Microsoft recently announced an add-on to Office 2007 to let people search for commands by typing it in if they can’t find it in the new Ribbon user interface.
I find it interesting that a number of interfaces are now offering “shortcuts” to mouse clicking everywhere.
While desktop search applications already provide this kind of convenience for finding files, such an interface for finding commands is quite interesting, to me.
I have noticed this more so in products used typically by technical people.
For example, on the Mac at various places, such as the System Preferences, you can type for the settings you want to adjust and the application will highlight possible matches for you:
KDE 4, a Linux window manager, has a start-like menu (called the KickOff) where you can type the program you want to find:
Vista has a similar thing from its Start menu:
Various software development tools from the excellent Resharper add-in for C# in Visual Studio, to API documentation readers, all offer some way to type in the class, file, method etc you are looking for. And such features are sometimes an efficient alternative to clicking through large trees of information:
Someone wrote a very useful jQuery API guide where the main form of navigation is to begin typing for the api feature you are looking for:
The Office add-on for finding commands, while still in early testing, is a feature that targets more than just technical users, so it will be interesting to see how this works out.
Is Microsoft’s announcement a sign of failure of the Ribbon interface? I don’t think so; it may be more reflective of the challenge they find of getting users who are so used to a well-established product to doing things dramatically differently.
As people are getting more used to searching on the web, perhaps that metaphor is making its way back into more traditional user interfaces and that typing is perhaps no longer seen as a poor usability option compared to clicking around using a mouse.
(To clarify, I don’t expect, or want to imply, that typing/command lines etc should replace window managers and pointing/clicking interfaces; instead, there seems to be some appropriate situations where typing looks more efficient than clicking, often in places where the GUI was there because of the advantages of pointing and clicking. Or, at least, typing helps augment a GUI, reducing barriers.)
This reminds of my first job (technically a placement year/internship at Northern Telecom in London but it was such a good experience I consider it a proper job!) in 1996 looking at the HP-UX box on my desk (HP’s UNIX machines) trying to get it all set up and asking the person opposite how to use the file manager GUI to do a certain thing; she just looked at me, smiled, and said, “just use the console; typing is a lot more efficient!”
Typing seems to have become the new mouse clicking…