving proficiency.)

  62. Kin says:

    Kin:  Where is here?

    Sorry for not having included a geographical definition in that post. It was implied from previous posts that here = italy.

    Now you can learn computers in many classes. Typing, instead, is teached only in schools for secretaries, along with stenography and other things like those (unless something changed in the last 5 years – I’m not a teacher and thus I don’t know if there was some major update in school programs but I seriously doubt that).

  63. Sherrod Segraves says:

    "But wouldn’t you consider it ethnocentric to use English accelerators for all languages?"

    True, but when you change the accelerators you aren’t just changing the look and language of an application, you are changing its behavior.

    When I first had to use Japanese Windows 95/98, those ethnocentric accelerators were a life-saver. Even if I couldn’t read a menu, I could guess that the (F) menu was File, and the (A) item was Save As.

    But I grudgingly agree that it makes sense to localize accelerators as well.

  64. Larry Lard says:

    It’s interesting that the Office 2007 UI changes should come up in this discussion. From reading jensenh’s blog, I get the distinct idea that approximately a kazillion* years of testing with Real Live People went into what they did. From reading the rationale at the head of this post, I get the feeling that approximately zero years of such testing went into this designer forming his** opinion.

    jensenh’s blog spoke at length about how ‘focus groups have told us…’ or ‘our testing showed…’. Whereas the rationale looks like classic projection:

    "Access key underlines are largely underutilized [by me]… Plus, it’s just odd [to me] to see characters underlined within text all over your display"

    Even Raymond gets drawn in: ‘The thing about seeing randomly-underlined letters all over the screen is a point many technically-inclined people miss. To a typical user, all these indicators scream "Entering a propeller-head zone!" and "You are not smart enough to use this computer."’ Evidence, or just anecdote, or even just personal suspicion?

    * or maybe even a bajillion

    ** probably

  65. Centaur says:

    Localized accelerators are one of the reasons that I cannot use localized Windows and do not understand how anybody can use them.

    Here’s why. Windows in Russian has accelerators in Cyrillic. Cyrillic letters are entered using the Russian keyboard layout. Shell commands, file system object names and many other things are entered using the US keyboard layout. Thus, any nontrivial work requires a layout switch before using accelerators. And another layout switch afterwards. Now, how is “Alt+Shift (layout switch to Russian) Alt+A (accelerator for File menu) Alt+F (accelerator for Save As) Alt+Shift (layout switch to US in order to type the file name)” going to accelerate me?

    If Alt+letter keystrokes were consistently recognized no matter which layout is activated (as long as they do not conflict with each other), I might reconsider.

  66. Neil says:

    Ctrl+Num5 is even harder on laptops, where Num5 is typically Fn+K or some such.

  67. Sean W. says:

    [Sean, your experience (as well as any other single person’s experience) may not really be relevant.  — David Walker]

    Maybe.  But a collection of similar experiences represents a trend.  I offered my data point, which happens to contrast to other data points being offered here.  Maybe it’s unique; or maybe it’s part of a trend.  But unless I offer it, anybody trying to aggregate user experiences would have incomplete data.

    [“PCs are hard to use. I should’ve gotten a Mac.” Mac users don’t need to know about file type and creator codes, after all. -Raymond]

    This is one where I’m going to have to disagree with the Windows designers and agree with most of the voices commenting here.  The lack of file extensions may make the display easier to read for a novice, but from a security perspective, it’s among the worst decisions Microsoft has made (this fact has been commented on many times before).  The PC is not a Mac, and attempts to make a legacy filesystem design behave Mac-like are going to have problems no matter how you set it up.

    We have two evils here, and have to choose which evil is better:  Hiding extensions, where it’s easy for a novice to maintain the integrity of his filenames but where it’s also easy for him to accidentally run dangerous programs (such as seeing “Heidi.jpg.exe” appearing as “Heidi.jpg” among his e-mail attachments), or showing extensions, where it’s easy for a novice to damage his filenames but where it’s harder for him to accidentally run a program he shouldn’t?

    Both answers are bad, but I think that by making “hiding filenames” the default, Microsoft picked the more dangerous of the two — and I think that all the worms and all the bad security press Microsoft has gotten over the years about this is proof positive that it was the wrong choice.

    [Just goes to show that you can’t win. When usability is chosen over security (hiding extensions) you want security. When security is chosen over usability (UAC) you want usability. -Raymond]
  68. Igor says:

    Raymond said: "The point is that underlines scattered all over the place makes it look like somebody dropped a pen on the screen."

    I believe that underlines under navigation keys at least in dialogs are usefull, so I wouldn’t remove those. The ones in menus are rarely used so they should’ve made a distinction there.

    When I design a dialog I always make underlined hotkeys for every field. It is much easier to press Alt+key to switch focus than to TAB all over the place, or to have to move the hand to the mouse when you are already at the keyboard entering text.

  69. BryanK says:

    (such as seeing "Heidi.jpg.exe" appearing as "Heidi.jpg" among his e-mail attachments)

    Not only that.  You also get somebody creating a "Heidi.exe", which appears as just plain old "Heidi".  At least if the user sees "Heidi.jpg", they might wonder why this JPEG-icon file has these extra characters on the end of it, while the other JPEG-icon files that they’ve seen before don’t.  But if it’s just named "Heidi.exe", it’s completely indistinguishable from "Heidi.jpg" in every way.

    (And not even icons will save you there, because an EXE contains its own icon.)

    Regarding the UAC dialogs — those may get better eventually, as programs stop trying to call "protected" functions.  (Or however that’s implemented.  I’ve never used it, so I don’t know for sure.  The point is, eventually programs should stop trying to perform the more common actions that cause the UAC dialog to appear.)  Problems with users running executables because they think they’re pictures won’t ever get better until each user decides to change that setting.

  70. About focus rectangles…

    You can notice that FireFox and IE draws them differently.

    IE – if focus was set to the element as result of mouse click focus rect is not drawn. If you will press TAB only then it will draw that rectangle.

    FF – draws rectangles always.

    Personally I like behavior of IE better in this case. Reducing of "visual noise" is a good idea in general. It is more say humanistic.

    BTW: ——

    In my implementation of HTML/CSS engine (htmlayout) I was forced to invent new pseudo class in CSS to be able to define such visual behavior in CSS.

    button:focus { …. }

    button:tab-focus { outline: 1px dotted invert; }

    The later one is in effect only if element gained focus by keyboard. So far it works.

  71. Maybe a better default setting would to de-emphasize the underlines by making them a lighter color?  

    I could see them being a light grey color with a default grey background.

    To make it work anywhere, interpolate some new color between the foreground and background color, but much closer to the background.

    [Interpolation has two problems. (1) Requires at least 15-bit color depth. (2) Violates high contrast. -Raymond]
  72. Puckdropper says:

    Personally I like behavior of IE better in this case. Reducing of "visual noise" is a good idea in general. It is more say humanistic.

    Don’t reduce the visual noise too much.  There’s a difference between clear and clean.  For example, my work bench is clear.  There’s a dedicated space for working whatever it is I’m working on, but all around that space is various tools to perform actions with.  Soldering iron, paints, screwdrivers, etc.  It’s not clean, but it’s clear and very usable.  

    I don’t find the keyboard accelerators to be noisy, in fact they’re another tool to get something done.

    For those interested in Usability, might I suggest some reading?

    http://www.useit.com/

    http://www.asktog.com/

  73. Sean W. says:

    [Just goes to show that you can’t win. When usability is chosen over security (hiding extensions) you want security. When security is chosen over usability (UAC) you want usability. -Raymond]

    True, you’re not going to win on this one.  But I think one of those evils is worse than the other.  So which would you rather have as the result of your decision:  (A) Newbies complaining on newbie websites about renaming files and then not being able to open them, and answers in newbie FAQs about how to deal with exactly this problem; or (B) lots and lots of bad press about how insecure Windows is, regular e-mail worm outbreaks like the Anna Kournikova virus, and memos from Bill about how security needs to become job #1?

    Virus outbreaks and bad press coverage vs. occasional newbie confusion.  I know which of those I’d prefer *my* company had…

  74. Will says:

    Hi,

    Any way to completely disable focus rectangles in Windows XP? Yes even when a user hits the alt key. I hate the darn things!!!!

    Thanks,

    Will

  75. Peter Clay says:

    This thread seems to show that nowadays "intuitive" means "what the version of the software I learned to use did". Changing things to make them easier for the small number of new computer users at the expense of turning many of the previous experts into neophytes because their cheese has been moved seems like a bad idea.

  76. Adelle Hartley says:

    This debate reminds me of the time our 7 year old daughter brought home a book from school which contained no punctuation.  Apparently, littering sentences with strange marks such as ",. and ? can be confusing to young readers who have not yet learnt their meaning.

    The book was returned to the school with corrections, and our daughter knows how to use apostrophes correctly.

  77. Nekto2 says:

    "You use the shortcut that matches your language."

    It’s not a case for programmers. I have 3 languages installed and default is "en" (to type code and commands etc). So all native language shortcuts is not easy to type. Still I whould agree that I’m a minority of users. Novice are using native lang as default.

  78. Igor says:

    >Hiding extensions is the correct default

    >setting.

    No it is not. At least ntil Windows shell starts to recognize files by MIME type like BeOS did completely disregarding extensions.

    >Without it too many people will rename their

    >files to something that won’t open.

    So what? Let them sweat a bit, it is good for the brain.

    Or you think it is better to stay stupid and make the same mistakes all the time?

    If they rename a file and kill the extension they will learn they should not do that next time.

    “To error is human, to be able to really screw up you need a computer.”

    That means you should exercise certain amount of alertness and caution while working with it.

    Say no to being retarded. Say no to those who help you stay retarded.

    [Well, that’s one attitude to take. “Computers should be hard to use.” I guess you are also opposed to automatic transmissions since they allow stupid people to drive a car without understanding how it really works. And good luck getting MIME types incorporated into FAT and ISO-9660. -Raymond]
  79. Fred says:

    I don’t really mind file extensions (hidden or otherwise) but couldn’t windows use some logic like the unix ‘file’ command does to classify files?

    From what I understand, it looks for certain identifiable fixed strings towards the beginning of a file to determine the file type. That method seems more robust than trusting the filename.

    Is there a need for the type to be coded into the filesystem metadata? I mean I guess opening every file in a directory is bound to be expensive for large dirs, but if you used the magic number classifiying as a backup (when trying to open files) it’d probably be more friendly. But I guess that doesn’t help for legacy apps…

    [Opening every file totally destroys HSM. -Raymond]
  80. name vs type vs content says:

    It’s a good thing any file type metadata isn’t stored.

    With only filename and content, two things can mismatch. With name, type and content, three things can mismatch.

    But windows sadly use the name when to determine what to do when doubleclicking a file, it’s impossible to have an executable file named asd.bmp in a windows os.

  81. Nawak says:

    I made my previous comment after misreading another post, sorry. But still, metadata could be used for NTFS and "unix file" determination for ISO9660 and FAT (On which, I suppose, no OFFLINE file can exist)

    Anyway, I agree it would be a rather large modification of the current "spirit", and surely not worth the trouble just to solve the "rename" problem…

    The problem with the Linux approach (only select name and not extension while renaming) is that you can still accidentally delete/change the extension if you choose not to retype everything and ‘deselect’ to put your cursor where you want to edit, and well… end up to mess with the extension.

    An idea would be to always SHOW the extension (so that people learn them and are able to use advice such as "don’t double click on .exe’s in mail" for instance ) and make the extension DISAPPEAR when editing the filename (yes, troubling, but only the first time!).

    And for "experts": Changing the extension would need maybe a ‘SHIFT+right-click’ to make the option appear in the contextual menu. (and/or SHIFT-F2 if that’s not taken)

  82. Dan McCarty says:

    Ulric: bravo!

  83. David Walker says:

    Igor: "I believe that underlines under navigation keys at least in dialogs are usefull, so I wouldn’t remove those. The ones in menus are rarely used so they should’ve made a distinction there."

    Underlines in menus are not rarely used BY ME; I use them FREQUENTLY.

  84. Nawak says:

    Raymond: Opening every file totally destroys HSM.

    The mime-type could be metadata associated with the file. If the file’s type is already determined, no need to open the file to determine its type, just use metadata. (The metadata of offline files could be left in place (=not placed offline)). And if the file is already offline and its type was not determined before going offline (a case that could happen when with old offline directories that were created before the mimetype metadata), then you could display the icon associated with the extension (since they existed and were meaningful when those directories were created) *but* still do the "open+determine" to run the correct program when the user "runs" the file (since now, it is ok to open it)

    (I don’t know if it would be a good idea since the newly determined mimetype could be different from what the old extension was advertising…)

  85. Puckdropper says:

    I change extensions on plain text files all the time.  When I go to rename the file and/or extension, Windows pops up a dialog warning me about changing the extension.  If I back out, I have to type the name all over again.

    I’d suggest turning on the extensions and leaving the warning there.

    Also, one more note:  It has been my experience that people who grew up in the pre-PC world would like a printed user manual.  About 200 pages to introduce them to Windows would go a long way to increase their understanding and usage.  If there’s a manual included with a new system at all, it’s usually a PDF on the hard drive, causing a chicken and egg problem.

  86. David Walker says:

    I just read the original post again.

    "Aesthetically, these things are distracting and intimidating."  No, they are not.

    "For what it’s worth, this is one of the things I [the interface designer] came to Microsoft to fix."

    It’s not broken.

  87. kbiel says:

    >[I’m always baffled by this "two hands" rule, since you’re supposed to use two hands to type Ctrl+A also! Or does nobody remember their touch-typing training? -Raymond]

    (And your following comments regarding "two hands" rule)

    I believe that the "two hands" rule you refer to is a natural rule.  If you watch most experienced users who are aware of keyboard shortcuts, they will keep their left hand on or near the keyboard while navigating with the mouse.  In this way, they can more quickly select all, cut, copy and/or paste than with mouse clicks and menus.  Using ctrl-(numpad)5 instead of ctrl-a makes this mode of operation awkward if not impossible.

    It may merely be a happy accident that select all, cut, copy and paste are easily used with one hand, but I suspect differently since ctrl-v has no mnemonic relationship to paste and ctrl-x has only a slight suggestion of cutting.  In fact, it seems clear that these shortcuts were designed to be used with the left hand while the right hand used the arrow keys for navigation and selection.

  88. Mark Hurd says:

    I’m a programmer and ‘expert’ Windows user, so my Windows UI opinions mean nought, I know, but I like the ‘aesthetics’ of not showing the extension and have worked around the difficult of changing the extension by creating a vbscript that removes the extension of the file passed as an argument, and put it in the SendTo folder.

    However, what still frustrates me is determining what the current extension is, when i do want to know. AFAIK the ‘simplest’ way is to go to the file’s properties and /attempt to change the associated program/!  At that point it mentions the actual extension and you can cancel out…

    My guess is I should look at defining an info-tip in the registry to let me see the extension when I want to, but I haven’t tried.

  89. Bob says:

    Why are you complaining to me?  Ask the interface design group.

  90. David Conrad says:

    swe dude: "Up-Up-Down-Down-Left-Right-Left-Right-ABAB-Start"

    On Windows Vista this gives either infinite lives, or unlimited ammo, I forget which.

    Many others have pointed out that hiding accelerators hinders their discoverability. I would like to add that, even for expert users who know the keys, they don’t know them for all applications.

    Raymond: I can’t imagine hitting ctrl-A with two hands. I always use my left pinky for ctrl and shift (and I was taught touch typing on a typewriter), and I never ever use Caps Lock.

    I type ctrl-A with my left pinky and middle finger (in case I need to use the ring finger to hit shift to ctrl-shift-A unselect all in The GIMP), and I frequently type long SQL queries holding down the shift key and typing with my other seven fingers (plus right thumb for space). Is that weird?

  91. Dean Harding says:

    I frequently type long SQL queries holding down the shift key and typing with my other seven

    fingers (plus right thumb for space). Is that weird?

    Possibly, but that’s how I do it as well…

  92. SFMark says:

    I may be in the minority (developer since 1985, Windows developer since 1992), but I agree with the decision wholeheartedly, how it was implemented (hide by default, with option to turn on), AND the rationale behind introducing it.

    The first time I saw it, I thought "What a great idea" and it only took me a moment or two to figure out the Alt key made them appear.

    Don’t bash on the original UI designer — if it was such a hideous idea it would have never got into the product.

    I know – I used to work at MS.

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