Rick Schaut on anchored selection

Posted by Pierre Igot in: iTunes, Mail, Microsoft, Pages
March 15th, 2005 • 3:35 am

Microsoft Word developer Rick Schaut finds time to complain in his blog about a selection behaviour in iTunes. It is indeed a behaviour that is not consistent with what happens when you select text with the keyboard in a text editor or word processor such as TextEdit or Word or Pages.

It also affects other applications, such as Apple’s own Mail, when you try to change a selection of messages with the keyboard. Sometimes inconsistency can be justified by the fact that the alternate behaviour does meet a specific need. But in this case, like Rick, I fail to see the point.

The trouble is that, before giving lessons to other developers about selection behaviours, Rick Schaut would do well to devote his time to fixing selection behaviours in his company’s own applications.

A quick search through this blog shows that there are a number of major problems with text selection in Word, and especially with selecting text in tables. Here’s a short list:

Some of these problems are purely and simply bugs that Microsoft has failed to fix over the years. Others are basic design flaws that make selecting text in tables a very frustrating activity.

Just like Rick Schaut is “absolutely certain” that other people have experienced the same frustrating inconsistency as he has in iTunes, I am absolutely certain that numerous Word users have experienced the frustration associated with the bugs and flaws described in the posts above.

(The one that I find particularly irritating is the one where Word forgets that you have double-clicked on a word to select it (and therefore activated word selection as opposed to character selection) when you accidentally extend the selection anywhere beyond the current cell by dragging too far up or down with your mouse. When you reduce the selection again, the word that you had double-clicked on is no longer selected (and word selection is off again), even though you’ve never released the mouse button! This is intensely irritating.)

The difference here is that the behaviour in iTunes (and Mail) is something that I encounter occasionally, while the problems in Word are something that is experienced on a daily basis.

I guess it’s all a matter of where your priorities are.

2 Responses to “Rick Schaut on anchored selection”

  1. Ant says:

    I take your point, but I have to say that one of the few complaints I have about the OS X interface since I switched from Windows a couple of years ago regards its lack of anchored selection.

    You see, I love anchored selection. (Well, perhaps that’s a little strong; I certainly like it, though). With anchored selection, you pick a starting point, hold down Shift, and then arrow up or down to the end of the list of things you’re selecting. Then — and this is the crucial bit — if you make a mistake in the selection (you overshoot the end-point, say), YOU CAN CORRECT IT IMMEDIATELY by arrowing back down or up. Easy.

    Not so in OS X: if you make a mistake there, which I not unfrequently do (especially in Mail), you have to start all over again. If you try to correct your selection whilst still holding down Shift — perhaps you’ve forgotten that the otherwise-excellent OS X interface is unanchored — you’ll alter the START of your selection instead of the end. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fallen for that one. (But I think it’s approximately 620 times.)

    V. irritating.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Oh, absolutely. No question that the non-anchored behaviour is irritating. But the key thing is that it’s limited to things like lists of songs in iTunes or list of e-mail messages in Mail — whereas the problems in Word affect ANY text selection.

    The difference between Apple and Microsoft here is that Apple seems to have made a conscious decision to alter the default behaviour for selecting stuff in certain situations — whereas Microsoft is just sloppy and lets obvious bugs slip through without ever correcting them.

    As I said, I just can’t understand the reason for the alternate behaviour that Apple has chosen for lists of stuff — but at least it appears to be entirely deliberate, and consistent in its inconsistency. Word, on the other hand…

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