Intuitive is in the eye of the beholder

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2005/04/21 00:01 -07:00, original URI:

Yesterday and today, we had some customers who were visiting, to meet with people and talk about various international issues and features in Microsoft products.

One of the groups they wanted to talk to was some of the smart folks over on the Office team. I went along because you never know when I will get to hear about stuff that I might not have heard otherwise. Plus Chris Pratley was going to be there and I had not seen him in a long time. I figured it would be good to go and make sure he was still alive (and not virtual at this point like the Rachel Roberts character in S1m0ne). And I am happy to report that he was there. :-)

We also talked a bit about a few of the interesting features that exist in Word. Maybe you knew some of them. They are:

  1. The language of the keyboard upon which you type is used as an intelligent guess as to the language you are typing.
  2. The Tools|Language|Detect language automatically checkbox, which has Word automatically detect when a section of the text is in another language. It can be useful for it to notice when you type some text in another language without changing keyboards. Though this occasionally causes bits of a document to be tagged in a different language, a fact that you may never realize unless you are tracking changes and see a bunch of (Formatted: Polish) and a bunch of other deletions due to some strange guesses that Word has made.
  3. When you type characters that is not supported in the currently selected font, Word will temporarily change the font for the characters so that you can see them.
  4. When your keyboard is in the middle of text that is tagged to be part of a particular language, Word will temporarily switch to the keyboard that matches the language, if one is installed. For example if you place the cursor in the middle of an Arabic word, it can temporarily switch to an Arabic keyboard, assuming you have one installed.
  5. Sometimes Word will override keystrokes in the CTRL and CTRL+SHIFT shift states to work as shortcuts. Even if those key combinations are part of the keyboard layout (an issue I discussed previously in a footnote in "To start press the ALTGR key." Hmm... where's the ALTGR key?).

Now each of these issues can cause problems since these stealth changes do not always have consequences that are intuitive for users.

They will wonder why the language tags or the fonts or the keyboard layout is changing when they have not asked explicitly for anything to be changed.

Or why the keyboard will not do in Word what it will do everywhere else (especially if the made the keyboard themselves in MSKLC!).

Sometimes, in fact, some of these rules can conflict with each other. Which can be even less intuitive!

The answer to such complaints is that the road to intuitive application behavior is paved with options that some people do not consider to be all that inuitive. Not everyone understands every feature in Word, after all....

Though I often do my best to turn them off. I prefer behavior that is a bit more deterministic for the case of custom dates with competing settings using the switches. If you know what I mean....


This post brought to you by "ʆ" (U+0286, a.k.a. LATIN SMALL LETTER ESH WITH CURL)

# Mike Williams on Thursday, April 21, 2005 3:16 AM:

Some comments on these:
1. Unfortunately most OEMs set up English(US)as the keyboard language regardless of where in the world they send their computers. An end-user may never know about this except in the context of having spell-checking constantly being done in the wrong language. Even that small percentage who get to do some customization of their Windows installation are not aware of the flow-on effects of the keyboard language.*
2. Language Auto-Detect was implemented over-aggressively by Office in Word 2000 and incorrect language diagnosis has been the source of a vast amount of the traffic on the Microsoft spelling & grammar newsgroup. The fix for later versions of Word was not available as a patch to Word 2000. Even in the current form (the underlying technology has never been updated - check the MSLID.DLL file date) similar languages French/Spanish/Italian or German/Danish etc are commonly confused.
6. (I'm adding to your list) Pasting text from other documents or web-pages into a Word document can affect the "Ambient" language if you are not very careful. Hotmail notably ignores the browser accept language and tends to mark everything English as English(US) - which gets transferred to your Word documents.
7. The bug introduced by the Windows XP SP2 update (where the English(US) keyboard is reinstalled for non-US users) also increases the odds that text will be marked incorrectly.

*I have long advocated integrating Office's language setting features along with those for Windows into a single Language Centre UI so that users can identify what languages are enabled for what pieces of software on their system. This would cover all input modes too - keyboard, speech, hadnwriting etc. At present Windows XP's Tablet PC edition's handwriting language settings don't integrate with XP's Text Services dialog.

For multilingual users, which are known to be a sizeable chunk of Microsoft's core market weaving your way through all of the current "islands" of language settings is a true headache.

# PatriotB on Thursday, April 21, 2005 11:31 AM:

your "post brought to you by" link goes to the wrong page :)

# James Hancock on Thursday, April 21, 2005 11:36 AM:

Have the windows group fix the disaster that is region selection both during setup and afterwards.

For instance, to actually put a computer in Canadian English off of a CD bought from staples requires during install:

1. Click on the advanced button for regional settings.
2. Set Standards and formats to English(Canad)
3. Set Location to Canada
4. Click on Languages tab
5. Click on Details...
6. Click Add
7. Chose English Canada
8. Choose English(Canada)-US as defualt input language.
9. Delete English(USA).
10. Delete Canadian French Keyboard
11. Delete Candian French Multilingual Keyboard
12. Click Ok.
13. Click on Advanced Tab.
14. Chose English (Canada) from Language for Non-Unicode Programs.

Now this gets you into Canadian English and prevents your computer from changing your keyboard simply because you hit some special key-combination that I can't figure out (mostly while I'm working in but! on startup you get the Language toolbar which you can't disable during setup. So you have to right click and tell it to hide the damn thing and then answer yes, and check off "don't ask again" when you first start up your computer.

Key points here:

0. It is impossible to set up a RIS script to put a computer in Canadian English and not get the stupid language toolbar up and have it install the damn French Canadian Keyboard(s) thus screwing people up all of the time and increasing our tech suport calls like crazy.
1. English Canadians use a US keyboard and only a US keyboard, nothing else is required and nothing else should be installed.
2. If I had chosen French (Canada) then it should have installed a French Canadian keyboard layout and that's it. Nothing else.
3. I should be asked "What country are you in?" in the setup.
4. Then asked "What language do you speak?"
5. Then prompted (with the default) to fill in the keyboard mapping that I want with an instruction to leave it alone if you don't know.
6. There should be no default on the first two of these questions so that the user MUST answer them intelligently. Most computers in Canada are in English(USA) and people wonder why Word tells them that flavour is spelled wrong.
7. Everything that is currently in the Regional and Language options window in control panel is ADVANCED options and should be on an advanced button. The only things that should be asked in the main window are "what country, what language, what keyboard" and that's it. Everything else is automatic and transparent. (I.e. you don't need to ask about metric. If someone from the US wants metric, then let them go into advanced and make it a selection on the main tab. Everyone else in the world uses metric and not imperial so they won't care and will be confused.)

In summary: The regional options in windows is a model of how not to interact with a user and wins the award for worst interface ever designed for anything on a computer in the hall of shame.

If it was actually fixed, and people were actually in their real language instead of whatever the computer defaulted to because they couldn't figure out how to get it out of that default completely then your MS Word issues wouldn't be issues for the VAST majority of people and would be easily fixable by the end user.

# Michael S. Kaplan on Thursday, April 21, 2005 12:10 PM:

PatriotB -- fixed the link, sorry about that!

I will forward the other comments on, as appropriat. Some of them I agree with, others I do not, and a few are a little too venomous for my personal tastes so I will not talk about them directly here.

Though I will say that anyone who thinks Regional and Language Options is the worst ever has led a very sheltered life. :-)

# James Hancock on Thursday, April 21, 2005 10:18 PM:

Sheltered? Well let's see. Most other aweful interfaces including those on the interface wall of shame web site are at list figure-out-able by most people.

I have yet to ever encounter any end user that actually set the regional settings themselves to English (Canada) and got all of it correctly set and as a result of trying didn't end up in some wacky french language keyboard as a result of some key combination that they can't figure out.

Any interface that 99.9% of the population can never understand that is in an end user operating system is about as bad as it gets. Name anything even remotely more confusing (Even the Outlook Rules Wizard in Outlook 97 was more intuitive and that's saying something). BRUTAL.

# Steve Loughran on Friday, April 22, 2005 11:46 AM:

I never noticed all this wierdness, even with english(UK) as my default.

What I did notice with office 2K was that word used to reject all suspend/hibernate events when a network file was being edited "for your own good"

Why was this wrong? Because Win2K has 'make files available offline', that allows you to save cached netdrives and synchronise later. Words attempt to be smart actually made it less useful than dumb apps.

Moral: if you try and be clever, always have a switch to turn stupidity back on. Because you are never going to get right all possible combinations of reality you will encounter, and your "cleverness" can sometimes look really dumb.

# Mike Williams on Saturday, April 23, 2005 3:36 AM:

I just discovered that Outlook 2003 uses the User Locale rather than Location to set country address defaults.

I moved my User Locale from English(Australia) to English(New Zealand) to evade the side-effects of Windowsmedia abusing User Locale to get Location information. Subsequently all my contacts with Australian addresses have had "New Zealand" appended to them(!)

Does *any* group at Microsoft use the Location parameter as designed? It's really hard to impress on ISVs the importance of these parameters if every Microsoft product group has a contrary view.

# Michael S. Kaplan on Saturday, April 23, 2005 4:49 AM:

Hey Mike -- its like I say at , right? :-)

There are not nearly enough people using it yet. But there ought to be.

Please consider a donation to keep this archive running, maintained and free of advertising.
Donate €20 or more to receive an offline copy of the whole archive including all images.

referenced by

2012/04/26 Michael's Keyboard Laws for Developers, Part 5

2008/01/17 Virtual PC + Word 2007 ≠ AltGr support?

2007/11/16 Detecting ALTGR fails when ALTGR isn't there (Just Czech-ed out in Word 2007)

2007/09/08 Detecting ALTGR can only hope to work when AlTGR is in fact there....

2007/07/18 Sometimes they are not as helpful shortcuts

2007/03/05 You're not the one out of sequence, and that's the Word

2006/11/25 Even if they aren't talking international, at least they aren't stomping international!

2006/04/17 Get off my freaking key!

go to newer or older post, or back to index or month or day