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Steve Bang <[log in to unmask]>
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Steve Bang <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 16 Aug 1999 12:46:39 -0700
text/plain (55 lines)
Since many workplace applications are moving from Windows-based,
locally-installed clients to Web-based clients,  many users are quite
reluctant to part with the sometimes strong advantages of keyboard-based
navigation and option selections.  From experience we know that some Web
users routinely press the Return or Enter key to submit forms (and are upset
or perplexed when it doesn't work).  And, many, if not most, experienced
users use the Tab key to move between fields in a form.  The use of these
keyboard shortcuts (or accelerator keys) will be familiar to many of you.
Yet, if I suggest augmenting a current Web-based application with more
keyboard shortcuts for frequent ("power") users, I typically get a seemingly
knee-jerk resistance without considering that users may want this choice,
especially when it improves their productivity.  Some developers insist that
it is not a good idea to use keyboard accelerators (usually single-key or a
combination of two keys) because it is not "Web-like", but the Web is still
evolving and in recent browsers (based on demand), JavaScript supports
additional event handlers that allow the addition of keyboard shortcuts.
While it may be true that most users would not use these keyboard shortcuts
if available, I don't see any problems with the use of keyboard shortcuts
when appropriate (especially high production environments).  My current
opinion is based on a successful implementation of extensive use of keyboard
shortcuts (see example below).   What experience do others have?  Does
anyone have persuasive arguments that keyboard shortcuts are such a bad idea
(besides the issues of how users can figure out what the shortcuts are)?


My previous employer, a library software automation company, successfully
moved several customers accustomed to using character-based clients to the
newer Web-based Java clients.  In library environments, it is common for
data entry cataloging staff (adding new items -- books, magazines, CDs,
etc.) to expect to quickly move through bibliographic records using the
keyboard alone and using single characters to jump to make choices, moving
to different locations within a record or to entirely different screens.
Also, circulation staff (working with patrons waiting in sometimes long
lines to check out books) have been accustomed to rely on keyboard-based
entry to quickly process the check-outs for patrons.  In order to be
successful in moving from ASCII terminals and the earlier character-based
input screens to Web-based applications, customers expected to continue
being able to use the keyboard as their primary input device.  Using a mouse
would slow down operations too much.  So, the company I was at make
conscientious effort to support these expectations.  The result was that
novices and intermittent users could rely on pointing-and-clicking while the
more experienced and frequent users could use keyboard shortcuts to zip
through their work.

Steven K. Bang                          Phone: (650) 526-1782
Consulting Engineer                     Fax: (650) 526-1701
AlphaBlox Corporation                   Email: [log in to unmask]
800 Maude Avenue                                Web:
Mountain View, CA 94043