August 18th, 2006 • 3:34 pm
Only Microsoft can come up with this kind of proprietary behaviour that effectively drives the user insane.
Say you have a list of names in an Excel document and you are trying to edit one of the names by double-clicking on its cell. The current selection is another cell:
Say you want to edit the cell containing the name “Poirier.” A single click on the cell will only select the cell, without making it editable:
So instead of single-clicking, you double-click in the exact same location. Normally, this should select the cell and make the text in the cell editable (provided that you’ve checked the option to “Edit directly in cell” in Excel’s preferences).
And in most cases it does. But in this particular case it does not. Instead, when you double-click on the exact location indicated by the position of the mouse pointer above, Excel first selects the desired cell, and then directly jumps to the last cell in the list:
WTF? Why on earth does Excel do this? Because your mouse pointer is in a particularly strategic location, that’s why. See, the “hot spot” in your mouse pointer is actually located right on the bottom edge of the cell. And apparently, this means something special to Excel.
It doesn’t mean anything special when you single-click. When you single-click, Excel selects the cell, as expected. But when you double-click, for some reason, Excel interprets this as a shortcut for jumping to the bottom of the list.
This is insane. If single-clicking selects the cell, then double-clicking should do what double-clicking is supposed to do, i.e. make the cell’s content editable.
There should not be a special behaviour for the double click, when the behaviour for the single click is the same as when you click elsewhere on the cell.
And there certainly should not be a special behaviour for an area that is only one-pixel wide! Because there is simply no way that a user might ever find this behaviour actually useful for anything. It’s far too hard to hit this particular area on purpose! On the other hand, of course, it’s far too easy to hit this particular accidentally when you actually meant to double-click on the cell itself, and not on its edge.
If you look at the screen shots above carefully, you’ll notice that the mouse pointer in the second picture is different. It’s a hand cursor instead of the default cross. But that picture is misleading. The cursor only actually changes from a cross to a hand when I press the Command key down, and I have to press it down because the Command key is part of my shortcut for capturing a screen shot.
But when I am simply using Excel and not trying to capture its behaviour with screen shots, the cursor does not change to a hand. So there is absolutely no indication that the double click on this particular area will trigger a different behaviour.
The cursor changes to a hand, because with the Command pressed down, Excel provides a number of drag-and-drop shortcuts for moving cells around, and the hand is the cursor that indicates that you are in drag-and-drop mode.
Although it’s actually a bit more complicated than that. If you select a cell by clicking once on it and then move your mouse pointer to the edge of the cell, the cursor will change to a hand symbol, even if you don’t hold the Command key down. That’s because Excel does have a special shortcut for selecting cells, which is described in this help page:
But this is a behaviour that only occurs when you hold the Shift key down while double-clicking! Which of course I have not done at any point in the process described above.
And more importantly, the cursor change does not occur when the cell is not selected first. Which means that if you have another cell selected and you directly double-click on the edge of the cell, the cursor does not change to a hand at any point to indicate that you are actually pointing on the cell with your mouse pointer’s hot spot directly on the edge of the cell.
In other words, it looks like, in the process of implementing this special shortcut with double-clicks on cell edges combined with the Shift key, Microsoft accidentally also introduced a behaviour that serves no purpose whatsoever, and cannot even be predicted because the cursor fails to change to a hand to reflect the special function of double-clicking on the cell’s edges when the cell is not selected first.
Dear oh dear.
And of course there is a similar behaviour with the top edge of cells. Instead of jumping to the bottom of the list, Excel jumps to the top of the list. Except that I am finding it quite difficult to trigger this behaviour on purpose, because I don’t really know what distinguishes the top edge of a cell from the bottom edge of the previous cell.
When the cell is selected first, there is no ambiguity regarding what is the top edge and what is the bottom edge. But when the cell is not selected first, which is the situation that I am describing here, the behaviour is effectively impossible to predict.
There is no clear indication, in the default Excel cursor, of where the hot spot actually is in the cursor. It’s a white point in the middle of the white area at the centre of the cross. When that white area is on a cell’s edge and actually hides the cell’s edge from view, it’s very hard to tell whether you are going to be clicking on the cell edge itself or just below or above it.
I guess the bottom-line here is that, once again, Excel turns out to be a monster of unpredictability even for the most mundane of tasks. I discovered this particular behaviour while trying to edit some names in a list of names in a column in an Excel document. Needless to say, I ended up experiencing the unwanted behaviour quite frequently, because my cells were quite small and it was relatively easy to accidentally double-click on the edge of the cell rather than exactly inside the cell, especially since the cursor does not change to indicate the change in behaviour.
I am afraid that, once again, the conclusion is Microsoft’s software is incredibly user-hostile. It has behaviours that make no sense, that you’d never want to use, and yet that occur frequently because you trigger them accidentally while trying to do something else.