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Functionality hidden behind badly named settings

December 28, 2013 Comments off

One of the things that annoys me the most about software is stupid usability issues.

For instance, when you see a checkbox on an options page with the label, “check my spelling as I type,” what do you think it does? I think it’s a reasonable assumption that it refers to the automatic spell-check that puts squiggly red lines under any words that the spell-checker doesn’t understand. After all, that is the spell-checking that occurs “as I type.”

Screen shot of Windows Live Mail options, including "Check my spelling As I type" checkbox

“Check my spelling as I type” in Windows Live Mail options

Screen shot of the new message window with a misspelled word underlined in red

Automatic spell-check underlining a misspelled word

In reality, however, that checkbox controls more than just the automatic highlighting of misspellings. Unchecking it also disables the on-demand spell check that would normally be available from the menu bar. The button that normally activates the spell check is grayed out.

Screenshot of new message window's with Editing menu open and spell-check icon enabled

Editing menu with the spell-check icon enabled when “Check my spelling as I type” is selected

Screen shot of Editing menu with spell-check icon disabled

Editing menu with the spell-check icon disabled when “Check my spelling as I type” is cleared.

The problem is not simply that the description is unclear. As I said before, it seemed extremely clear that the checkbox enables and disables the spell-checking that occurs as the user types. The problem is, that’s not what the setting actually does.

A simple solution would be to rename the setting to “Enable spell-checking” or something along those lines. More usefully, the setting could be modified to do what it says, and a separate setting could be provided to turn the on-demand spell checker on and off. I honestly don’t know why they share the setting in the first place.

Hat tip to the user poor1 at ComputerAct!ve forums for posting the solution to the grayed-out spell-check problem.

Categories: Software, Usability Tags: