Don't Steal My Focus
Last updated: 6/16/2002; 10:21:45 AM
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Don't Steal My Focus


You're My PC – I Am Not Your Human

Good morning.  Any day that begins with waking up out of 4 1/2 hours of sound sleep with a new feature idea "What?  Cool!  Must try it now …" is bound to lead to a rant.  Perhaps a well thought out, well considered Rant, perhaps not.  But a Rant none the less.  So here goes ….


Did you ever get the annoying feel that your PC is really in charge?  Ever think that you are it's lowly servant?  Guess what?  Based on the respect it shows for you, I'd say that's right.  Here's what I mean: it's all about focus.

Focus is a concept in computer GUI (graphical user interface) programming that indicates what object is currently in control or "has focus".  Here's an example below.

In the picture above, the Find button has a dashed box around it.   This indicates that it has focus.  Any actions that take place will affect that object.  For example, if you press ENTER then Find will be selected and a search will be performed.  If you press TAB then the focus will shift to the Close button.  I've heard GUI programmers talk for a long time about focus and they always go on and on and on about it.  It's not magical.  Not at all…

I Have Focus Too

Here's why I don't think that focus is all that magical at all – I have focus.  I have had it my whole life.  Focus is whatever I am doing at the present time.  Here's an example:

  1. You're programming away.  Happy as a clam.  In your text editor.  Typing furiously, getting stuff done.  Then…..
  2. BOOM!  There's another window up on screen!  It's got the focus now.  IT STOLE THE FOCUS – FROM YOU.
  3. Do the ALT+TAB dance back to your editor.  Figure out what keystrokes didn't get in.  Retype.  Sigh.  Until the next time.

This happens to me between 8 and 10 times per day.  Here's my thinking on this:

  • It's just plain rude!
  • It's distracting!
  • No offense Mr. Programmer – it's my computer & it's my time.  How dare you steal it from me!
  • Let me go into your office and spin your chair away from the computer and see how you like it.  THAT'S WHAT YOU JUST DID TO ME !!!(shouting intended)

This isn't to say that every application is like this – Yahoo Messenger is actually surprisingly polite.  Rather than pop up and piss you off, it flashes in the task bar and, may or may not, makes a noise.  AOL AIM (which I do love to death) slaps me in the face and says (metaphorically) "BOY YOU ARE MINE! PAY ATTENTION".   That's just a wee bit rude.  But this isn't limited to Instant Messaging apps at all — it's all over Windows at every turn.


If there is a human factors expert out there that just happens to work at Microsoft – you really need to think about this quite seriously.  As we all use our PCs close to 18x7 (i.e. damn near all waking hours), this gets very, very annoying and distracting.  Damn little on my PC is important enough to warrant stealing my attention.  Repeat after me:

I am __MUCH MORE IMPORTANT__ than my PC.

I am NOT my PC's Human!


I did start this morning by listening to a combination of Dido & Enya.  After the 1st 5+ times I had my focus stolen by different apps (Outlook, etc), I switched to the lovely noise of "32 Garbage Pail Hits by the Angry Samoans".  Yup, Punk.  That's like going from quiet easy listening right start to heavy metal (only worse – any Samoans listeners out there know the song I am referencing).  No wonder this Rant just flew off my fingers.

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