On keyboard shortcut consistency, or lack thereof

I just finished typing a lengthy weblog entry... did a final review prior to posting it and noticed a word out of place... so I went to edit, placed the cursor on the word in question, selected it with Ctrl-W, and... hey where did my browser go?

In both VS.NET and IntelliJ IDEA, Ctrl-W selects the word under the cursor, and I've gotten quite used to this convenient shortcut. Little did I know that IE responds to this somewhat differently...

It'd be nice if there would be more consistent keyboard shortcuts across applications. You'd think multiple applications from the same company would at least have some common shortcuts, but even this is oftentimes not the case. While I understand that a common "select word" shortcut may be a bit of a stretch, it would be nice if something as basic as "Find" and "Find Again" would be standardized. Instead, we have the following shortcuts in Microsoft applications:

  • VS.NET: Find = Ctrl-F, Find Again = F3. These seem to be the generally accepted search shortcuts for a lot of windows applications.
  • MS Word: Find = Ctrl-F, Find Again = Shift-F4
  • Internet Explorer: Find = Ctrl-F, Find again has no keyboard shortcut that I know of - you have to keep the search-dialog alive to search again.
  • MS Outlook: Find across emails: Ctrl-Shift-F, Find in a message = F4, Find Again = Shift-F4. I've lost count on the number of times I've pressed Ctrl-F, only to get a new email-window pop-up to forward the message I wanted to search.
Is a little bit of consistency really too much to ask???

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I agree with you, especially about the lack of Find Again in IE. I often search on Google and then wishes to find those words on the page. You find one occurence and close search window, when you look for the next it restarts. When a word has 200 occurrences on a page it gets pretty irritating...

However, have you ever tried Ctrl+Shift+F in Outlook? This opens the Advanced Find window in which you can search for messages in almost too many ways. This is something that I use an a daily basis.

Also, in my Outlook (2003) the short-cut is available in the menu when looking at Tools/Find/Advanced Find.


Posted by Mattias Lindberg at January 15, 2004 12:43 AM

You will never have the consistency you ask for, but the solution is simple: just never ever edit a long text in a browser text field. I use emacs or Front Page as soon as I want to type more than three lines in a text field, it's saved my butt countless times...

Posted by Cedric at January 15, 2004 3:11 AM

It gets worse... in the Danish version of Office Ctrl+B (boldface) and Ctrl+F (find) are switched around which is pretty darn annoying when you are used to applications like VS.net.

Posted by Jakob Christensen at January 15, 2004 4:46 AM

I completely agree on the lack of consistency. Other things that bug me are the sometimes inconsistent treatment of ALT-F4 and CTRL-F4. It's gotten better since Windows 3.11, but there are still applications that close individual windows with ALT-F4, or close the entire application with CTRL-F4. And then, there's that bizarre bit where, by default, text boxes and RTF boxes add a tab when you hit CTRL-I.

And don't even get me started on the applications which have you selected menu entries with CTRL-letter or having to hit ALT, release, wait a second, hit a letter.

Posted by Duggan at January 15, 2004 9:01 AM

Actually, one slight inaccuracy: in Word, you can search again by clicking the double arrows at the bottom right (under the down arrow on the scroll bar). But there really ought to be a keyboard shortcut.

Posted by Bruce Rusk at January 15, 2004 9:55 AM

Matthias & Bruce: thanks for the corrections - I have updated the post accordingly.

Posted by Luke Hutteman at January 15, 2004 10:25 AM

Word does have keyboard shortcuts for the find prev/next arrows: Ctrl+Page Up and Ctrl+Page Down.
Actually, those keys are shortcuts for the arrows, not specifically for the find commands. For instance, if you haven't done any searching yet, those keys will move back/foward 1 page. Click the little circle doohickey between the arrows to change what the arrows do.

Posted by Mike Dunn at January 15, 2004 1:39 PM

The shortcut for "repeat search" in Word is shift+F4.

Posted by Gareth Rowlands at January 15, 2004 1:40 PM

I updated the post for shift-F4 in Word - how come this shortcut is not visible in the menus anywhere? (or am I blind?)

Posted by Luke Hutteman at January 15, 2004 2:32 PM

I also agree wholeheartedly that the lack of consistency is annoying. However, some [potentially unrealistic] part of me thinks that there could someday be a standard that people follow for this ... at least within particular platforms. I mean, there are countless numbers of developers (both commercial and individual) that follow W3C standards for web stuff, why can't we get people to do the same with Human-Computer Interaction.

Can anyone think of any explanation for why it seems people are more compelled to comply with other standards (J2EE, W3C, etc.) but not User Interface standards?

Posted by Mark Lozano at January 15, 2004 3:18 PM

Because people adapt easier than computers. If I write a J2EE container or an HTTP webserver I had better stick to the standard or no existing systems will be able to connect to me.
If on the other hand I write an application with a lot of cool features but that uses somewhat confusing keyboard shortcuts, most people will still buy the app and just adapt to the different shortcuts.

Posted by Luke Hutteman at January 15, 2004 5:28 PM

Hey Luke,

Sorry about your lost work. I am using MyIE2 for web browsing and it sort solves some of the problems mentioned here (though does not solve the consistancy issue). You can reopen windows you've closed (the text obviously is gone) and the new version highlights your search.

You did bring up and important point there, I think there should be a central dictionary for available commands. The users then can assign a short cut at the dictionarry level and have it influence all programs (similar to applying a them). Well, maybe this is yoru next gift to the world.

P.S: I just love sharpreader!

Posted by Miro at January 25, 2004 3:26 PM

Darn, that' the thing I hate about posting, no speller. Anyway:

them = theme
short cut = shortcut

Posted by Miro at January 25, 2004 3:33 PM

Miro: I tried myie2 before but it did not work all that great for me - then after I uninstalled it, it left a bunch of crap in my registry that screwed some things up for a while until I manually removed it from the registry - needless to say, it's not coming back on my system.

Regarding the spell checker: try iespell.

Posted by Luke Hutteman at January 25, 2004 4:44 PM

MS Word: Find = Ctrl-F, Find Again = Shift-F4
I always used to wonder if there was a short key to "find again". Thanks for letting me know, but I am not sure I will remember it and use it. Other useful word shortcuts
Internet Explorer: Find = Ctrl-F, Find again = ?
I have created a bookmark for this.
click and drag the "Find' bookmarket to your links toolbar.
Miro, I have not used MyIE2 but have started using Mozilla Firebird. And it has solved most of my problems.

Posted by Shantanu Oak at January 26, 2004 6:42 AM

I'm glad they at least still support Shift-Insert. I never got used to Ctrl-V for pasting. I still use Shift-Ins to paste to this day!

BTW, I love SharpReader!

Posted by Tony at January 31, 2004 2:25 PM

Sorry to comment so late on this...

CTRL+W is an awful shortcut in general, since there's already a shortcut to close a program, ALT+F4. But for me, CTRL+W is even more sinister because I use Dvorak, and the 'W' is right next to the 'V'. It's so easy to be pasting something in and have your finger slip, and you wind up closing the window instead. Evil.

Posted by Keith at February 8, 2004 8:42 AM
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