>>Why would they bother doing anything of the sort? They're
>>already gradually (if not faster) taking Netscape's market
Quote:>This is the tragedy of the whole thing. Seeing MS win because of their
>sheer weight and thuggery is troubling to me; I prefer to see quality win
>over thuggery, but that is not to be.
Pardon me if this isn't appropriate for all the included newsgroups...
hopefully it's of a fairly general interest.
Because of the nature of my work and my hobbies, I use a browser, an
SMTP/POP3 e-mail client, and a newsreader--a lot. The most important things
to me in these products are not their features but their interfaces. In
particular, it's important to me that I can do the most common tasks with a
single keystroke unless it's an inherently pointing-type activity (like
selecting links with a mouse[*]).
I use IE4 at home and Communicator4 at work. I prefer IE4 for browsing for
one simple reason: Navigator's interface is broken for the way I usually use
First, the minor criticism: while Navigator may be more solid internally
than IE (I don't know this, I'm just admitting that it's a possibility), the
interface shows signs of shoddy implementation. There's at least one option
dialog that has a non-functioning close button in the window frame. It looks
like you should be able to dismiss the dialog with the standard close
button, but it just doesn't work. While getting the internals right is more
important from a technical standpoint, getting the interface right is much
more important from a competitive standpoint!
Next, the major criticism: this might sound silly, but it really bugs me. IE
uses Backspace for the Back button--the most commonly-used shortcut. I can
reach that from my home keys. Navigator uses Alt+Left-Arrow for the same
task. I have to move my hands to press this. Even more annoying (and both
browsers are guilty of this): the other most common tasks are scrolling and
"next in a series of pages." For the former, I have to reach for
PageUp/PageDown; for the latter, the mouse.
One combination of keys might work well: G(o back), Shift+G(o forward),
D(own), U(p). Other potential scroll keys are F/B/space, like most Unix
tools. There's a possible conflict with text fields on forms; possibly use
Ctrl+U/D/F/B for this situation. I would most like forward to be F or
Ctrl+F, but that conflicts with the Windows use of Ctrl+F for find.
Therefore... LET ME CONFIGURE THE SHORTCUTS! That way folks who prefer
Netscape's Space/Backspace for down/up can use that too.
This is really a criticism of all Windows software: please, PLEASE don't
make me take my hands off my home keys to do my most common application
tasks. For all the fluff you hear about improving ergonomics, they can't get
a simple thing right like reducing wrist and arm motion? I must admit, I
never even realized this was a problem until two things happened: I started
using the "vi" editor at work, and I started getting wrist/elbow/shoulder
pain, but only when using my home computer! Now, it certainly makes sense to
make the cursor keys work right, but is it all that hard to put an
alternate, easier keystroke on the main keyboard? As hard to learn as vi can
be, it saves my wrists, which is important in my line of work.
Okay, enough griping about the browsers. Regarding e-mail: I don't have a
lot to say, since I don't use Messenger at work (e-mail is VAX-based), and I
only have some general gripes about Outlook Express. Overall, OE is a nice
mail-reader; unfortunately the editor seems pretty damn broken.
Cut-and-paste is clunky; reply and forward quoting is kind bizarre, and
often screws up the line breaks. I just sort of blunder around with it, not
doing anything too sophisticated. The only reason I don't switch is because
I haven't seen anything I like enough to justify paying for it as an
Finally, newsreaders. I kinda like Collabra, except that it's a pain to
start. Start Communicator, start Collabra, choose a newsgroup, close the
groups window, actually get to work. Ugh. After the reader is going,
however, it's pretty nice for a bare-bones reader. Start at the first group
and keep pressing N to go through the messages in all groups. Nice.
Outlook Express is almost as good, except for two things. First, "Next
Unread" is Ctrl-U. DUH! What's the most common reader function, Microsoft?
Use ONE KEYSTROKE please--preferably the N key that all other newsreaders
use. Also: on switching newsgroups, I have to click on the first unread
message; using Next Unread doesn't work at all yet. And then I have to click
in the preview pane again in order to scroll it with the keyboard (otherwise
it scrolls the thread pane). Quit making me reach for the mouse unless I
need to point at something!
That last criticism applies to all Windows newsreaders: Let me go through
ALL the unread messages using only the N key. In all newsgroups. Without
touching my mouse. While you're at it, give me a one-key shortcut for
scrolling the VIEWING pane exclusively. That's the one I scroll the most
often. Put the shortcuts on some alphabetic key.
In my ideal newsreader:
1. You can start the reader directly, unlike Collabra or (to some extent)
2. The reader automatically downloads the headers from the first newsgroup
in my subscribed list and shows them in the thread pane. With all messages.
With threads expanded. I like context! And let ME order the subscribed
list--don't just use alphabetical order.
3. The reader automatically jumps to the first unread message in the thread
pane (like OE does) without actually downloading the body.
4. The reader actually downloads the first unread message when I hit the N
5. When there are no messages left in the first group, the N key takes me to
the next group. Whether it asks for confirmation to do so (like Collabra) is
6. While reading messages, I can scroll the preview pane down and up with F
and B. (These are the keys used by almost all Unix applications for this.)
This scrolls the preview pane ONLY. The less-common task of scrolling the
thread pane can use the arrow keys.
7. The space bar also scrolls the preview pane down. At the end of a
message, space bar gets the next message or next unread message, depending
on a configurable option.
8. Optionally, the reader lets me map keys other than N, F, B, space to
Is that too much to ask? I might actually be able to read my news without
ending up with twisted fingers and tense shoulders. In hopes of getting some
of these features, I downloaded the trial version of Anawave's Gravity,
which reviewers rave about. Incredibly, I found its interface even less
usable than Collabra or OE. I'm reluctant to try Free Agent, because so many
of the secondary features I use are only available in Agent, and I can't
I guess I'll just have to break down and finally learn Windows programming
so that I can get a damn newsreader that works the way I want it to.
(*) By the way, I wish there were some standard HTML tag--maybe there
is--for marking some link on a page as "the next in a series of related
pages." Then, have the browser map a toolbar button and the N key to this
Bradd W. Szonye