Double Click vs Single Click

Update: It seems people are finding this post looking for how to change their double click settings.

For GNOME:

  1. Open nautilus (click Places -> Home folder)
  2. Edit the nautilus preferences (click Edit->Preferences
  3. On the behaviour tab, click "single click"

Most operating systems (Microsoft Windows, GNOME) default to double clicking on some things and single clicking on others. Usually the rule goes ‘double click on the desktop, and the file manager and single click everywhere else’. However this rule is broken in varying places, in Windows for example, launching apps from the notification area could require either single or double clicking depending on the application. Do most people understand the distinction between things on the desktop and file manager, and everything else? Icons on the menu/launcher bar vs icons on the desktop?

Double clicking as an action also frequently takes a long time to explain to computer newbies, some of who can’t double click at first (or at least not fast enough), it takes a short time to get the action just right. It’s also harder than single clicking for some older, or disabled people. It also feels clunky when double clicking on a laptop ‘mouse key’, and frequently when double clicking by pressing the laptop touchpad, I’ll slightly miss, the cursor will slide up to the top left, and I won’t have double clicked anything. With single clicking you only have to get that aim right once.

One interesting question is should all applications respect your single vs double clicking preferences, for example should clicking on someones name in your instant messaging application open up a conversation window with them? Should clicking on a sound file in your music player start playing a song? Predictably I’d say yes in both places, but I imagine people having more difficulty adapting to this than changing the click model on the desktop or in the file manager.

When talking to people about double click and single click the most commonly cited disadvantage of single clicking is accidentally opening things when they mean to select them. The actual act of selecting is the same as it is with double clicking, in all cases except for when you’re just selecting one icon. The only thing useful to do with something once you’ve selected it is to move it, so as long as you’re capable of grabbing an icon and moving it smoothly, without your finger coming off of the mouse button you’re ok. Though the same people who consistently have problems with this are probably the same people who have problems with double clicking. I’m not sure what can be done to improve the single click and move action, but people move around quick launch icons and the like all the time, so it’s a problem that should be looked at anyway.

To get a fully single click desktop is a long piece of work, for one thing many applications today assume that you want to double click, and they will need work to fix them, which may or may not be viable. In my day to day computing I think that only one application - muine - my music player, is broke - it uses single click as select a song and double click to play. Another thing is that I imagine there’s reams of documentation that say ‘double click’. Many people also are set in their ways of double clicking and are reluctant to change. Perhaps the way to initiate change is to reverse the situation we currently have and by default set the desktop to single click with a preference to change to double.

One (small) part of the desktop market already exclusively uses single click - the touch screen users.

I think using a single click desktop will definitely make computing slightly easier for any new people and also easier for anyone who can lose their ‘double click instinct’, particularly for laptop users. So why don’t you try it?

My mum is still double clicking links on the web, she can’t be the only one.