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Join the "don't steal my focus" initiative! | Nicole Simon's Useful Sounds

Join the "don't steal my focus" initiative!

01.02.2005 - 02:35 / filled under default

Just received a call from Garth, probably because I announced "why I hate developers if you don't have good keyboard support" as one of my next podcasting topics and he brought one absolute user interface nightmare of windows to my attention. The thing I get upset about at least 5 times a day. He writes:

I can't cope with this one any more: applications can still steal focus with an alert. If I'm typing, by the time I've noticed the alert appear I've already dismissed it and I don't know what I just told it to do. It might be half an hour before I realise it's deleting everything to free up disk space.
I have turn off that free diskspace wizard, but the moment he mentioned "do you multitask and did it ever bothered you ..." I screamed YES YES YES!. Can someboday please stop this madness?

Some people call me obsessed but I beg to differ: I am just a woman who knows how to handle things like her keyboard and I don't like being handled by a stupid application screaming "Look at me! Look at me!". I try each day to ban this frustrating experience (which happens to me each day several times) from my memory, but it is really something I get angry about. [Hear me ranting about things before? You've heard nothing yet.]

Just to give you two examples from my daily experience:

  • each damm download from IE is cancelled bevor being copied to the desired location and I have to grab it out of the temp dir, yes each download at work

  • I still have not found all switches for skype about calls
Whoever designed that concept needs to be punished - hard, very hard.

It seems to me as if the designers of such "Non User Interaction" stood under the impression that a user would a) just use one application or b) just would click around with the mouse and c) wait after each click somewhere until it really is finished. I am a keyboard junkie and while downloads take their time, I do things. And I type fast. I have presed several times space until I *hear* the pop up sound sound of that window which indicates "Copying now, Cancel?". The window does not even appear most of the times!

And no, I don't want to hear about registry setting number 2134, I want this thing to be turned off. Forever. Keep it in the background, where it belongs.

Until some minutes ago, I felt helpless. But Garth reminded me of the power of the blogs. So let's try if we can get rid of it and I ask you to join Garth and me on this crusade for a usable windows UI. Garth again:
I figure that if anyone whose attention I can grab for 15ns can push this one along to the point of being fixed in (say) Longhorn, it's Robert Scoble. I also figure that getting Mick Stanic and Nicole Simon in on the action will help: Mick because he's good at griping, and Nicole because she's as obsessive about user interaction and keyboard control as I am. I'll keep you all posted on how we do.
As Garth does not have a proper blog with comment function or trackback, you might use this blog if you like, but the main thing is: blog about it.

Does someone feel like making a button? :o)

Update: We are not the only ones, take a look at this "Don't steal my focus" piece by J. Scott Johnson - and it is from 2002 ...

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    comments (19) :

  1. depending on which version of windows you are using (2000 or XP) the appropriate version of tweakui from microsoft (one of those unsupported powertoys they make) can prevent alerts from stealing focus. in windows 2000/tweakui 1.33, the option is on the General tab: "Prevent applications from stealing focus"

    in XP/tweakui for XP (does this one have a version number?) it's located in General > Focus and provides similar functionality.

    link for 1.33:

    link for XP compatible version:

    with the "don't steal my focus" setting activated the alert dialog's associated spot on the taskbar will blink until you click on it.

    i hope this is what you're looking for... until microsoft throws out the windows codebase and starts over users will have to put up with all of those little "features" that have built up to a crappy interface experience over the years.

    scott 01.02.2005 - 05:05
  2. Wonderful. Do you tell my IT department, that I need to install untested software? ;)
    Nicole Simon 01.02.2005 - 10:30
  3. tweakui is simply a control panel applet that was written (supposedly) by MS engineers for "power users" to address stuff like this. i'm a consultant for more than a dozen companies and i install it on every computer i support - it's tested and safe. microsoft doesn't support it because it doesn't ship with windows. considering all of the vunerabilities in IE, tweakui makes microsoft's browser look like beta software (and isn't everything they make literally a beta until the first service pack is released?)

    i would bet that your IT deptartment have it installed on their PCs...

    scott 01.02.2005 - 14:29
  4. Scott, you bet wrong ;(
    Nicole Simon 10.02.2005 - 03:50
  5. I feel your pain. That is one of the things I hate more than anything about Windows. It is too annoying and too dangerous a "feature" and I truly hope they'll fix this soon.

    Shannon J Hager 03.03.2005 - 00:42
  6. Is there some petition to sign ?

    (this is not just an MS Windows problem, it happens also in linux and others)
    David Bala˛ic 18.03.2005 - 17:02
  7. Yes, but the tweakui setting seems to be temporary. I have to keep re-checking the "prevent applications from stealing focus" box" it seems that you can only temporarily disable this, no matter what. I have yet to find a permanent solution.
    Phred 20.04.2005 - 21:56
  8. Tell me if you find it :o)
    Nicole 21.04.2005 - 16:13
  9. I've found a way to permanently fix it. :D

    Copy this into notepad and save it into a folder (e.g. mydocs) and call it focus.reg:

    Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00

    [HKEY_CURRENT_USERControl PanelDesktop]


    Copy this into notepad and save it as focus_run.bat in the same folder:

    @echo off
    reg import focus.reg

    Navigate to the folder in Windows and right drag the focus_run.bat into your startup folder in the Start menu. After dragging select Create Shortcuts Here.

    Restart Windows, have a look in TweakUI and the setting should now be saved.

    NB: Make sure you save the text files using the exact names above. i.e. don't add the .txt extention. You can do this in notepad by enclosing the filename in double quotes ""
    Robert Brown 14.05.2005 - 13:23
  10. Btw, make sure you enter backslashes after the words USER and Panel in focus.reg.

    Looks like a bug in this comments box removed them.
    Robert Brown 14.05.2005 - 13:25
  11. You would be my hero if this would work ;)
    Nicole 14.05.2005 - 13:43
  12. Have you tried it?
    Robert Brown 14.05.2005 - 14:19
  13. I have the same problem. I actually tried something similar to this with a reg file containing that key and putting a shortcut in the Startup folder with the command "D:WINNTregedit.exe -s no_stealing.reg" in the shortcut, and it didn't work. I suspect that this computer (on a domain I can't control at my job) has certain defaults loaded when I log in or something. I will try your approach with the .bat file and the command "reg import no_stealing.reg" which looks like better syntax. This is on Windows 2000. If it doesn't work, maybe I need to load it from one of the run keys in the registry. I'll test and see what works here. If anyone can confirm getting this to work, please post.
    Nikki (a different one) 17.05.2005 - 14:32
  14. My method seems to have stopped working too. It worked ok at first, but now has somehow reverted to the old setting.

    I wonder if a Windows process explicitly sets and checks this value while running? God knows what or why though.

    Back to square one!
    Robert Brown 17.05.2005 - 22:03
  15. As my PC has decided to stop working on different stuff - I have opted for waiting. But if you say, it has stopped, this is bad :(
    Nicole 17.05.2005 - 23:21
  16. Hey everyone,

    I found a solution, although not a great one. In cases where the settings in the registry change themselves back, you can remove permissions from those registry keys. Here's the procedure:

    open regedit.exe

    Navigate to HKEY_CURRENT_USER, Control Panel, Desktop, and change
    ForegroundLockTimeout to dword:00030d40

    Close regedit and open regedt32.exe (use start-run to launch it)

    Choose the HKEY_CURRENT_USER hive, expand Control Panel, and remove all permissions for everyone including Administrators and System from Desktop.

    This will have the effect of locking down much more than just your foregroundlock value, and you might have to go in and add permissions back in from time to time to change other aspects of your machine's characteristics. This technique worked well for me, but I haven't tried changing wallpapers or other display items yet, so we'll see . . .

    So we've uncovered two weaknesses in this design so far:

    1) things override the ForegroundLockTimeout key and start stealing focus again

    2) You can't control permissions to a single registry key, but you have to control them for the whole folder than they are in, which is like using a sledgehammer to swat a fly.

    Sieg heil MicroScruft. This is why all my home machines are on BSD or linux at this point ;)

    Nikki 05.07.2005 - 18:24
  17. Nikki honestly - that sounds very scary :))
    Nicole Simon 06.07.2005 - 23:52
  18. you can try saving the following line into a .bat file

    reg ADD "HKEY_CURRENT_USERControl PanelDesktop" /v ForegroundLockTimeout /t REG_DWORD /d 0x00030d40 /f > nul

    then put the bat file in your startup folder.

    Good luck!
    Adrian 09.11.2005 - 23:36
  19. hmm looks like it ate my backslashes. You will need a backslash between HKEY_CURRENT_USER and Control, and another one between Panel and Desktop

    - Adrian
    Adrian 09.11.2005 - 23:38

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I am Nicole Simon, 34 years old and located in Lübeck, Germany. This is my English blog with the Useful Sounds podcast which is now newly located at usefulsounds.com)

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