I still really like my new laptop (see my post Quick review of a new laptop), but one thing I really hate about Windows 8 is the way the charms bar kept popping up at seemingly random times. I would be merrily clicking away and suddenly it would appear on the right side of the screen, grabbing the mouse and keyboard focus. It would interrupt my work and train of thought while I dismissed it and then repositioned the mouse to where it was supposed to be.
After a fair bit of frustration, I googled the issue and discovered that this computer (and I’m sure others) has a gesture that opens the charms bar. When you drag your finger to the left starting from the right edge of the computer’s touchpad, the charms bar opens.
With that knowledge, I figured I could just adjust where I started dragging my finger to avoid this. After another week or so of frustration, I looked for a way to turn off the charms bar. (Jump to the end if you just want to know how to do this and don’t care about the user interface design issues.)
A quick search immediately discovered that Microsoft doesn’t provide a way to disable the charms bar. In its infinite wisdom, Microsoft has decided that this is such a useful tool that it must always be instantly at your fingertips.
This is the first user interface design lesson here: don’t assume you know the user’s needs better than the user does. There will always be someone who disagrees with you and if you force them to use a tool they don’t like, they will hate you for it.
This issue should have been completely predictable, too. The charms bar lets you search for tools, but experienced users know where they are anyway. (See my post The ribbon interface: sacrificing usability for discoverability for another instance where Microsoft makes most users pay for the convenience of novices.) The charms bar also lets you change settings and manage devices, ironically things that novices don’t do often.
So the charms bar isn’t really all that useful, but that in itself shouldn’t be a big problem. There are other tools such as those that add devices, uninstall software, and add fonts that few people use very often but they still don’t get in the way. The real problem here is that the charms bar appears far more often than it is wanted. I probably made it appear 10 – 20 times per day (with accompanying swearing) but use it intentionally only about once per week. (Mostly to use the Search tool to find the Control Panel. See? It’s not completely useless.)
This is the second user interface design lesson here: a tool’s availability should depend on how often the user wants to use it. A tool that is used frequently should be easily accessible. For example, I often use keyboard shortcuts such as Win+D to get to the desktop and Win+E to open Windows Explorer (recently renamed File Explorer). But I don’t need access that’s so easy it happens by accident for the charms bar. (If you do want easy access, you can press Win+C. The weird finger swipe thing is harder to do intentionally but easier to do accidentally!)
(In fact, any tool that appears accidentally can be really infuriating. The same thing applies to all of Microsoft’s tools that activate when the mouse moves to part of the screen. For example, if you move the mouse to the lower left corner of the screen, a Start button appears. Similarly if you move the mouse to the upper right or lower right corner of the screen, the charms bar appears. At least those don’t grab mouse and keyboard input.)
To summarize, here are the key user interface lessons to be learned here:
- Don’t assume you know what the user needs better than the user does. You will never be right for everyone.
- Allow the user to decide which tools to enable or disable, particularly if they are intrusive.
- Make a tool’s ease of availability depend on how often the user wants to use it.
- Do not use gestures, mouse position, or other triggers that can launch a tool accidentally.
So here are the solutions I found:
To disable the charms bar hint:
- Open the registry editor regedit. (Warning: Don’t mess about with regedit. If you mess up the registry, you can make the computer unbootable.)
- Go to the following key:
- Create a new key called EdgeUI.
- Give the new key a new DWORD value called DisableCharmsHint and set its value to 1.
This takes effect immediately without requiring you to log out or reboot. It makes the charms bar not appear when you move the mouse to the upper left or upper right corner of the screen. It will still appear if you:
- Place the mouse to the upper right corner and move it down.
- Place the mouse to the lower right corner and move it up.
- Press Win+C.
To re-enable the charms bar hint, set DisableCharmsHint to 0, delete DisableCharmsHint, or delete the EdgeUI key.
To disable the touchpad gesture (at least on my computer):
- Open the Control Panel.
- Search for “Mouse Settings” and open the “Change Mouse Settings” tool.
- Look for a tab that controls the touchpad or gestures and disable the charms gesture. On my system (and probably other Dell computers with touchpads), use these steps:
- Select the Dell Touchpad tab.
- Click the link “Click to change Dell Touchpad settings.”
- On the left, select the Gestures category.
- Uncheck the “Right Edge Swipe” option.
- Click Save.
- Close the Dell Touchpad dialog, the Mouse Settings dialog, and the Control Panel.
Again this should take effect immediately without requiring you to log out or reboot.