April 28, 2015

Desktop double-clicking

Quick, when you click a link on a web page, do you click it once or twice? How about when tapping an app icon on a touch screen?

Desktop double-clicking

Quick, when you click a link on a web page, do you click it once or twice? How about when tapping an app icon on a touch screen, one taps or two? What about when opening the File menu in an application? Finally, opening Documents via the shortcut on the Desktop of a new Windows installation?

Did you pick up on the difference? Every single one of these common use cases involve single clicking/tapping to achieve the desired action except in the last case, where double-clicking is required to view the directory.

Why is this still the default behavior, even in the very-soon-to-be-released Windows 10?

Ever since Windows was Windows, even as far back as Windows 95, almost anything related to file management has been accomplished using double clicks. For years we have trained computer users, from family to friends to employees, to double-click on files and folders to open them. Yet when using any application, dialog box, context menu, the Web, or touchscreen devices, we single click. In Windows 10, this goes even further by single clicking on the large search bar where Cortana is invoked.

What is happening here is an inconsistent UX between Windows and practically every other tech device, platform, and OS, and even within Windows itself (as I pointed out above). In order to better understand this inconsistency, I set Windows/File Explorer to double-click files/folders and used it for a few days while I worked on various projects and daily activities. The experience was rather off-putting, as nearly everything I did involved single clicking except for opening my documents. As a techie, I was able to handle and adjust to the change a bit easier, but for the average, non-techie computer user, this inconsistency can create a huge confusion.

However, the double-click behavior for file management is not restricted to Windows. I doubled-checked on the default behavior for Mac OS X and Ubuntu Linux, and sure enough, double-click is the standard on those platforms too. Having been exposed to Mac OS X and Ubuntu myself in the past, I do remember Windows’ inconsistencies being present there. This does make the double-click behavior a standard- but only on desktop OSs. Everywhere else, even Windows 8 when running on a tablet, is single click. With mobile and Web usage only growing from this point in time, why then have we created two different computing UXs and make the UX inconsistent in the increasingly less predominant one?

A few days before writing this post, I was reading an article by Mattias Geniar entitled Double-clicking On The Web. It attempts to provide a case for preventing double clicking on websites where such an action could produce undesired consequences (primarily in form submission). In the article, Mattias makes an observation (emphasis original):

Everywhere in the Operating System, whether it’s Windows or Mac OS X, the default behaviour to navigate between directories is by double-clicking them. We’re trained to double-click anything.Want to open an application? Double-click the icon. Want to open an e-mail in your mail client? Double-click the subject. Double-clicks everywhere.
Except on the web. The web is a single-click place.

While Mattias makes some interesting suggestions, it feels to me he is trying to remedy a side-effect and not correct the root issue. On all computers I regularly use, Explorer is set to single click. When fixing someone’s computer, I might do the same thing. Why? It eliminates the inconsistency. With everything set to single click, all confusion is removed and makes for a unified UX across any platform and application.

By changing file management to single click by default, not only do we help alleviate the problem present by Mattias, but also improve and unify the UX for the entire tech world (a place we techies have messed up big time, as shown by Google’s recent revamp of SSL/TLS certificate error messages). If people like double-clicking, they can change that setting, but for the vast majority of computer users, such a simple default change can make a huge difference, namely:

A more consistent, thereby easier and more enjoyable, Windows computing experience.