The digital divide (Or, “right clicking is hard”)…

In my previous entry on the relative uselessness of the status bar, I got a bit of flack in the comments from people who find the status bar extremely useful. In fact, I’m one of those people – I regularly use the status bar of IE to figure out the URL of a link that I’m hovering over. And I use the handy status bar functions (like Count, Sum, etc) in Excel all the time. But the point is that you and I are not typical. I don’t think it’s bad at all to put stuff in the status bar for advanced users – it’s just bad (as people are wont to do) to put stuff in the status bar that the average user really might want to know. There’s a big difference between the advanced users and average users sometimes.

Which reminds me of another funny story from my Access days. A favorite place for developers to stick important things in applications is right click menus. “Hmmm, we don’t want to clutter the menus up with this, why don’t we put it on a right click menu?” During the Access 2.0 cycle, one of our PMs (who shall remain nameless) started having this weird problem. Every once in a while, she would be using Access 2.0 and her forms would just stop responding. They wouldn’t hang, per se, they would just not accept any more mouse clicks or keyboard presses. The poor developer who owned the forms engine, Peter, couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He looked extensively at the code to see if he could suss out what the problem might be, but no luck. I believe he even tried instrumenting the PM’s version of Access to see if he could isolate the problem. Finally, one day he was sitting in her office watching her work when it happened, and he just happened to figure out the problem. You see, the PM had a very slight hand coordination problem – when she went to right click the mouse, she would occasionally have an involuntary movement of the adjacent fingers that would cause the left mouse button to be pressed at the same time. And when a left click and a right click message came in together at just the right time, the form would freeze up. (Access wasn’t the only Microsoft product to have this problem.) Peter tracked down the problem and fixed it.

The amusing postscript to this story is that another developer on Access, Cameron (not Beccario), heard about this and thought it would be funny to play a trick on the poor PM. So he wrote a little Access macro that would put up some funny message box every time she pressed both mouse buttons together. He installed it on her computer over the weekend and figured she’d find it sometime later that week. When he got into his office late Monday morning, he had a couple of irate voice mail messages from the PM saying “what the hell did you do to my computer?” Apparently, this finger twitch was not that uncommon…

Anyway, the moral of the story, such as it is, is that things us advanced users take for granted can often pose problems for the regular users….

6 thoughts on “The digital divide (Or, “right clicking is hard”)…

  1. Michael Giagnocavo

    I’ve seen a lot of people go nuts with their mouse suddenly decides to switch the buttons or do wierd things. It’s happened enough to me to know to just click a few times to clear whatever it is up.

    So, we’re advanced users (yey), but is there a good reason to disable the status bar because other users don’t gain a benefit? Does it actively hurt them (losing 20 pixels on the bottom)?

    Reply
  2. Mike Dimmick

    That’s a perennial problem in Explorer, even on Windows XP.

    My rule of thumb is that anything that can go on the context menu must _also_ have a home on the main menu. The context menu is for quick access to common options – the main menu is the full and complete reference to all menu options.

    OK, this doesn’t apply quite so much to massively configurable applications like VS.NET and MS Office. But the defaults should be that way.

    I feel the same about home stereo equipment. It drives me mad that for some tasks, you must use the front panel, while for others you can only use the remote control. I guess it’s the manufacturer’s way of making you pay twice as many repair bills 😉

    Reply
  3. paulvick

    Michael: Hey, I’m not saying get rid of the status bar – I’m just saying don’t try to put anything there that normal people need to see!

    Reply
  4. Mike Schinkel

    >> But the point is that you and I are not typical. I don’t think it’s bad at all to put stuff in the status bar for advanced users – it’s just bad (as people are wont to do) to put stuff in the status bar that the average user really might want to know.

    Paul, I completely agree with that, but the reason I commented was that, as a former programming instructor, I believe many people will take comments like "People don’t pay attention to stuff in the Status Bar" to mean "Never put anything in the status bar." Your post did not *emphasize* that there are *good* reasons to put stuff in the status bar. Instead it just said don’t *depend* on people seeing important messages in the status bar.

    I’m not faulting you for this oversight — I can’t tell you how many examples I gave in my class to explain basic syntax that I was later horrified to learn people had actually used in real code — I just want to do my part to ensure everyone who reads your posts about that status bar hears that status bar messages are great when used appropriately.

    Reply
  5. Mike Schinkel

    >> Anyway, the moral of the story, such as it is, is that things us advanced users take for granted can often pose problems for the regular users….

    Oh, also I forgot to say, "Damn regular users!" 🙂

    Reply
  6. Joku

    I have to admit that even though I’m advanced user, I still often miss that there was something interesting happening at the status bar (say 2 numbers changed in place). The fact is that black on grey with some small 10 pixel change isn’t very noticeable.

    To tell you the truth, I just wrote a post about the file sizes in status bar. I had already wrote how it does Not show the sizes, but then I decided to verify and indeed the sizes are shown, they just are in the right end of the bar, not the left where i usually look for them. (x objects selected, xxx MB) < is how i thought it would show.

    Reply

Leave a Reply