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Joel on Software

Auto motion in Excel?

by Joel Spolsky
Friday, May 12, 2000

Hanan Cohen writes:

A long time ago. in the 80's of the last century, I have used a spreadsheet program called Saturn on a DEC PDP/11 running RSTS-E. It had a wonderful feature which I can't find in Excel. It was called "auto motion". If you chose this feature, you could enter data in a cell, press any arrow key, enter the data in the next cell and when pressing Enter, the cursor would move to the next cell in the same direction of the first movement. You could enter data from the bottom to the top, right to left of any direction you chose. In Excel, you can either choose "top to bottom" or "left to right".
If you still have friends at the Excel team, tell them about this feature. It was wonderful and a "must have".
My response:
Ah, you're trying to trick me into recommending a feature that I don't approve of :)
Here's why I don't approve: it's confusing. Many people will see this behavior and they won't realize *why* the Enter key suddenly wants to go UP instead of DOWN. By then they may have forgotten that they previously pressed the up arrow.
It's important that things (especially the enter key) behave in the same way instead of getting into invisible modes. Nothing on the screen tells you why Enter is going up now, and you may just decide it's a bug and get frustrated. You'll get especially frustrated if you look away from the screen (at the piece of paper with all the numbers you are typing in) and type in a bunch of numbers, only to look back and find out that not only are they in the wrong cells, but you have accidentally overwritten something interesting you used to have there.

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I’m Joel Spolsky, co-founder of Fog Creek Software, a New York company that proves that you can treat programmers well and still be highly profitable. Programmers get private offices, free lunch, and work 40 hours a week. Customers only pay for software if they’re delighted. We make Trello, insanely simple project management, FogBugz, an enlightened bug tracker designed to help great teams develop brilliant software, and Kiln, which simplifies source control. I’m also the co-founder and CEO of Stack Exchange. More about me.

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