Who uses the save button in the toolbar?

In all programming software and IDEs there’s almost always a save button up there in the toolbar. To me, this has never made sense.

Sure, me myself, I’m almost obsessed with learning and using keyboard shortcuts, since it adds speed and efficiency, as well as being more ergonomic, to using a computer. Therefore, sitting there coding away, pausing to move the hand to your mouse, move it up to the save icon in the toolbar, and click, seems like such a waste of time as well as mouse usage for me.

Practically every program offers a keyboard shortcut for this, usually Ctrl + s in Windows and Linux, and Cmd + s in Mac OS X, and it seems so much simpler. However, having seen a lot of other people coding and code demos in presentations it seems like a lot people indeed do use it. Why, I ask you, why?

I mean, there’s one group I can understand using it, for lack of not knowing (or wanting to know) about the keyboard shortcut option. These are the people, usually aged 60 or more, working in large companies in dull corridors that never seem to end, crawling towards the nearest electric socket to put a fork into it so they won’t have to go back to work again…

Anyway, I digress. It is beyond me why fast-typing developers should have any use of it. I’m not trying to push my belief on them, but I just think that they can save the mouse for a lot of other better things. Please consider the keyboard for saving, ok?


  • roman says:

    I'll give you one reason. The button shows me, if a file is already saved or there's been changes made which are unsaved.

  • roman says:

    …not in MS Word, though. It's always enabled there, even if a file has been just saved (at least in the version I'm using).

  • Scott Powers says:

    haha… great post Robert!

    I'm with you! I use ctrl+s out of habit. Even with new programs I tend to use it on my first save.. probably 95% of the time it does indeed save (or save-as if it's the first save). Johnathan Snook and I talked briefly about this sort of time saving habit just yesterday. The more time you save.. the more stuff we find to fill it with. So, I agree, learn keyboard shortcuts folks, save time and get more work done!

  • Scott Powers says:

    <blockquote cite="roman">I’ll give you one reason. The button shows me, if a file is already saved or there’s been changes made which are unsaved.

    That's true but many programs these days have "tabbed browsing" like web browsers and put an asterisk next to the file name on the respective tag that signifies if a file's been changed and needs saved.

  • Erik says:

    The only times I've ever moused to File/Save was once (probably multiple times, actually) when windows was crashing and the key-commands weren't working. File/Save saved me a world of hurt that day.

  • Steven Clark says:

    As a user of a number of IDEs I'd suggest that while more advanced users might use shortcuts not everyone coded perfectly in a C or Java environment the day they opened that program – be it Eclipse or CodeWarrior or whatever.

    Why should web sites – which one would think far less complex – require thought about usability (users who aren't us) but not IDE software? I don't get it. Expecting people to forego the benefits of a graphical environment – like not having that button – is kind of like saying "well all of us geeks know a bit of unix so why have a feature to save a single file to GIF when we can just make a recursive call on the command line and convert 20,000 to GIF if we wanted – much more powerful and useful"… and I actually do use that save from the menu in MS Word I have to admit… maybe habit???

    I think designing an IDE interface which had no features – because hey why not just shortcut print, compile and all the other features – would be very hard to get used to using especially at the beginning learning curve. The buttons give direct feedback that the shortcut might not.

    Just my 2 cents from working in IDE interfaces. The same rules apply and there are also varying levels of users in there as well just like the web. You can expect a little tech savvy but seriously practically anyone could be opening the software – making it esoteric would be a bad development path.

    Maybe they should provide an extra button or a selection in the options which gives you the "normal person" default configuration and then you could have the "expert user" selected which takes away all the features you normally shortcut (if its that important).

    I'm not very big on shortcuts though I have to admit – and I'm not quite 60 yet lol…

    In short its the old conversation about command line versus GUI – pros and cons. I guess GUI are successful for a reason and the tradeoff includes issues such as Fitts Law and the time / energy expended on dragging that mouse around.

  • prattmic says:

    Most people in my school don't even realize that a button is there, and so they always go to File->Save. What a waste of time…

  • However, having seen a lot of other people coding and code demos in presentations it seems like a lot people indeed do use it. Why, I ask you, why?

    Keep in mind that many screencasts don't have sound or when they do have sound, might be viewed by people who don't have it on. Clicking the save icon gives a visual cue letting people know what's happening.

    But your point still stands. there are people who do use the save button that you'd think would just use the keyboard shortcut.

  • Steven Clark says:

    "But your point still stands. there are people who do use the save button that you’d think would just use the keyboard shortcut."

    Which comes back to my point I guess – as a user why would it be wrong for me to use the GUI feature to save rather than the keyboard shortcut? Its important to realise that neither are we the only people using a piece of software nor is the way we use it the same as for others. Levels of skill, different mind maps, alternate methods of achieving a set task. None are wrong and if shortcuts work well for you then great.

    It isn't wrong in any way to use that save button and its there for a strong human-computer-interaction reason – it provides feedback, it is visually available on the screen, and it provides an option to the user which does not require esoteric knowledge of shortcuts. Or conversely, imagine using an IDE which had no GUI features but offered every shortcut on the planet.

    So I'd suggest that not having that feature would be bad design and less commercially successful.

    Also, even though I know some keyboard shortcuts I don't always work that way. I'm human and tend to use a variety of paths to achieve my goals regardless of time efficiency.

    One might think I should do a lot of things (like use a WYSIWYG to insert elements on a web page yet I hand code)…

    Sorry, not meaning to be argumentative but it doesn't seem logical in any way to expect users either know shortcuts or might use them regardless of their experience in the work environment IMO.

    Still, good controversial discussion Robert lol… πŸ™‚

  • Georges says:

    Well, I believe you always se a presenter in a video, or while showing something on screen (presentation) uses the save button to show the viewer that he is doing a save command. If the presenter would just hit Crtl-S you won't really notice it. And in some applications, there are more than a "Give me a filename"-Windows popping up the first time you try to save something.

    Maybe that's the only reason there is such a save button πŸ™‚

  • Why do people use the mouse to click on the Search button when they can hit Enter with much less fuss? I think that the save button should be there, first as an indicator that the document has been saved and second for those that insist on using the mouse.

  • JMG says:

    Sometimes I just get lazy. Forgetting about the keyboard and just using my mouse to click. As my other hand is wandering anywhere but on the keyboard, moving the mouse a little more to click the save button in the toolbar is the speedest thing to do :p

    Ok, I generally use keyboard shortcuts, but buttons are nice to have, too.

  • Pat says:

    That's like asking why don't people use Ctrl+x/c/v .. I use those all of the time! But alas, not "s".. I'm not sure why? Perhaps the save button gives me a false sense of security that I saved the file, maybe it is indeed easier just to use my mouse, hard habits are hard to break, or I'm spiraling faster to 60 than I thought πŸ™‚ Where's that fork?!

  • Gerben says:

    <blockquote cite="Steven Clark">Or conversely, imagine using an IDE which had no GUI features but offered every shortcut on the planet.

    I guess Vi and Emacs fall under that category. People using those swear by it.

    I'm a heavy shortcut user and just hate using the mouse. To bad that surfing the web kind of requires one.

  • Jens Meiert says:

    My two cents: In most cases, auto-save would be best …

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Lots of "Fork people" amongst my readers, I see. πŸ˜‰

    Seriously, though: great feedback! Let me clarify my opinion:

    I don't have any problem with a save button being visible in the toolbar (as well as other icons), and it should display if the document is currently saved or not, since visible feedback is a great thing. It can be with the save icon and/or, as Scott mentions, be done with an asterisk next to the name of the current file.

    I just question the efficiency of using the save icon (and prattmic's great example with <code>File</code> > <code>Save</code>) instead of keyboard shortcuts.

    For presentations, I do recognize the need to visually display that the document has been saved. One can argue, however, that if they code for some time and then switch to a web browser to show the results, it's fairly likely that they saved their code first…

    Anyway, nice to see I could raise so many opinions! πŸ™‚

  • Steven Clark says:

    true that Vi and Emacs fall under that catergory lol… and yes I've used Vi but choose not to. Like probably most people who prefer to develop in a GUI…

    Hands up how many people jumped into Vi (even if they could code C a bit) and didn't find it a little hardcore?!

    A similar idea would be the expectation that as professionals we're all using versioning software? Right? We all are aren't we? SVN? I think it just comes down to different strokes for different blokes (and women) and individual work processes. Faster isn't just about the keyboard shortcut is faster than a mouse as it can be the opposite depending on the mental map in your head and the previous patterns of your development. What you have to think about takes faster as well.

    I see I am among fellow geeks with this conversation and I am starting to worry about myself.

    (OK who among us has a Star Trek suit or knows a friend – old or new – who owns one with or without a phaser?) πŸ™‚

  • Steven Clark says:

    ha ha… no not "what you have to think about takes faster"… I meant longer lol…

    i am turning into "all your base are mine"… sorry Robert.

  • selven says:

    Most probably, save button is placed there so as to give the user the impression that "there are more functions" in this program.

    Besides, one would need to press file, then see if there is a save button and hover on it once to see that the shortcut is ctrl+s, hence the button serves its purpose, we now know that we can save, and we can also do it with a shortcut…

    opening the help file to search for "shortcut to save" is tiring.


  • pim says:

    Toolbar? What toolbar? The first thing I do after I install an application is switch off the toolbars. Toolbars are for dummies. Granted, my girlfriend is a dummy, she uses the save button in the MS Word toolbar (MS Word isn't even installed on my Mac, and I'd like to keep it that way…)

  • Robert Nyman says:

    – Fixa konsultprofil


    Ha ha, don't worry! πŸ™‚

    And no, no suit for me or anyone I know (Star Trek suit, that is ;-)).


    Yes, maybe. Or at least some sense of comfort, I guess.


    Yes, toolbars usually just take up space for nothing for me to. πŸ™‚

  • Jimmy says:

    Why are you picking on people who use the save button? The whole point of a modern UI is to offer the user multiple ways of performing the same action, so they can use the one that suits them best. So, the tool-bar, the menu and the hot-keys should all be perfectly valid. However, the save button is probably the most important one of all! What is it that people LEAST want to happen? To lose their work, that's what. The save button is great for ensuring the operation has been performed correctly (whereas the keyboard shortcut doesn't). Typically the button depresses and pops-up when clicked, letting the user know they've issued the command. Often there's a sound. Often there's an hourglass for a split second as the file is saved. Often the button greys-out afterwards to indicate that the save operation has completed. Often the filename (in the title-bar) will have an asteristk to indiate that the file has been edited … and this will vanish to indicate that the save operation has completed. Personally, I think the save button is an extremely good way of checking that your work has been saved. If you personally dislike the button then -hey- don't use it. Better still, use your toolbar-editor to remove it. But you concluding remark "Please consider the keyboard for saving, ok?" seems to have missed to point entirely.

  • Robert Nyman says:


    People can use whatever they want. What I questioned was the efficiency in their choice, because there are, most likely, a vast number of saving operations each day. And if each button click takes a little bit longer, while also being more strenuous on the user since they have to move the hand to the mouse and direct the pointer at the save button, I'd say that I still recommend using keyboard shortcut.

    Just as you say, if a file has been saved or not can easily be shown through an asterisk in the tab bar, sound or whatever suits the user.

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