I blame Microsoft

All right, it’s only sort of Microsoft’s fault. But right now you really ought to be reading a great article about how the Portage County, Indiana Sheriff’s Office is a disgrace to the law enforcement profession, and how the District Attorney for that same county ought to be fired without delay. The article was researched and footnoted. I had timelines and even a link to confirm that 3 April 2015 was a state holiday in Indiana.1

It was literally all gone in a single keystroke. There was no backup, no undo, no cache: no way of retrieving the time and energy spent in the now-vain pursuit of providing the slice of brilliant editorial journalism Monochromatic Outlook readers have come not to expect.

I take responsibility for my part in this, of course. Using a browser window to edit anything more than about a dozen words is a rookie move. (Or is it? Google wants us to do pretty much everything in a browser these days. On the other hand, Google’s web-based applications do a good job of providing automatic backup, a feature of the Monochromatic content-creation tools that I disabled during last year’s attempts to make the site’s pages load in under five minutes.) Furthermore I was not unaware of the peculiar user-interface choice made by the nice folks at Mozilla, to which I give credit for my loss of data. It’s an easy-to-patch bug, but a fix I had not bothered to apply. I even have a browser extension for Firefox which makes it convenient for me to use an external text editor2 when writing anything in a textarea. Even if I had not, I’ve never uninstalled QuickCursor,3 a utility that gives me that same capability anywhere in the system. Even without QuickCursor, there is an Alfred Workflow which does the same thing in a few more keystrokes. And even without any of those options opening a text editor to write, then subsequently pasting the text in to the browser is really quite easy.

What was it I did? Well, I hit the backspace key. In Firefox (except under Linux) backspace is a back button, which took me to the page I’d been on before, losing the contents of my form.4

I’m certain that there have been worse user-experience decisions made in the history of software development. The fact that I can’t think of any right now only indicates that this is the one that is presently upsetting to me.

So why do I blame Microsoft for Firefox’s bad design decision? Because it was done in Firefox to make it consistent with Internet Explorer. And if I’m honest, because «I blame Microsoft» is wryly if not ironically funny. If I were to title this piece to point my finger at the Mozilla Foundation it would inevitably give rise to a string of obscenities, which I generally prefer to leave in the text of an article rather than its title.

Besides, please don’t make me quote fictional characters from popular movies.5 It’s one thing for Microsoft to have made some lousy decisions back in the 1990s when graphical user interfaces were optional and the Web was some newfangled thingy some people had heard of. I’m not even sure that I can blame Microsoft for sticking with that choice in Internet Explorer. In 2005, after «user experience» had become its own field distinct from «user interface» to slavishly imitate one of Microsoft’s obviously bad decisions? It’s a bit like watching a drunk fall flat on his face, then downing a bottle of gin before racing the Isle of Man TT.

My lesson is learned, and the behavior is changed in Firefox on my machine, even though it meant voiding my warranty. It’s a sad day when I have to waive my right to a refund on free software. This also reinforces my decision not to have Chrome installed anywhere except on a virtual machine. Opera, you’re hanging by a thread.

  1. It was Good Friday. The courts were closed↩︎

  2. I love Byword for OS X and am using it to write these words. ↩︎

  3. Whoa! Did I really pay $5 for that? It wouldn’t be quite so shocking if I actually ever used it. And it would have been money very well-spent if I actually had used it while writing the article about the DelRea Good incident. ↩︎

  4. I’d like to address the question raised by user SNag in a comment on User Experience Stack Exchange which seemed to express disbelief that it is possible someone might make this very error. If the user is typing, clearly the textarea has the focus. The backspace key can’t possibly cause problems because people don’t type when no form fields have focus. Well, I often include links in things that I write—in fact, I do so much more often if I am writing in a browser than if I am writing elsewhere. Frequently therefore I keep a second browser open and switch between the browser I’m writing in (in this case Firefox) and the browser I’m using for research (in this case Safari.) Here I switched back to Firefox, and apparently mis-tapped on the form field. So yes, this is a case of user error. However, one ought never encourage user error by putting the ejector seat lever between the cabin lights and FM radio switches↩︎

  5. sigh OK, «Who’s the more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?» ↩︎



I LOVE the Backspace button! I use it all the time when I am browsing. Hitting Backspace is by far the quickest and easiest way to back up a page or two, and pretty easy to remember. If you have disabled Backspace, what do you use to go back a page?

I very rarely browse backwards. But when I do I use CMD-left (or ALT-left in Windows).