User interface defect: Keyboard settings preference pane

John Boyle johnthescavenger at
Fri Oct 14 08:43:20 UTC 2011

[The Ubuntu website says feature and policy discussions go here, so here
goes.]  In the "System Settings" control-panel thing, there is a preference
pane called "Keyboard".  The Keyboard preference pane has a "Typing" tab,
which allows the user to set the delay and speed for key repeats when a key
is held down, as well as to set the blinking speed for a cursor in text

The problem is, this preference pane does not provide a text field to
demonstrate the effects of the user's settings.  Thus, in order to test and
observe the effects of his choices, the user must switch to some other
application and select a text field; if he finds it unsatisfactory and
wishes to adjust the speed or the delay, he must switch back to the pane,
make the adjustment, and switch again to test and observe the new setting,
and so on.  The repeated switching is in a sense a minor pain, but it is a
pain, and it interferes with the task of rapidly iterating to find a delay
that is as short as possible without being too short.  It could and should
easily be fixed, by adding a text field to the preference pane; there is
even a good-size empty space at the bottom where it belongs.

For extra credit, I would be interested to see numbers--I'm guessing the
"delay" and "speed" are controlled by "number of milliseconds
(before|between) key-repeats", and I would be interested to see those
numbers rather than just a slider bar that says "Short/Slow" on one side and
"Long/Fast" on the other side.  (You could keep the slider bar interface,
but also constantly display a number based on the slider's position; you
could even permit the user to edit that number directly, and then when the
user either hits return or moves focus away from the number box, attempt to
set the slider and the preference to that value; if it is out of bounds or
otherwise illegal, then set it to the closest legal value or leave it as
is.  Naming the units should probably be done in a tooltip explanation: it's
there for the curious and doesn't bother the busy.)  I would be interested
to learn my reaction time in milliseconds and to get a feel for sub-second
intervals, and also I'd be pleased to understand and control exactly what
this preference tool does.

For further extra credit, put the "Short" end of the Delay slider bar on the
same side of the window as the "Fast" end of the Speed sliders--currently it
is on the opposite side.  The fast-reflexed, impatient user who wants a
short delay almost certainly wants a fast key repeat rate as well.  It just
makes things a little bit nicer--smoother--more logical, if this user is led
to drag both sliders in the same direction rather than in opposite

As a general comment, I imagine these kinds of things are written once and
then not touched again for a long time (unless some determined curmudgeon
like me writes a report like this).  I don't think Ubuntu is going to go
away; I imagine you guys basically plan for it to last forever, and it
has... 12 million users at the moment.  So, while this may be a minor thing,
please take the time to do it right.

--John Boyle
*Science is what we understand well enough to explain to a computer. Art is
everything else we do.* --Knuth
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