Double-clicking is a noteworthy hurdle when learning to use the mouse. For some users, it stays a challenge and can be impossible in case of certain impairments. It can hurt if you have RSI, and if you haven't already, it makes it more likely you develop some.

The need for double-clicking to trigger specific actions is hard to discover. This is often overlooked because so many people know about double-click already.

Common anecdotes about users who default to double-clicking even in web browsers are a hint that users do not necessarily differentiate between links and icons on the desktop or in file managers.

Current use of double-clicking

Double click is the current default for opening files and folder and likely the most common way of doing so. It's also used to select the contents of entries, but that's more of an additional comfort feature.

What other gestures could be used to open or select files and folders?


  • Right click is reserved for the context menu.
  • Middle click would be hard to discover and doesn’t translate well to touch interfaces and two-button mice.
  • Requiring a modifier key in combination with a mouse button (like GNOME’s Nautilus now) would make it too difficult.
  • Having a second click after an initial click for selection open items would get rid of the timing issue, but add state and still require 2 clicks.
  • Rely on a button, icon or menu command to open selected items or to act as drop targets. Additional travel makes this too laborious. Too demanding on the surrounding of files and folders.

Application-specific uses would have to be looked at case-by-case and might well be found justifiable, independent of the files and folders case.

Nautilus’s single-click mode relies on Ctrl- and/or Shift-clicking or rubber-band selection starting outside the target area of any item (Icon mode only). The modifier-click approach is hardly discoverable.


  • Left click
    • Plus Select action in a halo shown on hover (like KDE’s Dolphin now) or
    • Select via rubber-band selection. Add neutral areas in all views.
  • Left click on a specific area of the icon, 2nd area for Select
  • Pie/Marking menu
    • Center option that will be triggered with a simple click could be Open.
    • 2 directions could be used to have both Select-and-deselect-previous and Add-to-selection.
    • Another direction to initiate dragging (no need to hold a button while dragging, then).
    • A delay to not be annoying, but also be discoverable.


Open will only happen after a final mouse button-up, so dragging is always possible (except the pie/marking menu special case). Drag handles or file movement (like on the iPhone) on hover, and/or a change of the pointer could give the user a hint.


To ease file renaming, the file name area could be excluded from single click to open (only in icon mode!). Clicking on the filename would allow for inline renaming. See also the corresponding idea on Ubuntu Brainstorm.

Mockups for file selection and dragging

On-hover halo

A halo with a grabing handle can be shown on hover to suggest the dragging action.

For multiple selection, the handle can include a "pin" icon with the selected files.

Nautilus Mockups

These Mockups are a envisioned way of handling the selection of several files in Nautilus, essential changes are:

  • A hover action will visually accent the Object within a certain Area, not just the Icon
  • A Checkbox accompanies the Object on Hover
  • The current selection is represented alongside a dismiss action either on the Bottom (Mockup I) or the Top (Mockup II)

Mockup I (Bottom Notice)


Mockup II (Top Notice)


Please note that in Mockup II the hovered Icon is represented like a current hovering action in Nautilus, just with a CheckBox appended to the Object.

Mockup III (Grab handle)

This version uses only a grab handle that selects or unselects the file when clicked. It doesn't show a checkbox for selection.


Mockup IV (Grab + checkbox)

And now the two ideas combined:


Mockup V

Bottom Notice, de-select/select all kept in menu.


Objections against single clicking to open items

Accidental clicks will start unwanted applications, which will throw the user off-track and cause delays.

Opening files and folders happens too frequently to make it less than very quick and easy to do. A bit of discipline from the side of the user will lead to better results than a system with safety latches. Finally, applications should load near instantly or allow to cancel loading.


How do various desktop environments handle single clicking or other alternatives to double clicking?

KDE (Dolphin file manager)

Dolphin selection.png

Hovering over an item offers selection with a green plus sign. The blue overlay indicates draggability, already selected items have an overlay with a darker shade of blue. Note that on mouseover, further information for that item is displayed on the right.

Dolphin deselection.png

Same for when it is already selected, except it is now a red minus sign for deselection. Also note the tooltip.

Dolphin move one.png

Moving one item is indicated by a the item’s icon being at the mouse cursor (always in the same position, not where you grabbed it). The minus sign occurs regardless if the folder was selected or not and is somewhat irritating (not intended / used for anything?).

Dolphin move multiple.png

Moving multiple items is indicated by two files at the mouse cursor, which is confusing when it is folders that are moved. Again the minus sign is displayed, at the folder that was used to initiate the drag.

Dolphin detail view.png

All the above is valid for the detail view, except that the plus and minus icons are shown on the small icons.

Google Docs

Google Docs uses single click to open files. Files have check-boxes for selection, and the interface includes a bar at the top for actions such as renaming and selecting all/none.

Files can be dragged to folders on the left. When multiple files are selected, clicking and dragging any one will drag all at the same time.



Windows (Explorer?)

Someone who has access to Windows could contribute findings here.

Microsoft introduced a single-click option with Win 98 (not 95?). It was meant to offer consistency with clicking on links in Internet Explorer. In this mode, selecting files requires hovering for a while (Shift or Ctrl-clciking did not work?).

Windows 7 configured to single click mode: A pointy hand appears when hovering over a file, which gives a highlight overlay. At almost exactly 2 seconds of hovering, the file is selected and give focus in the status area.

Mac OS (Finder?)

Mac OS X doesn't seem to have the ability to allow for single click navigation. Apparently OS 8 had a button mode.

Ayatana/DoubleClick (last edited 2012-07-02 16:28:00 by a88-113-162-69)