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on February 27, 2008 at 10:42:13 pm

JustGo - a simple way to interact with computers using just the mouse


We are descended from tens of millions of years of ancestors who made it back to the nest, or we wouldn't be here. One consequence is that navigating geographically, that is turning left and right while moving around comes very naturally to us. We don't have much trouble finding the fridge or the couch, except maybe in the dark.


Jef Raskin, in his seminal "The Humane Interface" described a hospital information system which used a mouse with the two main buttons dedicated to ZOOM IN and ZOOM OUT. With the screen filled with a lot of information. To fit it on the screen some of it had to be written smaller, or even much, much smaller. To see the stuff written smaller, you go there and zoom in. What was really remarkable, in my mind, was that absolute novices were comfortable and competent with the system in less than a single minute of training. Even computer experts learned the system in less than two minutes.


Since that sounds wonderful, why change it? The zoom buttons are velocity based devices, like joysticks, as opposed to displacement based devices like computer mice. Thus you must pay close attention and stop pressing the button at just the right time so that the text there is the right size to read easily. How could that be improved? Make the zooming automatic and keyed to the size of the text in that location. Put a visible border around the stuff which is written smaller, and use roll-over, or mouse-over (moving the mouse pointer into that region) to trigger the zoom in. Make zoom out happen when you mouse out of the region.


The designer of such a zoom world would arrange that the parts of that world are easy to locate and identify. For instance, one might use captions below thumbnail images much the way there are signs identifying "Mens Clothes" in a deparment store, or "Condiments" in an aisle of a super market. Of course, the designer, (architect?), of such an arrangement should  also see to it that there is enough space between these regions so that you can get to the one you want without "falling" into some other contained sub-space. It's not hard.


This idea must be verified by user testing. There will be many ways to implement such auto zooming worlds, but any one will likely suffice to see if such a system is as pleasing to use as I hope. My current candidate for a convenient system in which this can be built is Sun's Lively Kernel. Online videos of two talks about Lively Kernel are available as a Google talk and as a session of EE380 at Stanford. Can you find another convenient way to implement such a scheme?


Notice that the thumbnails amount to links but navigating among them is as simple as possible if one's hand is already on the mouse. We might also provide a way to navigate by keyboard. Suppose that each thumbnail had a one or two letter key, perhaps shown as semi-transparent large letters covering the thumbnail image. Then by using a meta-key, perhaps called LEAP, and possibly located below the  space bar for convenient access by one's thumb, one might type the one or two letters thus moving the mouse cursor to the thumbnail and auto zooming into it. If one's hands were on the keyboard already, this would eliminate the 1.7 (?) second cost of moving a hand to the mouse.



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