Quick brainstorming (long)

Eric Dunbar eric.dunbar at gmail.com
Thu Dec 9 06:57:08 CST 2004

On Wed, 8 Dec 2004 19:19:23 -0500, poptones <dlist at ubuntuforums.org> wrote:
>> Mouse buttons are a power user feature and not a good solution for a
>> design problem! Normal computer users _don't_ know what to do with a
>> right click, let alone a middle click or extra clicks.-

> This isn't rocket science. Mice have three buttons, it's stupid to say
> "people are too dumb to figure them out so we should just ignore those
> other buttons."

No, they certainly aren't too dumb to figure them out but the FACT is
they DON'T!!! I've watched Mac, Windows, DOS and UNIX users for 20
years on GUI (well, ok, Mac has had a GUI for over 20, Windows only
(barely even worth mentioning) for 12 & (functional) for 9 ;-). And,
over those years a modifier key has been easier to use than a right
click, LET ALONE a middle click.

The middle click REALLY is used only by a TINY fraction of users (aka
power users).

> Saying "things should be my way because it's the right way" is also
> very offensive. Choice is always better when it doesn't lead to
> confusion; All you are endorsing is the elimination of choice. That's
> not better engineering or better usability - it's just limiting
> functionality because it suits your agenda.

I would suggest your attitude towards discourse is insulting, not mine!

Things certainly shouldn't be my way because it's the what I'm used
to!!! They should be a certain way because THEY WORK.

Too much choice is BAD. Let me repeat, TOO MUCH CHOICE IS BAD. In
nearly every aspect of life no choice is bad (witness the homogeneity
& paradoxical extremes of US politics (& CA politics for those of you
who follow them)), too much choice is bad (Italian/Israeli politics...
a second & oft cited dysfunctional political situation), and some but
not too much choice is functional (most other representative
democracies without the extremes found in the three aforementioned
examples (& _no_, I am _not_ espousing an anti-US/Israeli line).

I use the political analogy merely to highlight the idea of choice as
in "freedom choice". People are stymied when they face too much choice
-- Windows is bad for the bulk of its users (the reason it succeeded
is stunningly shrewd marketing and business moves by MS) because it
attempts to cater to too many of its users needs but in turn caters to
none of them fully.

Don't get me wrong, I love customising my computers to the hilt, but
I'm not a normal, run-of-the-mill computer user, and neither are you,
nor are a sizable portion of users on this list.

However, the target audience of future Linux growth, and, in
particular Ubuntu since it's not seeking to be a power users haven
(that's why there are Debians and FC3s and...), are the "John Smith"
and "Jennie Singh" user. These people really don't have a clue about
right-click and by making the GUI SIMPLER you're improving both their
experience, and the experience of most people. For people like you and
me, the right-click and middle-click (and, in my case, 4th and 5th
clicks) still exist

On Thu, 9 Dec 2004 10:52:54 +0100, Erik Bågfors <zindar at gmail.com> wrote:

> > Mouse buttons are a power user feature and not a good solution for a
> > design problem! Normal computer users _don't_ know what to do with a
> > right click, let alone a middle click or extra clicks.
> You haven't dealt with any mac users have you? Everyone I know, knows
> how to hold down strange keys while clicking to do different things.
> For example, even with a 1 mouse button, mac users know how to open a
> window and close the old one (in spacial macos 9) by holding down some
> key.
> This is not harder or more intuitive than middle click.

That is a bizarre paradox that I've observed over the years and I've
never been able to fully explain it (of course, I've never given it a
whole lot of thought ;-). I'll hypothesize that it's because a
modifier key does not rely heavily on manual dexterity like
second/third button mouse use. Second/third mouse button use requires
a fine motor skills that most people don't need to develop (despite
playing so many video console games ;) whereas a modifier key requires
only a "crude" click with the mouse hand whilst holding down the
modifier key with the other hand. Easy tasks for most people. (or, you
could say that Mac users are simply superior to Windows (loo)users ;-)
whilst right-clicking isn't.

I started using computers, and especially typing at a young age (for
my generation... 1984 as a 9-year-old) so my nerve pathways and
musculature (fortunately, I've also managed to avoid the <ahem>
mid-riff "musculature" of many a computer user) have developed to
support computer use (I doubt I've been away from a computer for
longer than one week since I was 12!!!). Thus, for me mouse use second
nature. Not so for older users (who do make up the bulk of users).

Though, age doesn't make the argument, now that I think about it. I
was teaching 13- & 14-year olds last year on computers and maybe two
or three (a tiny fraction anyway) out of 60 (yes, SIXTY) actually used
the second mouse button (& these were the "geeks" who lived on
computers at home).

Anyway, the point of my experiences and comments is that a GUI should
be DESIGNED for single-button mouse use and the right-button used to
augment that interface (not BE the interface). Modern Mac OS forces
the best design discipline on applications. Right-click is universally
supported since there are a lot of users that use right-click, BUT
that cannot become a crutch (like in Windows or, especially, in Linux)
since the computer only ships with a single button mouse. This means
that apps HAVE to work with single button clicks -- no hidden, but
vital functions.

GIMP is the best example of a _BAD_ interface design. After a few
minutes of use my fingers get tired of having to constantly use the
right-click (and I use right-click for everything). It's a

Anyway, in conclusion, right-click and middle-click certainly
shouldn't go the way of the dodo bird. They are SOOOOOOOOOOOOO
infinitely functional (I couldn't browse the web anymore if
middle-click didn't open up a new tab, and I didn't have 4th & 5th
click programmed to cycle left- and right-tab (on Mac... haven't
bother to find out if I can do so under Ubuntu)). However, they should
not be a CRUTCH since MOST people don't know how to use them, or, even
if they do, they DON'T use them. The idea behind Ubuntu is to make an
OS that does not throw up barriers to users, I realise you (used
generically) may see that as meaning 'customise to my hearts content'
and that won't go away -- it is OSS after all and you can modify the
code. However, a significant barrier to use (and, thus, for Canonical
adoption, sales and support income (dollars, pounds, shillings, niara
(yes, I once lived in Nigeria), whatevers) is usability and that's
where GNOME and KDE are both still lacking. Ubuntu has gone a long way
in a short time by choosing fairly sensible defaults but more work is
necessary to turn Ubuntu into magic. Apple did it with Mac OS X so it
certainly is possible to take a *nix and "just make it work".

Sincerely and have fun,


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