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I recently encountered a proof of concept demonstration which used the mouse to "drag and select" multiple items in a list.

The current, widely accepted solution for multiple item selection is to implement a Shift + Click system to handle the selection of a large number of elements.

This got me thinking the concept of Shift+Click selection may be backwards. Why would you use a separate input device (the keyboard) to modify the behaviour of the mouse.

Why did Shift+Click become the standard for multiple item selection?
Is there a better way to handle multiple item selection?

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6  
Actually, in Windows Shift+Click is for selecting a continuous range, Ctrl+Click is for (un/)selecting an item (or range when combined with Shift) without overriding current selection. Other examples of modifying mouse behavior with Ctrl/Shift/Alt are in games/simulators when you want to have an option to move vs turn character vs turn head/camera or another action when moving the mouse. –  Danny Varod Oct 30 '13 at 15:21
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People have two hands. If a task could be performed more easily with two hands than with one, and users will often have both hands available, it makes sense to allow users to use both hands. –  supercat Oct 30 '13 at 15:41
    
Actually in Windows, you can drag in the empty areas to make a selection box to select a lot of items, so I usually use Shift+<Select> only when using arrow keys to select things. At least I have not used Shift+mouse for a few years already. –  Alvin Wong Oct 31 '13 at 3:18

3 Answers 3

Keyboard

The Shift modifier is used for keyboard selection as well, and not just for single selection.

No matter where you are, no matter how long the list, [Shift] + [END] selects everything from your current item focus to the end of the list, [Shift] + [PgDwn] one page (however that is defined).

This also combines with the word jump of Ctrl where appropriate.

i.a.W. Shift is a universal "selection extender" in keyboard navigation. It makes sense to extend it to mouse operations, too.

Arguably, it isn't ideal for mouse selection. However, there are other problems:

Drag&Drop is initiated by the same gesture. Mixing these functions in a single environment is problematic, especially since "accidental drag & srop" can be scary.

Scaling to scrolling lists works a bit better with shift: clikc the first element, use the scrollbar to navigate to the last element, shift+click the last element.

Scroll due to drag seems to be unsolved in the general case (scrolls either to slow or to fast in most applications).

Even when non-scrolling, in a large list, the Shift-Click seems slightly advantegous


Now, I agree this gesture is nicer than than shift click for a short, non-scrolling list. The downsides don't make up for it IMO.

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Not a complete answer, but some thoughts about why drag-and-select is not so good.

  • Dragging with a pressed mouse button is physically hard to do. You have to keep a constant pressure on the mouse button, and if it becomes too light, your work is undone. Too much pressure and the mouse can't glide well, and the cheap ones feel like they will fall apart in your hand.
  • If you have the items in a grid view, the area for selection is not always rectangular. Sometimes it is even non-contiguous. Selecting the last 3 items on row 1 and the first 5 items on row 2 with drag-select is impossible.
  • With Ctrl + Click already in place (and impossible to recreate with dragging), offering Shift + Click makes even more sense. It is like a shortcut for multiple Ctrl+Clicks when the items happen to be sequential.
  • The speed behavior of drag+select is atrocious. Even when the items are on a single screen, clicking on the first item, then holding Shift and clicking on the last item feels much quicker than dragging, probably because moving a pressed mouse is slower than moving a not-pressed mouse, and because you don't have to pay attention to what is in the path. Historically, it was even slower when painting the selection frame was hard for a computer without a dedicated GPU. But the real problem starts when you have to scroll to the last item in the selection. Holding the pointer in the right place so the page is scrolled and the scroll drags the selection frame larger is hard to get right, and the speed often feels wrong. Too slow makes the user fidget, too fast and it feels uncontrollable. Compare this with comfortably using PgDown or a scrollwheel to go to the exact place where the last item is, then shift-clicking once.
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Considering point 1, drag-and-select is even harder on laptop mouse pads where it is physically hard to follow with the mouse a foreseeable path. –  Pavlo Dyban Nov 4 '13 at 9:12

The current, widely accepted solution for multiple item selection is to implement a Shift + Click system to handle the selection of a large number of elements.

Not sure this is the case. From testing I have done the Click+Shift is not a well understood function and is hidden to the end user. Using some other method whether checklists or an add prompt has been more successful in my experience.

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