Cyborg Earthworm»Blog

A note on interfaces

Here is an article that advocates for Norton Commander-like keyboard graphical interfaces (and in general, reconsidering how we use computers for everyday tasks).

Ignore the fact that this is a long article about what tools are better suited for particular tasks, written as a sequence of tweets.

I agree that keyboard interfaces are faster to use once you get used to them than interfaces based on screen buttons. Also, Screen buttons, if you think about it, sound a little unnatural: you have a bunch of physical buttons already, why would you draw a fake physical button on the screen, that doesn't give you any tactile feedback, and then animate it so that it gets better at pretending that it's a real button and gives you at least some visual feedback?

On the other hand, I used Norton Commander as a child (not having decades of practice using a mouse), and I remember that it was still tremendously easier to use it with a mouse than with a keyboard. So, I'm not sure that the difficulty of keyboard interfaces is caused by absence of experience compared to mouse. I think keyboard interfaces might still be inherently more difficult to learn than mouse interfaces. I should probably look up some studies on this sometime.

Maybe sometime later I will implement a keyboard-only interface as an option for this game or another game of this kind. I don't know how to make pattern input convenient on keyboard, though.
Mārtiņš Možeiko, Edited by Mārtiņš Možeiko on
I started with Norton Commander, went through Volkov Commander, then through Dos Navigator which was really good.

Nowadays I use FAR Manager. Pretty much every single day. This is on Windows and Linux. Its my "IDE". And I can do things with very fast. Much faster than most of people do things with files / text editing / compiling in any other software .
Matt Mascarenhas,
This and the following tweet fairly encapsulates my perspective on it.

Currently the worst example of a mouse-based interface I use is Netflix's "closing credits" screen. I've learnt the interface, I know that I have n seconds before it'll auto-play the next episode (or even a trailer for another programme!), and that to prevent this and go back to "Browsing" I must click on a button in the top-left corner of the screen.

To do this, though, I must go through this whole ceremony of mode-switching from watching the video to locating the mouse cursor on screen (admittedly an improvable skill, potentially eased by using a more prominent cursor image), moving the physical mouse until the on-screen cursor is over the image of a button (also improvable, as an old work colleague proved), then clicking on the physical mouse button.

This ceremony (besides the mode-switch) could be bypassed by just binding, say, Backspace to "Go to Browse". Then we'd only need to locate and press the Backspace key on the physical keyboard. It could also be bypassed by using a touch screen, hand gesture (do we have the tech for this yet?), voice command, blink of the eye. Basically any means of communication that doesn't involve a mouse or depend on a prolonged feedback loop of moving something and verifying the discrete position of something else.

The issue with the Netflix interface isn't in the learning of it (especially once you've learnt how to use a mouse and read a GUI), it's in the execution and the fact that mastery of the interface enables barely more effective use of it than a cursory understanding.

The way I'm approaching Cinera's interface is to have both mouse and keyboard controls, with the keyboard offering extra functionality (mostly surrounding filtering) that regular users may want, without littering the screens of occasional users. You can see that kind of thing in action here.

Suppose you're a regular who only wants to see which programs were run during the stream. You can do this by filtering off all the media except "In-Game" and switching the filter mode to "exclusive". A beginner may likely do this all with the mouse. A keen keyboard-focused intermediate user may perform the mouse controls one-to-one with their keyboard equivalents. And a master may use the keyboard's extra stuff by filtering off the "In-Game" medium and inverting the media filter (v).

Hopefully this doesn't come across as a Keyboard Master Race kind of pitch, stunting casuals and rewarding masters. It's motivated by the appreciation that there are various styles of user, and the desire / need to understand, respect and tailor the interface to those styles.