May 12, 2003

Obligatory Usability Rant #1: Hot Keys

Not sure if I've posted any usability rants on this site yet, but I'm sure to post more, so lets call this the first of many.

It be ironic if it wasn't so annoying, but every time I find a product that enhances the usability of Windows, I end up not using the product because it has hot keys that fsck up my ability to use other programs. WTF?

The worst offender is ActiveWords, which is a pretty brilliant app. It basically transparently overlays an invisible command line interface onto your computer. Its implemented flawlessly. You type as usual, and if you happen to want to trigger ActiveWords you just hit a key of your choice (F9 for me). It launches apps, scripts, spell checks, you name it. Let you do almost anything without moving your hand to the mouse. Loved it. Would be using it right now, except for one flaw, it had a hot key that overwrote the universal keyboard shortcut for zooming in withing graphics apps. Which meant that every time I opened Illustrator, Photoshop or Flash, I'd end up closing ActiveWords. First of course I tried disabling the hotkeys in it, but for whatever reason it never worked. Needless to say it was not worth the trouble to keep turning the program on and off depending on whether I had a graphics app running. The trial expired and I didn't buy it, despite the fact I'd been telling everyone how much I loved the damn application.

Yesterday, I discovered MultiDesk a program for ATI graphics cards. Brilliant, it gives you multiple desktops you can easily cycle through. The web running on one desktop, swap over to another with Photoshop, switch to an email one, switch to a blank one. Reduces desktop clutter dramatically. Good stuff. I'll be using it for a while.

But WTF is up with their hotkeys. I had a very specific combo I wanted to cycle through the desktops. Windows Key and the Arrows. Can't do it. Ctrl Alt and Shift only, and only with the number and F keys. Why? No idea. Can't get it to work anyway...

There is a solution to all this. Not sure if Microsoft would allow it of course, but here it is. Have one hotkey that triggers OS level functioning (switching monitors, opening apps, and the like). I thought that was what the Windows key was for anyway. That would leave ctrl, alt and shift combos as being defined by the apps only. No OS level application would be able to block internal application functionality. Hit the Windows key and all of a sudden you can access all sorts of meta functionality. Simple. But it doesn't work. Instead there is some sort of hidden warfare between apps, fighting for key combinations. The loser is the user of couse...

Posted by William Blaze at May 12, 2003 11:01 PM | TrackBack

Do this vis a vis ActiveWords, right click on the menu bar, go to options, first screen is activeword triggers, go to set ActiveWords key, disable or change hot key to your liking. Better yet, disable, and then go to second button, i.e. comfirmation options, enable space bar-spacebar.

If you want the guided tour of what we do, let me know.



Burton L. Bruggeman
ActiveWords, Inc.
311 E. Morse Blvd.
Winter Park, FL 32789
321.414.0231 eFax

Posted by: Buzz Bruggeman on May 21, 2003 05:15 PM
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