File chooser [was Re: [Usability] Re: [Desktop_architects] Printing dialog and GNOME]

[I'm not crossposting.  Trying to localise the flames :) ]

On Tue, 13 Dec 2005, Carl Worth wrote:

> Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2005 00:17:06 -0800
> From: Carl Worth <cworth cworth org>
> To: Linus Torvalds <torvalds osdl org>, usability gnome org,
>      desktop_architects lists osdl org
> Subject: [Usability] Re: [Desktop_architects] Printing dialog and GNOME
> On Tue, 13 Dec 2005 18:26:46 +1100, Jeff Waugh wrote:
> > Jump into a GNOME file dialogue some time and just type a filename. :-) We
> > didn't get this 100% right when it first shipped, which was disappointing,
> > but it's top stuff now.
> Sadly, it's not there yet. I really wish I could just type a
> filename, but a magic keypress (Ctrl-L) must be used for anything
> close to reliable filename typing is possible:

There were several competing and incompatible ideas being put forward and
we ended up with a mix of things strongly influenced by those who had
the staying power to explain thier ideas in great details and work
with a developer who was enthusiastic about getting something done.

Competing ideas really understates how convoluted the problem was because
there are some people who very strongly want to get rid of the File
Chooser entirely and encourage other methods of interaction such as
drag and drop, and greater use of the file explorer (nautilus).  I'll come
back to this [1]

More important was to get something out and encourage the use of the new
API.  This is extremely important because it allowed groups like GPE (the
Gnome Palmtop Enviroment) to offer an alternative File Chooser.  I'm
surprised others* haven't implemented more alternatives or even forward
ported the old dialog to the new API.

(* Mozilla, XFCE, any of the Gnome distributors ... not one tried offering
an alternative File chooser but maybe they still will and maybe someone
will carry out those wild threats to hook up the KDE file chooser to the

> Additionally that entry doesn't support tab-completion at all.

Tab completion breaks the standard convention of using Tab to navigate
round GUI elements but there isn't anything wrong with providing other
forms of autocomplete.

> I don't know if the file open/save dialogs were intentionally designed
> to exclude someone like me, but I'm certainly happier when I can avoid
> using them.

Having been forced to learn to use the command line I a little ashamed to
admit I find myself using it more and more to open things (rather than use
the slower File chooser) so I'm surprised more of the developer users
don't do that too.

It is unfortunate how the new file chooser is good in ways which are so
completely different to what was good about the old dialog (although in
the new File Chooser I think having easy access to frequently used folders
thanks to bookmarking is killer).

Looking at the File Chooser from Mac OS it seems to me like the Gnome File
chooser has things backwards.  The first thing shown should be the small
compact location dialog with autocomplete and a button to show a more
complicated dialog.  This serves the accessibility needs of certian users
and the desire for fast access of other users, but expanding to a more
complex dialog make the easy point and click way possible.

It goes back to [1] mentioned above, because if we look at the problem
holistically the really easy way for ordinary users is not to use the file
chooser at all but use other methods instead.  Admittedly this is entirely
based on competative analysis (shamelessly looking at what Apple have

> The fear of exposing / as a separator is the most bewildering design
> aspect to me personally. I'm certainly glad that the designers of
> firefox didn't see fit to replace each /-separated component of every
> URL with individual buttons.

The trail of breadcrumbs idea was suggested, some people liked it and went
with it (and I only mumbled a few reservations and now we have it in
Nautilus too) and as I explained above things were a little rushed and
those with the enthusiasm to get things done stongly influence the
results, which was far better than doing nothing and not making any
progress at all.  The Worldwide Web makes learning about addresses (URLs)
virtually unavoidable so we may as well grasp the nettle and try to teach
users the concept.  (I'm sure a real expert would file that suggestion
somewhere under Learnability and maybe Consistency.)

My comments here are a little rushed and not as thoroughly researched as I
might like but I hope they are of some use and provide some information
and insight you might not have already been aware of.


Alan Horkan

Open Clip Art

Alan's Diary

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