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Pawel Brodzinski on Software Project Management

Keyboard Shortcuts in Web Applications

What are differences between modern web application and good old thick client we used back than before internet bubble came?

One is responsiveness. Web applications generally suck when it comes to rapid response to user’s actions. Just today my friend told me how fast a time tracking app has become when he installed recently released Google Chrome add-on for Internet Explorer. If it wasn’t a web app he wouldn’t touch the application with that level of responsiveness. Not even with a stick.

What else? My call is usability. Web is still mouse-focused while most of old school thick clients are, or at least should be, keyboard-focused. The early web was all about navigating with mouse but that’s the old truth: keyboard is faster. The web should just mimic keyboard-driven navigation from thick clients, shouldn’t it?

Well, no. Not so fast. The problem is every web page works within some thick client – a web browser. Now, you can’t just use all these Alt+something or Ctrl+something since you don’t know which version of which browser your user launched.

Yes, Ctrl+O opens a file and Ctrl+S saves a file pretty much everywhere. But you don’t really know what Alt+N does in my Firefox and in my Internet Explorer. And as far as shortcut isn’t intercepted by the browser it will be passed to a web application. Unfortunately you can’t know when it is and when it isn’t.

The answer? I wish I had one which works every time but that’s not true. One great approach is the one used by Google Reader. They use characters and Shift+characters as their shortcuts. This doesn’t interfere with Alt+something or Ctrl+something used by browsers. Unfortunately this doesn’t work whenever you have a lot of text to be filled by the user since then you use letters and big letters to fill the text.

Another option? Leave shortcuts alone but make standard tab-pedaling as intuitive as possible.

Any other ideas how to solve the problem?

On a side note: a little hiatus here was connected with deployment of my private project. In other words: finally we have moved. There are glitches all over the place but the first service pack (term copyrighted by Szymon) is scheduled for the next year.

in: software design, user experience

2 comments… add one

  • Anonymous November 2, 2009, 5:13 pm

    Hello from Russia!
    Can I quote a post "No teme" in your blog with the link to you?

  • Pawel Brodzinski November 2, 2009, 6:37 pm

    Yes, sure. As far as you give credits that's perfectly fine.

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