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New interface paradigm: gestures

I don't know if you have taken a peek at Opera 5 (  It has a cool feature called 'gestures' (which is being mimiked by the guys on Mozilla), which consists of hold the 2nd mouse button and making a gesture, like moving left to go back one page or moving up and down to reload the page.

Do you think this new paradigm is gonna stick on GUI's ? I mean, it's there if you know how to use it, and it doesn't get in the way if you don't...

Keep up this nice site! It's the best!

Leonardo Constantino
Monday, October 15, 2001

It's hard to tell, I tried it on Opera but since it's not my main browser, I can't really tell.  It would be nice if IE implemented it, though, since just like you say, it's very unlikely gestures will get in the way if you don't know they're here (invisibility is a double-edge sword, though).

Note that just like a lot of the recent UI innovations, gestures were pioneered in video games.


Tuesday, October 16, 2001

It seems to me gestures are only slightly better than moving the mouse to a menu or button and clicking it.  I also think moving the mouse while applying pressure to one of the buttons is slightly awkward.

I own an Microsoft optical mouse and have mapped the thumb button to 'Back' (the default mapping) and absolutely love it. 

Chad Hulbert
Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Gestures is a lot like clicking a button, but it's at button that is allways right beneath the mouse pointer (and hence, acording to fitts law, the easyst to hit).
People should be able to figure out how to "[move] the mouse while applying pressure to one of the buttons". It is called draging and is used in all(?) software for selecting, moving drawing, ...(damn, mozillas textareas are lousy. Nothing works. Can't even insert af newline without moving the cursor to the upper left corner of the screen)

Lauritz Jensen
Tuesday, October 16, 2001

<< It seems to me gestures are only slightly better than moving the mouse to a menu or button and clicking it. I also think moving the mouse while applying pressure to one of the buttons is slightly awkward. >>

Let me explain why I don't agree. Gestures require less attention/concentration than clicking menu's or buttons. Say your in the middle of this cool Joel on Software article and decide to take a peek at the previous page. When using the back button you have to take your eyes of the text, focus on the back button, move your mouse to a 10x10 square mm area and click it. Yes a standard task everyone practices about a gazillion times each day, but not as easy as gestures. Using gestures you don't have to change your focus on a small area and try to hit it. Just press the middle mouse button and move the mouse slightly leftward anywhere in the 200x200 sqaure mm browser area  is sufficient. The only disadvantage of gestures is that they are completely new to most users. And you know what they say about the unknown.

The only gestures I don't like are the complex ones. To load the homepage in Mozilla, one has to draw and h (down > up > right > down). I find clicking the Home button easier, but that can also be caused by my inexperience with gestures.

In addition, gestures are better than keyboard shortcuts when trying to Browse the web and drink a Cuba Libre at the same time.

Anyone wanting to try gestures should download Mozilla:
The gestures add on can be downloaded here:

<< I own an Microsoft optical mouse and have mapped the thumb button to 'Back' (the default mapping) and absolutely love it. >>

I got the same mouse. Pressing the thumbbuttons are in theory even easier than gestures, because no mouse movement at all is required. I don't know why, but personally I don't like using my thumb to click, so I always use gestures now. I guess people differ.

Jan Derk

Jan Derk
Tuesday, October 16, 2001

If you're interested in gestures and user interfaces, you might want to check out the tools and libraries at

They have a number of interesting things:

*  A Web site usage tracking system

*  A Web site designer that uses sketches of pages (to avoid the "it looks finished" problem in prototypes)

*  A general-purpose Java library for adding gestures to your programs

as well as papers on usability of sketching for interfaces, speech-based interfaces, etc.

The GUIR folks have been working in this area for nearly a decade -- James Landay, the lead professor came from a similar group at CMU.  The original CMU group was run by Brad Meyers, whose web site is also worth checking out:

Ken Meltsner
Tuesday, October 16, 2001

How does a new user discover the available gestures? They are like invisible menus. You cannot see which command you are selecting. You might as well just have an actual visible menu popup when you right-click. You could use a "pie menu" which displays commands in 360 degrees (like pie slices), rather than a long list of commands.

Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Every website/application out there already supports my most _favorite_ gesture.

I think some of you know what I am talking about....

Anon Lover
Tuesday, October 16, 2001

The mouse guestures are another try to solve the famous problem of usability when using more than one device (mouse + keyboard).

The root of problem is in the fact that for operating both of devices you need three hands. Most of us don't have too much hands, so we should pay for this by time of moving hands from one device to the other.

While solving the problem of moving hands by eliminating keyboard use is acceptable for users which mostly deal with mouse (for example, designers), it's not solves the problem for us, keyboard users (which, I believe is majority of users, because everybody sometimes uses at least Word).

There is a couple of solutions for the former, such as keyboard shortcuts, various macros which work on replacement text, but none of them (at least, those I've heard about) are not as comfortable as mouse guestures for mouse users (my favorite text editor is XEmacs because it allows to do almost everything from main part of keyboard in most effective way. It's, IMHO, the most usable editor from existing).

I would like to discuss here  the possible solution for keyboard users, which would be usable replacement for constantly moving hands between keyboard and mouse. It should be effective, and need not be intuitive.

Maybe, anybody could propose something?

Jack Shainsky
Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Get an IBM ThinkPad laptop. They have the "mouse" (trackpoint) in the middle of the keyboard. I love it. I wish they sold desktop keyboards with this thing.

Joel Spolsky
Tuesday, October 16, 2001

Is there a visual feedback to the gestures in Opera?
Visual feedback would dramatically improve usability of such a feature.  And due to visualisation, sometimes a user could discover this feature by occasion.

Sedelnikov Andrei
Wednesday, October 17, 2001

<< How does a new user discover the available gestures? >>

Mozilla has a gestures toolbar which can be set to show a legend of available gestures. After the learning period you can just hide the bar to regain desktop space.

Jan Derk
Wednesday, October 17, 2001

I use Opera by choice as it really complements my surfing habits, but I can't say I use gestures much (i.e. ever). Gestures are more useful for rapid history traversal (back/forward/home/reload etc), when I am more of a CTRL-Shift-Clicker (background load link in new MDI browser window) so my history == 0.

That said, accidental movements with mouse 2 pressed can really throw you - your page changes and you don't know what you did.

I think gestures have a really limited alphabet though. The only ones that can be easily pulled off are the cardinal compass directions. Anything more and people with PoS pointers are left in the dark. This isn't a problem with Opera - you don't have to use them, but look at Black & White ( which gets some really complex ones - an example of UI purism/minimalism taken too far. I use an optical mouse and I find some of them tough. I feel really sorry for those Xbox/PS2 owners who will have to do the same with a gamepad. Experienced B&W players allude to undocumented keystrokes ...

Gestures have to be limited to gross mouse actions not subtle ones, otherwise you face a problem similar to the toolbar one, where pressing a button causes unintentional mouse movement (i.e. a drag). This becomes especially pronounced with mouse button 2, this not being operated by your most precise finger.

Richard Conroy
Wednesday, October 17, 2001

Gestures are one of those things that seem like a good idea at the time.  A notebook I used at one time had a finger gesture mode which did magic things that I never quite understood.  Performing them accidentally though was always surprising.

Which is one of the main reasons I think they're better left alone, the UI shouldn't surprise people.

That's not to say that gestures in context with feedback aren't a bad idea.  I've had for quite a while the idea of the 2.5D context menu.  Right Click drag in a circular motion and cycle through a set of context menus.  In that case though, the gesture works because it provides feedback, rather than being some set of mystical, carpal tunner twisting magical passes made in application space.

Simon Lucy
Friday, October 19, 2001

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