Thursday, April 05, 2007

Cut and Paste

It is the little details in a User Interface that make the difference between something that is straightforward and something that is frustrating. For example, lets take the simplest editing function, cut and paste. If text appears on my screen, I want to be able to select the text and paste it into a document, message or whatever. However, there is a lot of text that appears on my screen that I cannot select. There are title bars, menu items and worst of all, all the interesting text in dialog boxes.

Imagine this scenario: a modal dialog box appears on my screen with an important error message. What do I do? Well I cannot select and copy the text, and with a truly modal dialog box, I cannot do anything else until I have dismissed the box, so if I want to preserve the message in the box, I have to find a piece of PAPER to write down what it says, and later transcribe my written notes into the email sent to support. I have been on the receiving end of software errors and so I know that the first question is "What EXACTLY does the message say?". So this is why you need to keep a piece of paper and pencil handy when you use a computer!

I was reminded of this problem today by another frustrating problem with cut and paste. A colleague IMed me to ask for an email address of a third party. As I had to send the third party an email as well, I brought up Outlook (ugg) typed the first three letters of the persons name and auto-completed. Feeling happy that everything could be done in a few keystrokes, I selected the email address in the To: part of the message, copied it and pasted into the IM window. Imagine my surprise when the name of the person appeared in the IM window but not their email address. I had copied the text "name <email>" and when I pasted all that appeared was "name". After 3 goes, I gave up and had to type the email address that appeared in one window into another. Who invented this feature, and what were they thinking?

On reflection, I suppose that I could have gone through the option and disabled all the ones that call themselves intelligent or smart. I did not and I will not. As I have said before in this blog, software should do the right thing out of the box. Anyway, life is too short to customize all the software tools that I use, especially as I am expected to upgrade to new and more complicated versions every few years.