Completed Proposal Non-grayed-out editing commands

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Revision as of 13:37, 28 May 2017 by PeterSampson (talk | contribs) (GUI Examples: the iconic help button)
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Proposal pages help us get from feature requests into actual plans. This page is a proposal to not gray out the editing cammands tha relu uopn a selection when no selection is present.
Proposal pages are used on an ongoing basis by the Audacity development team and are open to edits from visitors to the wiki. They are a good way to get community feedback on a proposal.

  • Note: Proposals for Google Summer of Code projects are significantly different in structure, are submitted via Google's web app and may or may not have a corresponding proposal page.

The Problem

Now that we have addressed for 2.1.3 the issue of grayed-out commands while in Pause mode there remains the issue of grayed-out commands when no selection is present.

Users are often confused that their editing commands can appear grayed-out and inoperable. This occurs when they issue a command that relies on the presence of a selection and they have not made a selection.

We addressed this problem earlier by adding the "Select all if none selected" preference with the default setting of "on". This mitigated the problem in that the user always had an automatic "selection" even if they had not explicitly made one and thus the commands were not grayed-out if this remained "on", but it did little or nothing to educate the user about the importance of selections in Audacity - plus it made the GUI more opaque that it need be. This is exacerbated as when such an automatic select all in in force as the GUI does not apply the dark gray background to the selected waveforms to indicate the selection with a visual cue.

Further if the user has turned off the "Select all if none selected" a while back and forgotten about it they can then get confused by the graying out and lack of action and can't figure out what to do (and the current GUI is of no assistance in this situation).

Users really do need to learn about making selections, it is one of the fundamentals of Audacity usage.

Proposed Feature

Do not gray-out the commands if a command is invoked that requires a selection with no selection present, then we pop an informative help message to the user telling them to make a selection.

This would be both easily "discoverable" and at the same time educational - and would make for a much clearer GUI.

We could even add a Help button in the dialog to take the user the the page on Selecting Audio in the Manual (like the one we have in the new Timer Record setup dialog).

Developer/QA Backing

  • Peter 07May17: +1 I now just want to see an error message or an error dialog - in order to educate the user. Like James, I'm in favour of the Alternative 1 wording and think the Help button is essential.
  • James 07May2017 +1
I'm in favour of the Alternative 1 wording and think the Help button is essential. The user can learn about default options after learning the essential immediate points, which are (a) that they need to select and (b) how to select. I don't think the point about users switching off the preference and forgetting they have is one we should lose much sleep over. Such users will at least know point (a), and if it is two users of the same machine, one will probably be giving advice/help to the other. I think best is to require the user to do two steps - select the audio and then apply their effect. Otherwise they might get into the habit of doing things in 'the wrong' order.
  • Bill 08May2017: +1. Changing my vote so we can move forward with the "Alternative 1" style dialog, which is similar to what is presented when the user tries to "Apply" a RTP effect without a selection. This should also allow changing the default setting of "Select all if none..." to off.
  • Steve 08May17: +1 for the 'simple' solution of making "Select All if none..." an off by default option, with a "Alternative 1" style
  • Gale 07May2017: -1
I agree a lot depends on us actually having a Help button (why is this so hard?) and moreover on users bothering to read the help. The naive never bothered to read the Help before we had autoselection so why should they read it and understand it now, even if we point them to the right place?

The autoselection works for the naive recording a USB turntable but is too coarsely implemented and so can lead to a selection being replaced by "all". Therefore the knowledgeable object to it. If we fixed autoselection, I see almost no need for this proposal. Is it not better people remain in ignorance and record their tapes and records than give up in frustration when blocked by a modal message they can't be bothered to deal with? Giving up in frustration happened before we had autoselection, and it will happen again if we have a modal message with zero help on the message about how to select (particularly, how to select all, which most of the naive will want).

  • Gale 08May17: This proposal is only related to autoselection In the sense that you/Steve argue a reason we need this Proposal (and thus naturally, autoselect off by default) is because autoselect loses user's selections. I merely argue that improving autoselect would be a valid alternative to this Proposal so that it did not get in the way of knowledgeable users who mainly want to partially select. Improving autoselect also benefits users who want the feature because it saves them a very great deal of time.

    I was happy to be neutral rather than oppose this Proposal while we proposed a dialogue that helped the most naive without making them read things online. Do we really think the naive will take in

    Steve actually wanted a modeless dialogue before, which made it easier to help the user, but at the cost of extra complexity. I think a modal dialogue could work, but I oppose one that says (translated) "Dummy, we're popping this message you did not ask for because you did not select any audio. And we are not even going to tell you how to select all, which you, as a dummy, probably want to do. Just go RTFM".

    "Cannot apply Reverb effect: No audio selected" is untrue, as worded. If you turn (what would be off-by-default) select-all on, you can do just that. It *is" possible to pop quite complex messages on users without making them RTFM. The warning for importing uncompressed files works really well. Partly that is because we force default back to copy in, but I don't recall anyone saying they could not understand that dialogue. Why? Perhaps because the dialogue seems relevant, and perhaps this proposed dialogue will seem somewhat relevant and so can take some reasonable words of encouragement and help. Contrast that with Save Project where users have a preconception they are exporting, so don't read the message.

    See Alternative 2 (a modal example that would satisfy me and encourage learning for the timid).

    Is this Proposal still that users who already have autoselect on can keep it on? If we force autoselect off, the naive for whom autoselect works now but they don't know why will see this as a "bug" introduced in 2.2.0.

  • Paul 12May17: I point out that there is precedent for dialog boxes that can pop-up once only to educate the user, and let them set and forget future default behavior, without references to manual pages or other menu commands. See the warning that comes up the first time you do File, Save with a clean .cfg. It warns that what you are doing is not an export. It gives you a checkbox, "Don't show this warning again". I suggest a dialog including such a don't-bother-me-again checkbox as a prominent first choice, which if chosen then causes your Audacity 2.2.0 to behave in future as was default behavior in 2.1.3 (though perhaps as modified by James for the set of selected tracks?).

Work Done

James 12May17:

  • Peter has created a shorter landing page for help on selection, 'selection basics', that has the essentials a user needs to know to get past the road block of no selection, without having the full details of selection options inflicted on them.
  • I have tweaked select-all-on-none slightly, so that where a time is selected but no tracks, it selects all tracks.

Use Cases

  • Many reports on the Forum of confusion caused by Grayed-out commands
  • Users are particularly confused when they have an automatic (and invisible) Select All present and then they hit the Delete or Cut commands and all their audio disappears.


  • A pop-up modal "reminder"
    • "Please select some audio for <name of command> to act on, then try again."
  • Add a Help button in the "reminder" dialog to take the user the the new page on Selecting Audio 101 in the Manual.
  • On clicking OK, the "reminder" closes
  • We will retain the existing "Select all if none selected" preference, but turn it "off" by default for first installation and for reset of audacity.cfg. All other existing users would have their .cfg unchanged.
    • Add a FAQ for "How do I get the automatic "Select All" for any users who lose this functionality as part of a re-install with a reset and can't find the Preference.

GUI Examples

Alternative 1: A modal dialog message about what went wrong with a button for further help if needed. (message box title - No Audio Selected):

No Audio Selected
Cannot apply Reverb effect: No audio selected.

Select the audio that you wish to apply Reverb to,
then try again.

[OK]   [?]

Where [?] is the iconic help button with hovertext tooltip

Alternative 2: A modal message about what went wrong, example how to select all to get out of jail fast, with a button for further help if needed.

No Audio Selected

Cannot apply Normalize. Select the audio for it to use (for example, Ctrl + A to Select All), then try again.

Press 'Help' to learn more about selections and how to autoselect.

[Help] [OK]

Ctrl would be replaced with Command on Mac.

Alternative 3 [Paul]: Include radio buttons, including don't-bother-me-again choices to request and forget auto-select behavior or the opposite.

No Audio Selected

No part of the audio was selected for this operation.

Should Audacity apply operations to all audio, when none is selected?

( ) Always

( ) Never

(*) This time (ask me again each time)

Press 'Help' to learn more about selections.

[Help] [Cancel] [OK]

To clarify: I expect the user will know without further explanation to hit Cancel or the ESC key if the intent is "don't do it this time." If "Never" is chosen, then that includes cancellation of this time. If either "Always" or "Never" is chosen, then something is written into the .cfg file, which causes the dialog not to appear again.

  • Gale 13May17: The Saving Projects warning is as I said one that users don't understand well despite several reword attempts, but I gave reasons for that. If I understand, your dialog above does not add a checkbox to Warnings Preferences. If so, I agree on that. I assume the radio buttons Always and Never respectively check and uncheck autoselect in Tracks Behaviours Preferences.

    I had assumed when replying to James that autoselect remained on by default in a clean audacity.cfg, but given you default to "This time", that might not be true. So should we default to "Always" instead, which is less confusing to a user of previous Audacity who chooses to reinstall, or anyone who goes misty eyed and hits ENTER?

    We don't tell user how to change autoselect if they choose wrong or change their mind. I think we should. I give two different takes on it in the possible alternatives below. Providing an autoselect option means there is somewhat less need to add text to encourage clicking help, so Alt #2 may be better. On the whole this strikes me right now as heavier to grasp than the alternatives on the Talk Page that don't offer inline autoselect.

Alt #1

No Audio Selected

No audio was selected for this action. An option to select then act on the entire project is in Tracks Behaviours Preferences.

Should Audacity select then act on all, when no audio is selected?

(*) Yes, always

( ) Never

( ) This time, and ask me next time

Press 'Help' to learn more about selecting all or part of audio.

[Help] [Cancel] [OK]

Alt #2

No Audio Selected

You must select some audio for Normalize to use.

Should Audacity automatically apply actions to all audio when none is selected?

(*) Yes, always

( ) Never

( ) This time, and ask me next time

After choosing 'Yes' or 'Never', change this option at 'Select then act' in Tracks Behaviours Preferences.

[Help] [Cancel] [OK]

Select All on None

  • Effects and Analyzers not to be grayed out when no selection is present.
  • Default setting for select-all-on-none would be set to disabled, rather than removing that setting entirely.
  • Turned "off" by default for first installation and for reset of audacity.cfg (either chosen during installation or manual reset). All other existing users would have their audacity.cfg seeting for this option unchanged.

Previous Feature Requests relating to this proposal