Do you ever navigate the Index or Table of contents using the keyboard with just a little mouse clicking?  If so, you might have noticed that the only way to keep the selection focus on an item in the Index or TOC is to first give focus to the tool window.  You give focus the tool window by clicking on it's title bar, or <ctrl><alt><F1> for the Table of Contents or <ctrl><alt><F2> for the Index.  Navigating the items in the tool windows is another story...

If you click on an item in the Index with your mouse, one of two things happens:

  1. If the Index entry has multiple help topics, the Index Results tool window is opened, focus and selection are set to the first item in the Index Results list and the selected topic is shown.  The user can then navigate the Index Results list using the up/down arrow keys.
  2. If only a single help topic is associated with the Index entry, that topic is shown and focus is set to the topic window so you can navigate the topic using the arrow keys.

If you set focus to the Index window via <ctrl><alt><f2> the following behavior occurs:

  1. Focus is set to the “Look For“ box by default.  And you must hit <tab> twice to get to the Index list.  We are fixing this in Whidbey.  The filter combo will be moved to the top of the tool window out of the tab order so you can easily tab between the “Look For“ box and the Index list.
  2. Now that you have tabbed to the Index list, you can move up/down the list via the arrow keys.  To select and index entry, you press <enter> and are taken to the Index results list.  As described above, focus is set to the first item in the Index Results list, and the associated topic is displayed.

This behavior has been in place since Visual Studio .NET 2002.  The designers at the time thought that while this keyboard navigation was non-standard, it made the most sense for users navigating Help via the keyboard.  Now that you've had two versions to use this model, what do you think?  Should we change the behavior and keep the focus and select in the Index tool window, and force you to change windows in order to change focus?  Or, is the auto focus switching a good thing that makes your lives easier?

  • If you click on an item in the Table of Contents, the topic you clicked on is displayed and focus is transferred to the topic window.
  • If you set focus to the TOC window using <ctrl><alt><F1> and then navigate the tree, you must press <enter> on a selected item to display that topic.  Once you press <enter> the topic is loaded and focus is set to the topic.

This behavior has shipped for two versions now.  Do you like the current behavior?  If we changed the behavior in Whidbey to be the conventional focus/selection model rather than automatically changing focus to the topic, would this make your VS experience better or worse?

As we comb through Visual Studio looking for user model inconsistencies, questions such as this become very important.  There is no automatic answer.  If we leave things the way they are, then the Index and TOC navigation models will not be consistent with Windows and might confuse some users.  However, now that we have shipped this behavior in two versions, it could be that people like this non-standard focus shifting model and find it beneficial.

The most important opinions on questions such as this is yours - the Visual Studio user.

Tell us what you think!