The day I stole Joe Belfiore’s mouse

He's now the head demo-monkey/cheerleader for Windows Phone, but back in the old days, Joe Belfiore was the head demo-monkey/cheerleader for the Windows 95 user interface design. A team-wide meeting was held to show off the new interface that they had developed. Wow look, we have a Start menu (though it wasn't known by that name yet), a taskbar (though it wasn't known by that name yet), shortcuts, a Close button (in the upper right corner), property sheets, all that good stuff.

At that time, I was still developing my thermonuclear skills and in particular was cultivating the skill of asking challenging questions during the Q&A that comes at the end of these sorts of meetings. I adopted the role of the mouse skeptic and asked, "I noticed that property sheets don't show up in the Alt+Tab list. How do I switch to a property sheet without a mouse? And more generally, how well will this new interface work for keyboard-based users?"

The answer (which managed to remain true all the way through the Windows 95 project) was "To get back to a property sheet, go back to wherever you launched it from and launch it again. And we have not abandoned the existing rules for keyboard access. There will be keyboard equivalents for all mouse-based actions."

To make sure he stuck to his word, I snuck into his office and stole his mouse.

I assume he survived, though for all I know, he just went and ordered a new one.

Inspiration for today's entry: Seven days using only keyboard shortcuts: No mouse, no trackpad, no problem?

Comments (23)
  1. Justin L says:

    Joe isn't on the "senior leadership team" and no longer has a "profile" on the Microsoft site.

  2. John says:

    @Justin: They fixed the glitch, so it will just work itself out naturally.

  3. Raphael says:

    Weren't you always able to use Alt-Esc to cycle through all open windows (including property windows)?

    [That would also have been an acceptable answer. "Property sheets are still in the Alt+Esc sequence." -Raymond]
  4. Jeroen Pluimers says:

    New style 404:

    <<Effective April 10, 2012, …the Microsoft News Center will provide executive bios for Microsoft’s Senior Leadership Team and Microsoft’s Board of Directors only…>>

    Joe needs a promotion (:

  5. @Raphael: Yes.  I remember doing this.  Didn't seem to work as cleanly as Alt+Tab though, and the absence of property sheets in the Alt+Tab list always dumbfounded me.

  6. Raphael says:

    But they seem to have fixed that somewhere along the way (Windows NT 6?). In current versions of Windows, they do appear in Alt-Tab.

  7. ToddLa says:

    DavidW never used a mouse to make sure Win 3.0 was usable with only a keyboard.

  8. JenK says:

    I spent a fair amount of IE 4 shell testing wearing wrist braces and my mouse behind my monitor. For some reason, devs were less likely to argue that keyboard accessibility was moot when they'd see my desk. ;)

  9. xpclient says:

    Property sheets appear in Alt-Tab starting with Windows 98. Starting with Vista, all dialog boxes also appear on the taskbar (thankfully).

  10. Mickey says:

    Are you allowed to use non-ms mice?

  11. Tim says:

    The excellent keyboard support is the main reason I prefer Windows to all other desktop operating systems. Thanks for standing up for us keyboard users, Raymond.

  12. Roger says:

    Give Joe his mouse back! His hands are too small to reach all the letters on the keyboard.

  13. Larry Hosken says:

    "Give Joe his mouse back!"

    No way, the incentive is still working amazingly. You notice that you can totally use a Windows Phone without a mouse.

  14. Ray says:

    "You notice that you can totally use a Windows Phone without a mouse."

    Well, certainly without the mobile equivalent, the stylus. Finally. Just a shame that MS Internet Explorer'd Windows Mobile – "Job's done lads, time to quit development. Surely nobody will ever catch up with us."

  15. Medinoc says:

    Next step: Have the next version of Paint move the pointer with the Arrow keys!

  16. Raphael says:


    That be called "Mouse keys", landlubber. Has been a part of Windows since 95, when men were still scurvy and lasses curvy. ARR!

  17. Neil says:

    I was so annoyed that my control panel dialogs didn't appear in the Alt+Tab sequence that I went and wrote a replacement RunDLL32.exe; I did run into a number of gotchas but I basically got it working well enough for the infrequent use that I put it to.

  18. Mike Dimmick says:

    @Ray: No, Windows Mobile was scrapped because it was so far behind. The all-or-nothing security model (i.e. apps had to be signed by an approved certificate, for most consumer phones, but once running could do anything), the stylus-driven controls, the legacy Win32 GDI drawing model, the open multitasking model (where background apps still run and drain the battery), were just completely uncompetitive with the iPhone. On top of that you still had (and have!) the 32MB-per-process limit from Windows CE 1.0; fixed in Windows CE 6.0 but the Windows Mobile team seriously dragged their heels on porting to CE 6.0.

    Technically it was moved from the consumer products division to the Windows Embedded division, where it is in maintenance: it has been renamed Windows Embedded Handheld. You can still buy Windows Embedded Handheld devices, if you're willing to buy rugged devices from Motorola Solutions, Intermec, Casio, Honeywell, Psion Teklogix, Denso ADC, etc. I'm still writing .NET Compact Framework applications for Windows Mobile/Windows Embedded Handheld, or for OEM custom Windows CE platforms (excuse me, 'Windows Embedded Compact'). We're starting to see customers wanting Bring-Your-Own-Device or just to make use of far cheaper Android devices or (within reach of wireless LAN) iPod Touch, and there are Android devices coming soon from those OEMs, such as the Motorola Solutions MC40.

    MS have of course faced exactly the same issue with Windows 8 tablets. This time they've gone with fusing a new interface – both user and programming – together with the old. There is of course a far larger marketplace of existing Windows applications out there!

    Back to the topic – there's something of the opposite in Microsoft Management Console, where the property sheets of virtually any snap-in don't appear in the taskbar, they aren't owned by the console frame window (so don't pop back up when you click the taskbar button for the console) and you can only get back to them by Alt+Tab or by moving windows out of the way!

  19. steveg says:

    Somebody stole his keyboard as well and Surface was born?

  20. mschaef says:

    Great story. (One of my favorite aspects of Windows has always been how well it can be controlled with a keyboard, so I'm very sympathetic to the cause.)

  21. jader3rd says:

    I've been trying to use the WinRT apps without a mouse, and quite honestly find it impossible. There are no hints as to what keys do what, and the keys that I try usually end up not doing anything.

  22. W says:

    I always found it a weird choice that property sheets didn't show up in some places such as the taskbar. They also don't get minimized by Win+M, so that's the easiest way to reach them, even if you have a mouse. I think MS finally fixed this in Vista or Win7.

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