Bad usability in the 21st Century

This is a rant. Why?.. Because it calms me.

I’ve been computing now for the majority of my life and usability & accessibility problems have always annoyed me. Like any reasonable person I assumed that as the technologies develop they would become more user-friendly. However in the last decade, alongside the rise of mobile apps, I’ve noticed a resurgence in the annoyances of old. Or perhaps I’m paying more attention now that I use voice recognition and avoid the mouse.

Here are a few of the usability and accessibility problems I’ve come across. I’ve added workarounds where possible.

Google Android

Google Android is just terrible. It regularly confuses me. Whether this is random unexplained errors, terminology that doesn’t match from one page to another, a back button that doesn’t take me back, frequently deprecated apps, complete lack of documentation, opaque and coarse grained permissions, bugs, hangs, crashes or any number of other annoyances.

See my notes on Android gotchas and bugs.

Still better than iPhone though, on the basis that Apple devices also have their usability problems - e.g. reset and restore device to clear gigs of “other data”?! - and at least I’m not locked in to a massively expensive designer ecosystem.

Google search focus

Google search steals focus from the keyboard.

I’ve used the Firefox quick find / find-as-you-type feature for as long as I can remember - it’s convenient way of navigating to a link without having to use the mouse.

Now that I’m using voice recognition it’s even more important to be able to navigate through the links on search results without having to use the mouse.

This is now impossible in Google search because it steals focus - anything I type or speak is entered into the search box rather than being picked up by Firefox as a quick find.

Why does Google do this? Money. They know that many novice users don’t discern the difference between the browser’s address bar and their search box. By stealing focus from unwary users, Google guarantees more search traffic hence more revenue. Don’t be evil my arse.

document.f.q.focus(); The Billion Dollar Line of JavaScript


Disable the “instant prediction” feature in the search options.

Google Groups pageup/down

The page-up, page-down, home and end keys often don’t work in Google Groups, forcing you to scroll with the mouse.


I don’t know. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Off the top of my head I guess it could be something to do with the area of the web page that’s in focus. Perhaps try clicking on the scrollbar.

Personally I just avoid Google Groups.

Google Groups moderated groups

If you post to a group and it doesn’t appear, then there’s no way of telling whether the group is moderated - hence the post is awaiting moderation - or if the post failed.

There is no way of telling whether a group is moderated.


I can’t find one. If your post disappears then you’ll just have to wait a while to see if it turns up and post another one if it doesn’t!

Leafpad / GTK+ saving

Leafpad is a text editor for Linux. It uses the GTK+ dialogs, so it could be GTK+ to blame, but I’ve not had the problem with other GTK+ programs so I suspect it’s because Leafpad doesn’t open the dialog with a default folder selected.

Either way, whether Leafpad or GTK+ is to blame, I used to be able to save a file in a particular directory by typing the full path name in the save dialog. This is no longer possible (as of an update in 2012 I believe). It now insists that I select a directory in which I wanted to save the file, forcing me to use the mouse.

To someone using speech recognition that is incredibly annoying.


Use the keyboard - up, down, tab, shift-tab - to navigate to the folder in which you want to save the file. Unfortunately I’ve a rant about that too…

GTK+ keyboard shortcuts

GTK+ allows you to navigate dialogs using the keyboard. Unfortunately it’s confusing as hell. For example tab will change its behaviour depending on whether it’s in the filename box or not, changing from selecting the next item to autocomplete. Down will move down into the folders, but up won’t be able to move you out of them back to the filename box. There are more. It’s a mess. The principle of least surprise has just been thrown out of the window.


Just grin and bear it. You’ll get where you want to be sooner or later.

Last modified: 12/01/2016 Tags: , , ,

This website is a personal resource. Nothing here is guaranteed correct or complete, so use at your own risk and try not to delete the Internet. -Stephan

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