back to article What’s the KEYBOARD SHORTCUT for Delete?! Look in a contextual menu, fool!

I'm leading a training course and a voice calls out: “Where’s the Spacebar?” Not such a daft question, you might think. When training people, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is comfortable with keyboard jargon. Except that I’m not teaching pensioners, Siberian farmers or visiting Martians, but journalists. You’d expect …

  1. Cipher
    Thumb Up

    I recall the 8088 machine I learned on...

    I was shown how to change directories and the dir command to list the contents thereof.

    It was one of the great moments when I hit upon dir /w to make the output more readable on the green on black screen...

    I make an analogy to driving cars in my mind, the "old guy" who taught me to drive made the point that steering an automatic transmission car wasn't real driving, one needed to change the gears manually for best control on different surfaces and angles of grade.

    Mice are nice, but until you use the command line, play under the hood, you really don't understand what the machine can do or what it *is* doing...

    1. veti Silver badge

      Re: I recall the 8088 machine I learned on...

      There is some truth in that...

      ... but not as much as you and your upvoters may be thinking.

      See, the thing is: using the command line (whatever the heck that even means on a modern PC) and "playing under the hood" - don't really help you to understand what most modern software apps are doing.

      Take Word, for instance. Type two words. Press [Home] to return the cursor to the beginning of the line, press [F8][F8] to select the first word, then press [Ctrl-B]. Now use the mouse to click on the second word, click again to select the whole word, then locate the 'Strong' style from the styles list.

      The two words are both bold. They look for all the world as if the same thing has been done to each. But it hasn't: the two processes have had very different effects, and those differences will unfailingly rear their heads and bite you in the arse at the worst possible moment.

      And don't even get me started on what happens if you copy and paste from a different document...

    2. Anonymous Coward

      Re: I recall the 8088 machine I learned on...

      You car analogy is a little lame, for

      "Mice are nice, but until you use the command line, play under the hood, you really don't understand what the machine can do or what it *is* doing..."

      Then it wouldn't be driving a manual box over an auto (that's more like choosing an iPad over a MAC).

      To use properly you analogy it would be like owning a modern hot hatch with all it's ecu's, fuel injection and stability control over a car with twin 45's, manual timing, adjustable suspension and manual brake balancing. Hence the phrase "getting under the hood"

      That's getting under the hood and how many of you can do that?

      The sooner we learn that 99.99% of the people out there don't give a crap how it works, so long as it does the better for everyone.

      1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

        Re: I recall the 8088 machine I learned on...

        that's more like choosing an iPad over a MAC

        And that's more like choosing Duplo over Lego. Neither is an appropriate engineering solution...

  2. Mark #255

    Users and Interfaces

    The last application I wrote had two buttons: "Connect to Analyser", and "Get Data".

    For one of my cow-orkers, it was not sufficiently self-explanatory.

    1. Frankee Llonnygog

      Re: Users and Interfaces

      Yes but - how exactly do you ork a cow?

  3. Carbon life unit 5,232,556

    Press any key

    Where's the "any" key?

    1. Frankee Llonnygog

      Re: Press any key

      Desktop support technique...

      "Can you find a key labelled 'go away'? No? Well, have a look and call me back when you find it."

    2. harmjschoonhoven

      Re: Press any key

      It is the Ctrl key.

    3. Deryk Barker

      Re: Press any key

      I believe it was Compaq who removed this error message some years ago, precisely because of this question.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Press any key

      Yep we all coded that as it seemed reasonable to us, then the proles were allowed near computers and we got one too many people asking for the location of this mysterious and magical ANY key. So I, like many of my coding peers, changed the message to "Press the RETURN key" and specifically caught that key. A sad day indeed...

  4. Thomas 4

    Where's the Spacebar?

    Given that you were training journalists, they probably thought you were talking about the local boozer.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: Where's the Spacebar?

      The times at uni when the Beautiful Girls from Life Sciences Division finally couraged up and asked the Geek in the Corner whether he happen to know the office of the server?

  5. keithpeter Silver badge

    Keyboard commands for select, copy, paste and find

    I've drunk a lot of free coffee and gained a (totally undeserved) reputation as a clever chap from showing people CTRL-A, CTRL-C click in the other window CTRL-V.

    CTRL-F has helped out many a colleague trying to find a student by name in a long list ordered by reference number. I have brightened people's days with CTRL-Z.

    Strange isn't it?

    PS:do journalists still have to learn teeline?

    (Typing this on the Calm Window Manager on OpenBSD on an old laptop, all keyboard driven. I'm the beginner again in BSD land.).

    1. stucs201

      Re: Keyboard commands for select, copy, paste and find

      My favourite is when a (Windows) program opens a window in the wrong place, so that it is (or at least its title bar) is off-screen. There are times I think I'm the only person who knows about Alt-Space M to move a window using the keyboard. Surprisingly Alt-Space is fundamental enough it even works for TIFKAM (though M is Maximize there, since there is no Move).

      I even remember baffling people when the last remaining computer in a lab at university had a broken mouse, but was running Windows. I'd not even sat down at it when someone told me not to bother, I told them I didn't need it and got on with what I needed to do via the keyboard.

    2. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Re: Keyboard commands for select, copy, paste and find

      Re teeline

      I am guessing that is a system of shorthand. The two systems I have heard of are Pitmans and Greggs.

      I know computers can turn handwriting to print, provided it is live writing on a touch screen or pad, as opposed to an image file. Does anyone know whether they can read shorthand?

    3. Stoneshop

      Re: Keyboard commands for select, copy, paste and find

      "I've drunk a lot of free coffee and gained a (totally undeserved) reputation as a clever chap from showing people CTRL-A, CTRL-C click in the other windowAlt-TAB, CTRL-V."


  6. ukgnome

    It's the IT sixth sense

    I see dumb people.

    You need to teach the youth Dabbers, they know such things from early on. Although to be fair the space bar on my iPhone keyboard does have space written on it.

    I can imagine the glee you have when trying to explain my the return key is called so.

    I worked in a typing pool, that's why I know, maybe you need to get them on a pitmans course.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: It's the IT sixth sense

      I was trying to talk my Mum through filling in an online form. So type in that box, then press Tab to take you to the next box. "Where's tab?"' she says.

      Well of course, I learnt on a typewriter. I hit the tab key a lot of times over the years. But she didn't, and modern computer keyboards don't say the same things. So the tab key is a couple of right-facing arrows, and the shift key is an up-facing arrow. And no-one I'm helping ever seems to know what the windows key is.

      Then again, I'm not exactly perfect. I still find myself telling someone to put the file in a directory, when they've been folders since Windows 95.

      But there seems to be something about computers that sucks the intelligence out of people. If you're showing them what to do, they appear to switch their brain off and turn into drooling morons.

      I can understand not being a fan of computers, or being interested in them outside the specific task you use them for. I don't read an online tabloid about screwdriver design, for example. I don't drool over the latest model of kitchen knife, I have a handful that do the job perfectly well enough. But I do own a knife sharpener.

      1. Stoneshop

        Re: It's the IT sixth sense

        So the tab key is a couple of right-facing arrows

        On my Cherry 3000, the tab key has left- and right-pointing arrows as well as the word "Tab". Backspace and shift also bear text as well as the somewhat appropriate arrows.

        I'm not sure about the Model M, but those are only used by True Aficionados who know what each key means (even though they've probably remapped it), why it's called that and its keyscan code. Mere punters don't use them, especially since they don't have flag and menu keys, so explanatory text (which they won't read anyway) is irrelevant..

  7. CADmonkey

    Mouse only = one-handed user = slow user = no work

    I trained on AutoCAD 10 for DOS. The interface was script-based. Then, as now, you could just type or paste a long series of commands into the Command Line. The few mouse-activated commands were referred to as 'shortcuts'.

    When I started work I used AutoCAD 12 for Windows. Suddenly all these Icons appeared but I mostly still used the keyboard.

    Then I used AutoCAD 12 LT which used a different Icon set. Keyboard still worked.

    Acad 13 - different Icons

    Acad 13 LT - different Icons

    Acad 14 - ditto

    And so on.

    And then the Ribbon....

    And still I use my keyboard. If I didn't, I reckon my right hand index finger would be capable of cracking hazelnuts by now.

    And there's a lot less hand-eye coordination involved in using a keyboard compared to using a mouse or touch. Better for the eyes, better for the hands.

    1. xperroni

      And there's a lot less hand-eye coordination involved in using a keyboard compared to using a mouse or touch. Better for the eyes, better for the hands.

      When I started on my last corporate job one colleague caught eye of my rather widespread usage of keyboard shortcuts. So he came to my desk and asked, "Did you taught computer training classes?" When I answered negatively he remarked that "only computer class teachers use keyboard shortcuts". I had the distinct impression he was being derisive, as if knowing how to efficiently use my main everyday work tool was something to be ashamed of.

      So apparently it's not that people just don't know the benefits of keyboard-based interfaces, they actively resist it as an "uncool" activity. Go figure.

    2. Kepler

      Mice and Hand-Eye Coordination

      "And there's a lot less hand-eye coordination involved in using a keyboard compared to using a mouse or touch. Better for the eyes, better for the hands."

      For Windows users, the premium placed on hand-eye coordination skyrocketed in August of 1995. Before Windows 95, we did not have to worry about or pay attention to the path the mouse took from point A to point B; we just thought about where we were moving it to. After Windows 95, and to the present day, we have to be very careful how we move the mouse for fear of causing an unwanted submenu to pop up and cover the menu selection we were trying to get to. Sheer idiocy!

      A distinct but related point: Under Windows 3.1 and earlier (and OS/2, and the Amiga), if one changed one's mind about a particular submenu one had opened, or it turned out not to be the one one was looking for, one merely had to click on the same submenu a second time to get it out of way. One did not have to click on some other submenu to make the first one go away, as one must do today.*

      By changing the Windows event model and menuing system so that the mouse's mere presence at a position suddenly had the same effect as a mouse click, Microsoft fundamentally changed the way most of us use the mouse, and it was a change very much for the worse. It was a new behavior that could and should have been left optional.


      * Jacking up the value of "MenuShowDelay" sometimes solves the first problem, but not the second. And the problem's creation in the first place was totally unnecessary.

  8. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Bigger on the inside

    The only time I came unstuck was when running the reports through the woeful Lotus GraphWriter, which applied its own fiercely dogmatic rounding logic, producing pie charts whose percentage-labelled slices invariably added up to 102 per cent.

    A "House of Leaves" of IT, then? Don't open the submenus.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: Bigger on the inside

      1-2-3 was great at making things up.

      A colleague produced a mock-up of a reporting system in 1-2-3. The customer liked it, but instead of letting us write the complete system in C++, we had to do it in 1-2-3, 'because all of the users have that.'

      After repeatedly saying this was a bad idea, we were forced into doing it in 1-2-3. It downloaded data from a VAX finance system and calculated sales forecasts and let the user fine tune them. It opened around 40 different worksheets. All went well, until it got to a certain size. Then it suddenly started doing random things - having dynamic macros that modified themselves on the fly probably didn't help, but running it debug mode was fine. The results were as expected. Letting it run gave different results each time.

      In the end, we got permission to send it to Lotus for analysis. Their response was, 'wow, we never intended 1-2-3 to do anything that complicated. You should think about redoing it in C.'

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Less mouse is also less RSI

    AFAIK, RSI didn't exist until mice were introduced.

    The way I work with new software is

    1 - getting to grips with the basic functionality, if need be with the mouse but already taking note of keyboard shortcuts if indicated

    2 - if I find some spare time, a quick browse of the menu tree and functionality

    3 - move to using keyboard shortcuts where possible (MUCH faster than grabbing a mouse)

    4 - after some use, investigate if there isn't a way to speed up things I have to do often (I was always a BIG fan of keyboard macros).

    I am not a fan of a mouse - in my experience, mice may make a program easier to use but they don't half slow you down. Moving to the Mac wasn't a happy experience in that respect - I miss Home/End/PgUp/PgDn as I got used to that one-button functionality on the PC (even the extended Mac keyboard doesn't quite deliver there IMHO). Give me a keyboard any time.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Less mouse is also less RSI

      >AFAIK, RSI didn't exist until mice were introduced.

      You were obviously born yesterday!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Less mouse is also less RSI


        Nope, I'm old enough to have been messing with RS232 lines and multiplexers for running Wyse VT102 terminals off a VAX.. Colours? Hah! Luxury! (etc :) ).

  10. Zog_but_not_the_first


    On a purely non-scientific personal observation basis I'd say that people are getting thicker, or less likely to question and explore, or both.

    1. Muscleguy

      Re: Devolution?

      It's the education system, of more specifically the examination companies. Time was they employed ex teachers or those who wanted some extra cash. People who knew the curriculum backwards and thus could be allowed to exercise DISCRETION. But then the penny pinchers came in and made them into lean money making machines. They started paying peanuts and so the ex teachers gave it up and they had to employ monkeys to mark exam scripts. No discretion was possible.

      The schools cottoned onto this and they now make kids rote learn the correct responses, in the 'right' form of words. Creativity and initiative are thus penalised at exam time.

      A few years ago when the youngest was still at school she came to me with a biology worksheet that kept being marked wrong and she couldn't understand why. Me being a biologist she asked me if her answers were right, they were. So she took this to her teacher who told her that they may have been right but they were not in the correct form of words and the above was why it was important to learn them.

      Another problem is ambulance chasing lawyers (NOT elfin safety). Business is scared of being sued by no-win-no-fee lawyers so all procedures must be seen to have been adhered to to the letter as anything not 'standard' is what the lawyers feed on (you didn't follow procedures did you?).

      Between these two forces all initiative is squashed out of people. 'I can't do that, it's more than job's worth'. Sound familiar?

      1. Lazlo Woodbine

        Re: Devolution?

        Doesn't matter how ridiculous your procedures are, as long as they're followed to the letter you're OK

        1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

          Re: Devolution?

          THE PROCEDURE:

          1) BEGIN

          2) END

          Any questions?

        2. Darryl

          Re: Devolution?

          "Doesn't matter how ridiculous your procedures are, as long as they're followed to the letter you're OK"

          Congratulations. You've just summarized ISO 900x

    2. Gravesender

      Re: Devolution?

      I would say less likely to explore, and I place the blame for this on the way kids are taught these days to pass tests rather than think.

    3. Fat Bob

      Re: Devolution?

      "On a purely non-scientific personal observation basis I'd say that people are getting thicker, or less likely to question and explore, or both."

      Is that why they want independence?

      n.b. Devolution is not the opposite of evolution.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Those who came in pre GUI tend to be faster around stuff than mouse folk, suspect those that grow up on touch will be slower again.

    I noticed immediately, and with horror my new Lenovo x230 has no right click menu key*... nOOOOOOooooo.

    I also tried out windows 10 - where CTRL+C and CTRL-V work in command prompt. No I don't know how you abort a running script CTRL+C as well?

    * no I don't know what the proper name for that key is, few, in my experience, have ever pressed it.

    1. Fuzz

      Re: touch

      I think the key is called context select.

      Friend of mine had the same issue with a Dell, I remapped the keyboard layout for him so that Alt Gr functioned as the "right click" key

      1. Alistair Dabbs

        Re: touch

        You remapped AltGr? How does your friend type a fodda?

      2. jonathanb Silver badge

        Re: touch

        I need the to use the Alt-Gr key frequently to type the € symbol, and sometimes to type accented characters such as é.

        1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge

          Re: touch

          I need the to use the Alt-Gr key frequently to type the € symbol, and sometimes to type accented characters such as é.

          Try Ctrl+Alt+4 and Ctrl+Alt+e

    2. DJV Silver badge


      CTRL+C will still break into a long directory listing - e.g. do dir /s from the root and hit CTRL+C before the listing finishes on its own - haven't tried a script yet but I suspect it stil works.

      Looks like CTRL+C will only do the copy when something is highlighted. If you do dir /s and then click and drag it halts the directory listing. Doing CTRL+C will copy the stuff highlighted and then the listing will continue. Do CTRL+C again and you break into the listing and stop it dead in its tracks.

      Sort of like "operator overload", methinks!

      1. davidp231

        Re: CTRL+C

        And there's always <CTRL><BREAK>.

        1. F Seiler

          Re: CTRL+C

          Well, Ctrl+C and Ctrl+Break are not exactly the same. From memory so may be be not fully correct, but something like one will only cancel the current call or loop iteration while the other will abort the entire script.

    3. Chris Watson 2

      Re: touch


  12. Brent Longborough

    Talking of 1-2-3

    One of the funniest occasions of my whole IT career was when IBM launched a mainframe version of 1-2-3.

    So you type something into a cell on your terminal, then you hit enter and *wait for the response* before you can type in the next cell.

    What really astounded me was just how many (non-tech) IBMers just couldn't see that it was a non-starter.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: Talking of 1-2-3

      Chances are that the visible part of the sheet was sent as a 3270 form, and you would have been able to move between the cells/fields with tab and/or arrow keys, filling in multiple cells, and once all of the fields were how you wanted, you could hit enter and transmit all of the cells up at once, and have the sheet recalculate. This would have been quite familiar to a mainframe user, but completely foreign to anybody used to instant update.

      I know that having grown up on full-duplex ASCII terminals on UNIX, DEC and other systems, moving into a 3270 world when I joined IBM frustrated the hell out of me until I worked out the best way to do it. But once the concepts were understood, it worked pretty well, only differently.

      The reason for it working the way it did was because 3270 terminals had quite a lot of function built in, and would allow local editing of data on the screen without any involvement from the mainframe or terminal controller. This meant that you could attach a lot of terminals to a mainframe without it melting down, and that interacting with a remote terminal down low speed telecommunication lines was bearable, with only the download and upload screen refresh being slow.

      For full-duplex ASCII terminals, the computer was involved in the most basic of functions, and ended up having to echo every key typed back to the terminal. Interrupt handling per keystroke sapped the life out of a lot of mini-computers unless they were good at it (like the PDP11 was).

      PCs, where the computer had the keyboard and screen locally attached were a different proposition, and naturally lent themselves to update per keypress type applications.

      1. James Anderson

        Re: Talking of 1-2-3

        I have actually seen this in use and it worked just fine once the user got us to it.

        The 3270 was effectively a text only web page and worked very much like a browser with java script turned off.

        Incidentally I once installed some software in a branch office in Lisbon that was connected to London via Madrid on an absurdly cobbled up network.

        It worked acceptably for the 3270 apps, but supporting my unix software remotely was bizarre. It echoed any command you typed at one character every two seconds. It was so distracting the only way to get anything done was NOT to look at the screen.

      2. Deryk Barker

        Re: Talking of 1-2-3

        Basically you are talking about the difference between synchronous (or to IBM bisynchronous) terminals and asynch. ASCII/EBCDIC has nothing to do with it.

        It is quite possible to have an asynchronous terminal working in "forms mode" where you did local form editing and then hit "transmit" to send the data to the host.

        Asynch terminals would be switchable between the two modes, synchronous ones, not.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Talking of 1-2-3 @Deryk

          I only used the term ASCII because I believe that that it was more immediately understandable than "serial" or "asynchronous". I am well aware that there were many terminals that were normally used as asynchronous serial terminals that had form-filling capability. But I would suggest that outside of some proprietary applications that mandated particular terminal types, almost all ASCII terminals were used as asynchronous serial devices, so much so that the terms are almost synonymous. These devices rarely used the form-filling functions, even if they had them.

          By the early '80s, which is when Lotus123 came to the fore, terminals were normally IBM 3270 or 5250 compatible, and did indeed use EBCDIC, or serial terminals that nearly all used ASCII, such as Lear Siegler ADM3A, Wyse50/60, DEC VT100, Beehive etc. There were dozens of manufacturers, all of whom gave up as cheap PCs could also be terminals with the correct software.

    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Talking of 1-2-3 @Brent Longborough

      Strange how lessons get forgotten, the experience with using a mainframe version of 1-2-3 reminds me of using various cloud based office applications, via a browser style client...

  13. John Riddoch

    Text editting

    For plain text, I still find my quickest editing is done with vi. My theory is that vi commands were designed to be brutally efficient over a slow link (RS232 or 400 baud modem) and as a side effect, you can do a LOT with minimal keypresses (e.g. 5dd to delete 5 lines - try doing that as quickly in Word or Notepad). It also helps that your fingers don't have to leave the keyboard, vs a GUI where you're constantly switching hands from keyboard to mouse. Of course, I learned touch typing on Amstrad 8256 & 9512 machines, which always helps typing. Very glad I did that all those years ago, even if I was very much in the minority in the class as a boy.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Text editting

      A colleague typing ahead in vi made a mistype without realising it. He was then confronted with his file suddenly becoming encrypted - and with a key that he had to try to reverse engineer from his subsequent likely keystrokes.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re: Text editting

        Ha. I used to have that problem...but after a couple of start-over-from-scratch events, I learned the : sequence to save the file unencrypted.

      2. ari

        Re: Text editting

        Can we then agree that vi is catastrophically efficient? i.e. really efficient up until the point that it really isn't efficient at all for the next few weeks... ;)

      3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Text editting

        "his file suddenly becoming encrypted"

        That sounds more like vim than Real Vi.

        My first encounter with vim was trying to do something that I'd done many times with vi - clean up a file from the DOS world. And the thing was pre-configured with some set command to hide them. I quickly came to the conclusion that if it could do that it might hide other things I might need to see.

        lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 12 Jul 11 2013 /etc/alternatives/vi -> /usr/bin/nvi

    2. Muscleguy

      Re: Text editting

      At school in New Zealand in 1979 first year of secondary we did all the 'options' in half year bunches. So I learned bookkeeping and touch typing on an old manual typewriter. The typing class was thus 50/50 boys and girls. But then NZ is a different country when it comes to gender opportunities. I got up to 30 words a minute on the manual.

      Then fast forward to '87 and the period between been in the first class to write our honours thesis entirely on computer and starting my PhD I brushed up my skills with Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing on a 400k Mac floppy that was pre hfs, so all files had to be in the same directory as the program. I practised my skills by entering the references from my thesis from a card file to a Reflex database.

    3. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: Text editting

      400 baud was an odd speed. The standard speeds were 75, 150, 300, 600, 1200, 2400, 4800 and 9600. Some terminals would do 19200, but that was generally frowned upon because of the interrupt load on the server. Faster speeds came about when people started running multiplexors or PPP for internet access.

      But yes, that was one of the reason why vi commands were so terse, and the requirement for curses to optimise screen updates. Vi was written to be able to work over the slowest of lines with the most basic of terminals. All you needed was full-duplex communication, the alphanumeric keys and some punctuation. The terminal had to have some form of direct cursor addressing and at least a home and clear screen command, that could be encoded in termcap. But even the, there were some terminals that were just too brain-dead to be used for vi. I seem to remember some comments in ancient termcaps about a super-beehive terminal and maybe one of the Ann Arbour terminals.

      What was most concerning was terminals that would not flow-control properly, so there was a mechanism for encoding timing delays into the functions so that curses would not overwhelm a terminal, preventing corrupted screens.

      1. Alistair Dabbs

        Re: Text editting

        >> the requirement for curses to optimise screen updates

        I knew it: cursing at the screen works!

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Re: Text editting

          I knew I should have qualified that. Curses was an API abstraction layer allowing people to write software without having to know what terminal type was going to be used. It was written by Ken Arnold at UC Berkeley, and was shipped with BSD, before being re-implemented in System III Unix by AT&T.

          Interestingly, the Wikipedia article asserts that strictly speaking vi predated curses, and curses heavily borrowed code from vi. After all this time, you learn something new.

          1. Deryk Barker

            Re: Text editting

            vi was the Visual Interface to the ex text editor and was written by Bill Joy.

            This essentially kludgey nature of vi is reflected in the "insert mode" and "command mode" stupidity and the commands available in command mode, which are basically ex commands.

      2. Deryk Barker

        Re: Text editting

        You missed out 110 and - my favourite - 134.5 baud.

        Typically asynch terminals would do either hardware (X-on/X-off) or software (Control-S, Control-Q) flow controls.

        Terminals that would only do software (and I recall working with a VT102 "clone") flow control posed problems for software - the emacs editor was a prime example - which used just about every key combination for something. I recall writing an emacs extension for those terminals. Don't, after 30 years, recall any details...

        1. Stoneshop

          Re: Text editting

          You missed out 110 and - my favourite - 134.5 baud.

          We've got a PDP8/f that's got its serial interface modified for 110 baud, by having a different crystal fitted, for use with an ASR33.

          And if you have ever looked under the hood of an ASR33, you'll know why it can't do any speed but 110: its serialiser/deserialiser is a contactor disc driven by a synchronous motor.

          Typically asynch terminals would do either hardware (X-on/X-off) or software (Control-S, Control-Q) flow controls.

          Err, Xon/Xoff (Ctrl-S/Ctrl-Q) is software flow control. Hardware flow control requires at least RTS/CTS or DSR/DTR to be wired as well as Tx/Rx and Gnd,

  14. StooMonster

    Old dogs, new tricks

    There's an older fella on my commuting train who works on his laptop every morning. It's not that he's a classic two finger typist that is the problem but rather he hits the keys so hard that each punch can be heard down the other end of the carriage. What impresses me is that his generic windows laptop with MacBook Pro like keys can survive the bashing and continue to work.

    1. Alistair Dabbs

      Re: Old dogs, new tricks

      Yes, I spent a year working opposite someone who typed like he was playing whack-a-mole.

    2. verbaloversupply

      Re: Old dogs, new tricks

      I have that issue with the ; key, it comes from learning on a old typewriter where that key was stiff.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Old dogs, new tricks

        "where that key was stiff."

        Yes, we all have that problem every now and then. The need to bash a stiff one.

        (Hey, it's the weekend!!)

  15. Chad H.

    Anyone who had to learn formatting in WordPerfect 5.1 was already in good stead to learn HMTL - non WYSIWIG, and with "codes" that opened and closed like HMTL tags on the reveal codes screen... Those were the days.

    1. Alistair Dabbs

      Formatting in WordPerfect 5.1

      Despite everything I've said, a lot of key-driven programs weren't very nice at all. Half-Life Wife and I cut our word processing er teeth on WordStar. I hated it. All that Ctrl+K blocking fuss in order to format something was possibly the stupidest way of selecting text I can think of. WordPerfect got a lot of good PR but it was just as bad. So was Word.

      1. Deryk Barker

        Re: Formatting in WordPerfect 5.1

        Even earlier than wordstar was runoff and its various offspring.

  16. John Styles

    The lost era of pre-WIMP post-glass teletype software

    Many years ago, when the world was young, and DOSosaurs roamed the earth, we wrote a piece of software for vehicle scheduling. It had a UI written in a library using GEM. In order to fit 50 rows of 80 characters on an EGA screen (640 by 350) a colleague had sat down with graph paper one weekend and designed a font which looked OK with characters 7 pixels high and 8 across (you can find some around now IIRC but his looked better than the ones I have found decades later). Then each character could have one of 8 foreground and background colours.

    The software would schedule deliveries (main areas - breweries, oil tankers, deliveries to corner shops and the like) displaying each route in rows with 2 characters per drop - with the foreground and background colours of each character meaning something (e.g. order type, constraints, early or late delivery etc.)

    The user could then use the keyboard to move orders round e.g. move delivery 3 from vehicle 7 to position 9 on vehicle 8 by something like M<enter>3<enter>7<enter>9<enter>. Some of the users could do this amazingly fast, I remember we had to find a TSR to increase the keyboard buffer from one of them - they were doing this at the speed of a fast typist. You couldn't get anywhere near this speed with a mouse, I don't think.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Command line entry...

    ..via TCL is still very much alive and well in CAD/EDA circles.

    (Throw in a bit of SED/AWK/GREP and it's keyboard heaven.)

    Luckily any training course are for engineers who (for the most part) know their way around a mouse. keyboard and GUI when required.

    Let's put it this way: they wouldn't ask where the "pipe" key is.

  18. DropBear

    It is by no means news that some people just prefer to do absolutely everything on a computer by typing. Yes, ok, I get that. And I'm fine with it - never tried to "convert" any of them to something they seem to really hate that much: clicking. What I definitely don't appreciate though is the absolute lack of willingness on their part in general to even admit that other people might exist who legitimately prefer mice and GUIs and are just simply more productive with them they could ever hope to be with keyboards. It's almost like a cult thing, some sort of holy eloi / morlock division. And it's distinctly uncool.

    I'm not trying to win some absurd millisecond race of actions-per-minute or argument over how hard it is to hit a particular target with a mouse cursor here. I'm saying that I can hit something mundane like "open" or "save" or "view" or "preferences" (or even just "close"!) practically blindfolded even in a piece of software I've never seen before while figuring out to type ":wq" or ":q!" to do the same in a particular program is extra work I have to do every. damn. time.

    Yes, working with a single software all your life can and likely will lead to familiarity with keystrokes that do just what we call them - provide a faster shortcut over clicking; but in my experience, what I do instead is use an innumerable amount of various pieces of software briefly for whatever I need done every one of them getting used every once in a blue moon, if ever again at all. There's no way in hell I could ever hope to figure out how to do what I want done in every one of them by continuously browsing manuals and memorising endless groups of keystrokes - but I definitely CAN figure out the same, over and over again any time I need it, with a few seconds of trawling through their menus, if not by an immediate glance at a suitable button on one of their toolbars.

    So thanks, but no thanks. Don't come telling me how "superior" command lines are - they aren't; what they are is "different". If they better suit what you do with your computer, if you prefer them, by all means more power to you. But asserting your way is the best way is just not gonna cut it.

    1. the spectacularly refined chap

      Don't come telling me how "superior" command lines are - they aren't; what they are is "different".

      But reality does not change to suit the preferences of the observer. Keyboard commands are demonstrably faster. Imagine that we are both typing away in a document and the time comes to save it. I go for Ctrl-S whereas you reach for the mouse to click the save button on the toolbar. I've issued my command and the document has been saved before your hand has come to rest on the mouse, yet alone you've steered the pointer to the correct button.

      Sure, you don't need to know every command, but even the most frequent 5-10 save a lot of time by themselves - cut, copy, paste, save, close, print. Those tend to be the same across many applications. In any event the claims about the apps you run are clearly bull - you do have apps you used frequently. Is it less than six months since you last accessed a web site? If it is that claim is a lie - even if you used a different browser each time you would rapidly run out of web browsers within the once in a blue moon time frame.

      1. Cipher

        My reality is that a combination of keyboard shortcuts *and* mouse use is best.

        I grab a chunk of text with the mouse, CTRL C/CTRL V from the keyboard for example. Some apps support selecting and moving text with the mouse, which can be done at least as fast as using the keyboard.

        This Mouse vs. CLI thing is more emacs vs. vi fanboi nonsense, people work with the tools they like and are comfortable with, a few seconds saved here and there is bean counter false economy...

        1. Adrian 4

          Curious - I remember a major usability rule was that you shouldn't force the user to switch between mouse and keyboard, as it slows them down. It seems to have been forgotten recently.

          It's possibly untrue if they can use their dominant hand for the mouse and the other for the keyboard, but that would require left/right handed users to learn different keystrokes, which isn't sensible.

      2. Deryk Barker

        'Don't come telling me how "superior" command lines are - they aren't; what they are is "different".'

        So, you have a directory ('folder' if you insist) with 500 files in it.

        You want to delete the files which have "abc" *somewhere* in their names.

        Command line: one line


        1. Darryl

          GUI - You type 'abc' in the search box at the top right of the window.

  19. imanidiot Silver badge


    It's sad to see that most programs now consider the keyboard strokes/shotcuts to now be something only for the poweruser. Anyone should learn the keyboard presses required. And then let them decide for themselves if they want to use them or not.

    I've baffled many of my Solidworks teachers at school by being about twice as fast as anyone else simply by keeping my left hand on the keyboard and knowing a lot of the shortcuts. It saves so much time not having go into context menus.

  20. This post has been deleted by its author

  21. verbaloversupply

    Your shortcut gems?

    I think a knowledge of short cut keys is on the decline but may be replaced with voice commands. There is little enough time for training as it is and people don't see the advantage of learning them. As a manager I have used staff development days to instruct my staff in them, especially with excel (advantage for any job involving data) and encourage their constant use. Love seeing them training others to use them.

    Most underused combinations IMO (most excel):

    ctrl + y redo last action. So redo an undo. Also repeat last action, delete a row, highlight next and ctrl + y will delete again.

    ctrl + 1 format cell, right arrow key to switch tab and Alt + w twice to remove wrapping, return.

    ctrl + --> jump to right to next empty column

    shift + ctrl + --> highlight to right

    ctrl + end jump to bottom left data (shift highlights and home for top left of data) wonderful for macros.

    F2 edit cell in excel

    What are yours?

    1. Alistair Dabbs

      Re: Your shortcut gems?

      F1 (Help)

      1. John Riddoch

        Re: Your shortcut gems?

        Mr Dabbs gets an upvote for giving me a giggle :)

        As for favourite shortcuts, I use a lot of the Windows ones:

        Windows key+L - lock screen

        Windows key+M - minimise all windows (aka show desktop)

        Windows key+E - start explorer

        Windows key+R - open "run command" box

        1. SkippyBing

          Re: Your shortcut gems?

          I find Windows key+D - Show Desktop, is better than +M in that it shows the desktop and if you then press it again your windows are restored to where they were.

    2. Irongut

      Re: Your shortcut gems?

      Screw voice commands. Voice is the emperor's new clothes of interfaces.

      I work in a room with 7 other people. Its bad enough having to listen to them talk about their stupid children and the stupid things they do all day without also having to listen to them try to talk to their computers. That's before you consider the chance of someone saying "close file" and me losing the class I'm in the middle of working on because my computer mistook the office junior's voice for mine.

      1. Lars Silver badge

        Re: Your shortcut gems?

        @irongut, Thanks.

    3. Mark 172

      Re: Your shortcut gems?

      On a windows machine with Intel graphics...

      Ctrl + Alt + left, down or right arrow key can give a moments fun when someone turns away from their screen only to turn back and see that it has a new orientation. Even more fun if you come back a few days later and they have resigned to PHYSICALLY rotating their monitor to match!

    4. Stoneshop

      Re: Your shortcut gems?

      I think a knowledge of short cut keys is on the decline but may be replaced with voice commands.

      So we'll see, for instance, a lot of files, macros, command aliases etcetera, called [redacted expletive].

  22. ari

    While it is obvious that keyboard commands are very fast if you know them the case is still that in the old world then the only people who actually managed to do anything more than type in some text and save it (or even just managed to do that) were people who were willing to spend many, many hours preparing to do their work.

    Their work tended to focus on text or numbers, or a combination of text numbers and images (publish ing) and they were willing to spend the hundreds of hours required to learn their system, and most of them would then only use one or two systems.

    Contrast that with today when the basic expectation is that anyone even thinking about doing anything more than restocking shelves at Tesco is expected to know how to use a word processor, spreadsheet, photo manipulation software, a desktop publishing system, and countless other software packages. Most of these people would NEVER have spent the time required to learn WordPerfect or LOTUS 1-2-3 or any other such arcane package.

    OF COURSE these people are going to be inefficient and not understand what is going on underneath in the system... But they ARE getting stuff done that they would not have been able to in the "good old days"... (and I put the air quotes in on purpose)

    1. peter_dtm

      but the basic (and most common ones) are all Windows standards

      and work just about everywhere in MicroSoft Office - all flavours and in just about every Windows OS since Windows was first foisted on us.

      And amazingly they almost always work in every other WIndows hosted program too !

      OF COURSE this requires a small smidgeon of effort - most people will only need about 10 any way (select all-copy/cut - paste-save-close window-close program-print-open explorer-undo-redo)

      Now they can get stuff done with less risk of RSI & a damn sight faster !

  23. stucs201

    Getting harder to transition from mouse to keyboard

    I find that the switch from drop-down menus to ribbons in Windows software doesn't help. With the menus you tended to have the shortcut displayed alongside the text in the menu, so common ones would eventually start to register without actively trying to learn them. Other operations I'd find myself navigating the menu via the keyboard, for example I couldn't tell you if Word has a keyboard shortcut to Insert a Picture from a File, but I know Alt+IPF will do the trick.

    With the ribbon I don't find it nearly as natural to pick up shortcuts this way, I actively have to look to see what they are.

    1. roger stillick

      Re: Getting harder to transition from mouse to keyboard...What's a Ribbon ??

      Y2K Goal= never having to run MS Windows... almost there...RS.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Getting harder to transition from mouse to keyboard...What's a Ribbon ??

        "What's a Ribbon ?? "

        The stringy thing on a typewriter that covers you fingers in black ink.

      2. phil dude

        Re: Getting harder to transition from mouse to keyboard...What's a Ribbon ??

        @Roger Stillick - Have an upvote and some good karma to rid yourself of that last *bit*!


    2. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Getting harder to transition from mouse to keyboard

      That is because the general direction of travel with respect to UI's for a few decades now has been to make things more accessible to the lowest common denominator, and away from its initial market (typewriter replacement) to new markets where people have had no training in how to use keyboards and a computer (school children). Whilst these ideas have delivered interfaces such as iOS that require minimal user learning, they have also made it more difficult to do things; as we have witnessed in the uproar over Win8.

      If memory is correct, MS (and others), deliberately stopped shipping user documentation and specifically relevant here shortcut cribcards/cheat sheets/keyboard key templates (remember those plastic cut out sheets that MS shipped with it's Office app's up to 4.n, that sat on the keyboard just above the function keys) with the releases of Win95 & Office 95, on the basis that software should be 'intuitive' and hence didn't need a manual...

  24. Teiwaz

    The Cult of the vi Eloi/Moorlock

    The mouse isn't the best input device ever invented, (for that matter, neither is the keyboard, the commonest keyboard in use still has its keys laid out in order to constrain the users speed lest the mechanical parts of almost forgotten typewriters get jammed.

    I learnt wordprocessors and spreadsheets on Worperfect and Lotus 123 on DOS, and recognised when Windows 3.11 came along the advantage of applications having the same basic menu layout and shortcut key organisation

    Not that this has always been adhered to, some programs insist on breaking these conventions in some way or other (i.e VLC's use of Media instead of File, forcing me to Alt-M for the file menu rather than Alt-F, my learned habit, luckily they didn't change Ctrl-O, there are other examples, not least the crap peices of s/w that came with scanners/printers etc on windows over the years with non-standard dialogs and non-standard behaviour and no key shortcuts whatsoever... fumes.

    And I do wish we could decide on Ctrl-q or Ctrl-w for close, I keep using Q on Gnome image viewer (which uses 'w'), so I'm constantly doing emacs like double keys, ctrl-q-ctrl-w every time.

    I prefer key shortcuts over mouse, and touchpad over mouse for most things. In my expereince somebody who isn't familiar with at least the common key shortcuts is not someone to ask for advice on computer issues, 'cause if they haven't managed to learn the commonest key binds, they probably don't know enough to be of any help.

    1. StooMonster

      Re: The Cult of the vi Eloi/Moorlock

      the commonest keyboard in use still has its keys laid out in order to constrain the users speed lest the mechanical parts of almost forgotten typewriters get jammed

      According to the QI elves and Wikipedia that is incorrect, QWERTY was designed to increase speed not decrease it (albeit by reducing jams).

      Plus has happy coincidence of design of encouraging two handed multi-finger typing which is more efficient than alternatives.

      1. Irongut

        Re: The Cult of the vi Eloi/Moorlock

        You're quoting the QI elves around here? Dangerous my friend, very dangerous...

  25. Mephistro

    "like some fucked-up business edition of Riven."


  26. Lars Silver badge

    Touch typing

    Touch typing or eight or ten finger typing or what ever. My advice to anybody, especially yong programmers is to learn if. You will never regret it (nor will the company you work for). It's not only faster but you can keep your eyes on the screen and forget the keyboard and your fingers. In fact I would suggest companies who employ people to demand it. I remember a guy who sat in the same room as I and I was very impressed with the sound of his typing until I found out more or less every second keystroke was a back space. The text progressed like a drunk man, a few steps forward and then some steps back, and there it tried to go forward again. And yes, I did shut up he was quite a good programmer all the same.

    And now I suppose you think I am a superb touch typing guy on my high horse, but I am a lousy, about three finger, guy.

    At school we where given the opportunity to learn touch typing but then slightly later starting as a programmer there where at first years of numeric machine code and I lost it all.

    Even now writing this I am pissed off as I know I could have finished long ago. I can only blame my self, and I do.

    As for short keys I would assume people prefer the Ctrl +/- to the mouse.

    As a rather Linux user I prefer the mouse to Ctrl C and V, but that is an other story.

    1. Grade%

      Re: Touch typing

      It may not be fun learning it but by all the gummy bears in heaven the sheer joy I feel when I can write and type at the speed of my thoughts never leaves me. (Though unfortunately, I am both a slow thinker and touch typer)

      1. John H Woods Silver badge

        Re: Touch typing

        Yes learn touch typing. On Dvorak. It's quicker to learn, faster to type. I can do 60wpm without thinking, 80+ when I'm in the zone. And the biggest plus of all? Even if you forget to lock your screens your co-workers can't do a thing -- of the letters, only the A and M are in the same place! Makes fraping a thing of the past.

        1. Deryk Barker

          Re: Touch typing

          Did you ever learn to touch type a qwerty keyboard and, if so, how many wpm could you type?

          AFAIK there has only been ONE study that showed the speed superiority of the Dvorak keyboard and that study was conducted - by Mr. Dvorak...

      2. flokie

        Re: Touch typing

        I can understand why you would want to deliberately learn it, but do most people really actively learn it?

        I never did, but was touch typing after maybe 2 years of computer and internet use - and way too many hours spent in IRC chatrooms.

      3. Basil Fernie

        Re: Touch typing

        As a retired church organist I can write and type at the speed of my thoughts but then I'm also a slow thinker. Although right-handed I use the mouse with my left hand, saving my right for odd interactions with the keyboard when not in full two-handed text-entry flow. If there were some useful mode of data-entry employing the feet I would probably use that concurrently too.

        I use LibreOffice a great deal of the time, and do find a small subset of keyboard shortcuts very handy. In fact I like to use keyboard, mouse and touchpad variously as required for efficient navigation, but have a serious problem with the touchpad on my Lenovo laptop which frequently asserts a long-forgotten cursor position for the keyboard cursor, leading to multithreaded text. The fairly effective cure for this in *buntu Linux varieties is to use a utility called synaptiks which momentarily cancels the touchpad while the fingers are flying, but some recent distro versions don't seem to implement it. Totally disabling the touchpad is an unacceptable workaround. Do not brush the touchpad or its surround with an incautious heel of the hand while typing...

        Long before 3270 terminals, our research organization implemented TSO (IIRC) using modified IBM golfball typewriters as remote terminals. Even though a terminal was switched on and humming, there was no way to know if it was actually communicating except by trying to type in some text or pressing ENTER, oops, the carriage return key, which did in fact cause the golfball, if not the carriage, to return. Readiness by the System 360 to receive another message would be notified in due course by the golfball printing a full stop, rather pessimistically I always thought. When the system was heavily loaded (let's say 3 or 4 terminals active across the entire organization) this response could be much delayed, from 30 seconds to 30 minutes or more, a space of time occupied by activities variously subsumed under the impressive title "Waiting for (the) Godot". Reams of clean fanfold paper were used up by impatient tapping of the return key hoping to attract the attention of the aloof mainframe. I don't recall the communications baud rate.

    2. Adrian 4

      Re: Touch typing

      I prefer the mouse for cut & paste too. But applications under the X window system seem to have gone backwards - it used to be easy to mark, cut, paste with a three-button mouse. Now, half the applications (web browsers particularly) seem to inhabit a different cut & paste world leaving a frustrating failure to paste between them.

      I suspect this is a user problem (it does sometimes work, and I'm aware there are two paste buffers) but I'm lost at how to use this mixture efficiently. Can you help ?

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Touch typing

      >As a rather Linux user I prefer the mouse to Ctrl C and V, but that is an other story.

      It should be remembered that the key reasons why Unix/Linux commands are so terse and weird are because there were developed by techies who were unable to touch type and so preferred to stick two fingers up to those who could and who wanted to obfuscate things so that people had to read the manual.

  27. Mage Silver badge

    I bet you think I’m joking.

    Not at all. I used to give training courses. Some day I'll write a book.

  28. Anonymaus Cowark

    "right-clicking on things and hoping for the best, like some fucked-up business edition of Riven."

    I have not laughed that hard for ages.

    We have a "standard software" at work with an user interface, that never made sense to me, until now.

  29. Old Handle

    Speaking of keyboard "shortcuts", it amazes me how many people pick up the mouse to click "Go", "Search" or whatever after typing a query instead of just pressing Enter. Even on URL bars where the button is tiny little thing the UI designers obviously weren't expecting to see much use.

    1. Irongut

      Equally amazing is the number of programmers writing in house applications that don't include that functionality. I've even had one ask me why when I suggested it as an improvement for his application. He was one of those people himself and had no idea that other software did that.

    2. John 110

      @Old Handle

      "...people pick up the mouse to click "Go", "Search" or whatever after typing a query..."

      Tell me about it! Watching people type in their Active Directory Username/passwords is a dismal experience.

      Move mouse -> click in username box (it already has the cursor in it)

      Type username

      Move mouse -> click in password box (hit Tab - the one above capslock, fool)

      Type password (watching screen after every letter to make sure they go in - it's a row of dots!)

      Move mouse -> click OK (just hit return for goodness sake!!)

      1. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: @Old Handle @John 110

        >Type password (watching screen after every letter to make sure they go in - it's a row of dots!)

        Don't knock it! There are some websites I use that time the keystrokes and hence will lock you out if you type too fast, inferring you are a machine and not a human.

        I suspect that for many, because they've used a mouse-based GUI for so long, they are conditioned to use the mouse to move the cursor around the screen, only touching the keyboard when they need to enter text.

  30. tempemeaty

    Orbital Libation Station

    “Where’s the Spacebar?

    Just tell them it's in orbit. It's 1/2 price for drinks on Fridays and on Sunday evenings it's Karaoke night. It's just that the Russian Soyuz TMA-M taxi to get there isn't cheep.

  31. Spanners Silver badge

    My mouse confuses people

    "Why is your mouse at the left end of your keyboard? I thought you were right handed."

    "Yes I am mostly right handed."

    "Then your mouse is in the wrong place."

    "No. The keyboard is on the right and I type quicker with my right hand - quicker again with both at once."

  32. gfx

    On an Apple keyboard the delete button is missing. That's the main reason I'm using a pc one on the mini.

    I used 1-2-3 it was allright but it has been ages ago. On the Amiga I used some freeware spreadsheet thingy you could use a mouse.

  33. Unicornpiss

    Mechanical typewriters

    I learned touch typing on a manual typewriter in the 7th grade. This was possibly the most useful class of any ever offered. I remember typing sentences such as "Ed will audit the auditors" meant to really exercise those fingers on one hand. The effort to type on an old school (literally in my case) mechanical typewriter was formidable, and after a marathon session all of our fingers and wrists would ache. Yet I don't remember repetitive stress injuries coming into vogue until much later, though people forced to type all day on one of these, every day, must have been far more susceptible than anyone using modern equipment. I then took "Typing II", and midway through the first semester our truly ancient manuals (Royals I think) were replaced by Olivetti electronic typers. You could really fly on these, though the spacing and layout were a little different, so some relearning was necessary. All of our fingers breathed a sigh of thanks when we had to type a long document. Even some secretaries look on in wonder that I, a middle-aged man, can type as fast as I can and (usually) without too many mistakes--I have those old typing classes to thank.

    As a side note, I came into keyboard shortcuts in Windows late in the game, but a simple web search for "windows keyboard shortcuts" gave me everything I needed to know. I work with professionals that have been using computers for decades and it surprises me when I casually use a keyboard shortcut and they say "Wait, how did you just do that? Show me what you just did."

    1. Primus Secundus Tertius

      Re: Mechanical typewriters

      I watched new graduates start working with computers during the 1970s, and it was obvious they had no typing experience. By the 1980s they had typed before, though sometimes not accurately. And, like Nigel Molesworth, there speling was excrable.

      1. Stoneshop

        Re: Mechanical typewriters

        I've had someone, who apparently had never used a keyboard before, ask why the key arrangement wasn't simply "ABCDEetc".

        In 1991.

  34. Wisteela
    Thumb Up

    Great article

    The good old days of DOS. From the time when people largely knew what they were doing.

  35. Naughtyhorse



  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I think many non-technical people use their computers in a state of barely repressed panic - they are aware of how much 'magic' they just don't know. This is the only reason I have been able to discern to explain why otherwise intelligent people keep telling me "my computer's broken" and expecting me to tell them something useful; there is no chance they would go to a garage and say "my car's broken" without giving the mechanic some small clue about what had brought them there.

    You can't win though; start asking questions and they get offended: "Can you see anything on the screen at all?" "YES, OF COURSE" "ah, ok, so what's the problem" "I CANT GET ON THE INTERNET" "I see, what happens?" "I DON'T KNOW THIS BOX POPS UP AND SAYS ERROR SOMETHING" "Ah, ok - what exactly does it say" "I DON'T KNOW I JUST CLICKED OK" etc.

    Now, my wife is what we call 'emotionally intelligent' rather than 'academic'; it's taken her a year to really grasp the difference between Wifi and 3G. But she has switched between XP, Ubuntu, Android, iOS, XBMC etc, without anything like the moaning of far more 'intelligent' people who apparently can't cope with the transition from Windows 7 to 8 or Office 2003 to Office 2010 (I'm not talking about people who just don't like the changes, I might agree with them --- I'm talking about people who actually find it almost impossible to use the computer after such a change). But she's a level headed stoner who knows pretty much what she wants to do, and will "find a way to do it sooner or later without any bloody help from know-alls" And that is, I think, her advantage - other people are frightened to explore, use trial and error and make mistakes - she doesn't give a toss, so sooner or later she finds out what to do -- truly a case of XKCD 627.

    1. Dylbot

      This reminds me of the dreaded "HELP THE COMPUTER HAS DONE SOMETHING" - oh, it did that because you clicked this - "NO I DIDN'T, IT JUST DID IT BY ITSELF, FIX IT" conversation that any of us with a spouse or significant other has at least once a week. Windows 8 really doesn't help with the FUCKING touchpad swipe gestures, rescuing the missus from some godawful metro app is a daily occurrence now.

      1. Kepler

        Windows 8 touchpad swipe gestures/rescuing the missus from some godawful metro app

        Windows 8's lack of visual cues is a big problem. Thank Goodness you can always close an application that is opened by accident!

        Oh, wait. You can't. Friggin' genii! Redmond wankers.

        Yes, I understand that both of the problems I complain of (no visual cues for gesture interface; no way to close TIFKAM applications, once opened) were considerably ameliorated in the Windows 8.1 Update. But before that Update, I could not believe how easy it was to open an unwanted application by mistake, nor how there apparently was no way to close a Metro app, once opened. And I especially could not believe how applications I thought I had already closed (despite Microsoft's efforts to prevent me from closing them) — using Task Manager, since no other way seemed to be available — would suddenly reassert themselves and take over my entire screen if I unsuspectingly moved the cursor too near to the top left corner.

        So I empathize and sympathize with Dylbot and his missus.

  37. Daedalus

    Pity the poor drones

    Software gets designeritis. Too many functions included only to please marketeers and sales droids. It's the Xerox Syndrome, the creation of full featured gadgets that get used for one thing only most of the time. At least Xerox knew about the importance of the Big Green Button.

  38. Kepler

    Splendid article!

    Splendid article! And I for one believe that every word of it is true.

  39. hastypete

    I've had this conversation...

    You have described teaching seventh graders very well.

    Just last week I discovered why my students never follow my instructions when I ask them to move their cursor. They didn't know the word "cursor". They were calling the arrow on the screen the "mouse". Yup.

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Reading material

    Sorry about thread necromancy but given the subject of this article, I believe it might be interesting for some to have a look at "In the Beginning... Was the Command Line" by Neal Stephenson. Yes, THAT Neal Stephenson. Quite an interesting take on user interfaces.

    And about using on-screen keyboards like this... I wish that were a joke. Alas, been there, done that, cried bitter tears in the process.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon