Freeform object selection lassos

Currently, to select objects in a GUI, such as icons in a file manager, you use the mouse to draw corners of a rectangle (called a “bounding box” or “rubber band” in the Gnome Human Interface Guidelines).  Usually, though, the objects you want to select aren’t contained within a single rectangle. To select them all, you have to hold down the Ctrl key while drawing several different rectangles. For instance, you might want to select a block of icons, but not a few in either corner, because of the way they are ordered, which requires you to draw 3 or 4 rectangles.

It would be easier to just outline the things you want.  Instead of rectangles, it should be possible to select objects by drawing a free-form lasso around them.  This is more intuitive, and will be easier to grasp for the less technically-inclined. After watching many people interact their computers, I suspect the majority aren’t even aware they can use the Ctrl key to combine multiple selections. This would let you select all the files with a single swoop:

As shown, a line would be drawn back to the starting point to complete the selection, so you don’t have to draw the entire outline.  The line that you draw should be smoothed as you draw it, on the order of the size of one icon, so as not to be messy, since we don’t need any more precision than a single icon anyway.  It should also be possible to “backtrack”; if you draw backwards within a certain width of the line you already drew, it will erase it, so as to de-select something you accidentally went around.

You could even select disjoint groups of objects with a single mouse movement, for a group of files that wraps to a new line, for instance:

Objects will be considered selected if their centerpoint is inside the lasso. Alternately, the lasso’s shape could be redrawn to go around objects as you draw (shrink-wrapped), but this might be less intuitive:

Here’s a mock-up in Processing.js to play with.  Since you can draw sloppily and still select things, it’s actually faster to use the lasso in most situations than rectangles, as well as being more intuitive.  It’s especially good for touch screens and styluses.

Obviously this idea of selecting multiple objects with a lasso instead of rectangles is applicable to more than just Nautilus File Manager.

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