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  • Dear Microsoft, Google and Other Retail Software Developers…

    Posted by Jonathan on January 9th, 2015 (All posts by )

    [Update: These ideas apply to Web pages as well.]

    A few suggestions from a mere user:

    -Stop using script-based popup menus. Go back to old-style Microsoft-standard (c. 2003) clickable nested menus emanating from a static menu bar, with standard headings (FILE, EDIT, etc.) plus the unique headings needed for each piece of software. If you are using script menus as a workaround for complexity you should redesign your user interface. If you are using script menus for any other reason you should stop.

    -Knock it off with the icons. Use text buttons instead. The point of software it to economize on human effort, not to appear stylish. A trash-can icon is probably OK, but much more than that and users are forced to waste time mouse-hovering over your icons or (worse) looking things up in the online help.

    -Hire focus groups of 75-85 year-old occasional computer users and turn them loose on your products. They may not understand the fine points but they will tell you quickly if your products have any gross UI deficiencies that people like you who use software all day may be overlooking.

    -Use large-enough default fonts and buttons. You can always make everything resizeable for users who want smaller.

    -Any command that does something major and irreversible, such as deleting a database, and that isn’t likely to be used often, should be on its own menu, or away from the other buttons on a page, and should require many clicks and, if practicable, the entry of a password.

    -Standardize what happens after the user clicks a command. If you require a password to access the database you should require a password to delete the database. If you use “are you sure” dialogs you should use them consistently. No surprises.

    -Minimize clicks. Someone told me he had to click five times to shut down Windows 8. Why?

    -Stop changing user interfaces without strong reasons. Updating the style is not a strong reason. Tool makers do not change the designs of hammers or wrenches from year to year. There is a reason for this and it mostly applies to software, which is another kind of tool, as well.

     

    14 Responses to “Dear Microsoft, Google and Other Retail Software Developers…”

    1. Michael Hiteshew Says:

      I would also add that all toolbars should be fully and easily customized. I should be able to drag any command from a menu and drop it on the toolbar, then edit the text or icon. Ditto with dragging things off the toolbar and into a menu. I should be able to add menus as well. Easily.

      But yeah, function over style. Any day.

    2. Mike K Says:

      I suggest those users change to Macs.

    3. pouncer Says:

      I remember with great fondness the LOTUS 1-2-3 interface with “stacked” keystrokes related to the magic words of powerful commands…

      Slash! F for File! S for Save! C for Close! Slash F D for Directory. Arrow! O for Open! All described on what they now call a context-sensitive toolbar…

      No trying to decide on which keyboard “bucky” or combination of buckies (alt? ctrl? Shift? alt and Shift? Alt and Tab?) was associated with a keyword initial.

      No taking hands away from the keyboard to reach for a mouse. Let alone trying to decide which of (by now) five or so mouse buttons (and a scroll wheel) or COMBINATION of mouse buttons (or combination of keystrokes and mouse buttons — “hold the shift key while moving the mouse OR using the mouse scroll wheel to move the cursor in order to highlight selected…”

      No drop down fields obscuring the main field or screen in view.

      No taking hands away from the desktop to reach up and touch or swipe or pinch or otherwise virtually manipulate intangible pixels protected by a flat armored layer of glass.

      No “event” or “object” definitions in coding macros, either. Just a series of letters, standing for operations, which — once memorized — could be typed into a box or cell in the document and invoked by exactly the same sort of stack. Slash! Run! Macro! MY_OWN!

      I remember an interface so powerful intuitive and useful the “look and feel” of the entire thing was decided, by court order, to be a valuable innovation worthy of compensation for those who originated it, and by those who emulated it.

      I can easily image a whole bunch of screens (not just spread sheets) that I would prefer to word with using the Dan Bricklin approach.

    4. tomw Says:

      As the new owner of a 8.1 laptop, all I can say is that it is very frustrating to use. Things pop up and disappear on an apparent whim of a hint of a touch to the mousepad.
      M’soft has more hubris than any other firm on earth. Change every bit of the interface? Why not. After all, we own the desktop OS market. For now.
      What value added is there changing almost everything required to perform the same tasks?
      I just figured it out. This is ‘rice bowl’ software. Changed to insure that the designers and M’soft educators have a job past next week.
      But, they won’t have me as a customer.
      tom

    5. pst314 Says:

      “I just figured it out. This is ‘rice bowl’ software. Changed to insure that the designers and M’soft educators have a job past next week.”

      Also: Because engineers enjoy re-inventing stuff. If you leave the User Interface alone, the engineers get bored. Maintenance is boring. Enhancements are semi-boring. Complete redesigns are fun. If the customers don’t like it, well, screw them ’cause they’re just noobs or worse.

    6. Grurray Says:

      Windows 8 is so frustrating. Does anyone really use the apps? I’m in desktop mode all the time and have to switch to the apps mode to search for programs because there is no more start button. Why, why why?!?
      I used to use Paint a lot but it’s now hidden in this mess.

      The only reason I can come up with for this monstrosity is to sell more Surface tablets, which no one wants, so they’re desktop users now have suffer.

    7. pst314 Says:

      “The only reason I can come up with for this monstrosity is to sell more Surface tablets…”

      How about: It’s cheaper to develop *one* operating system for *all* platforms, be they desktops, tablets, smart phones or kiosks.

      Also: Somebody probably thought the new UI was “cool” and the old one “boring”.

    8. Grurray Says:

      Another example of a multi-purpose, all-in-one system being not very good at any one and bad at the all, and ultimately losing any real purpose.

    9. Alan K. Henderson Says:

      Mr. Gates, as long as Windows 7 is being supported, do not release, do not even research, do not even think about WINDOWS VERSION FREAKING NINE!!! Give us a break!

    10. Mike K Says:

      “Complete redesigns are fun. If the customers don’t like it, well, screw them ’cause they’re just noobs or worse.”

      This is why elementary education is so screwed up. Teachers and ed school profs are bored by repetitive tasks like “times tables”and phonics.

      I gave my granddaughter a laptop for Christmas. I thought about giving her a Mac but her parents use PC laptops and that’s what they wanted. My youngest daughter was always getting viruses and weird malware when she was in high school. I practically had a guy on retainer to unscramble her PC. When she went away to college, I insisted that she use a Mac against her wishes. She never had a problem and is now a Mac user.

    11. Gringo Says:

      Mike K
      This is why elementary education is so screwed up. Teachers and ed school profs are bored by repetitive tasks like “times tables”and phonics.

      Spot-on comment. During my time as teacher,I saw that children liked repetition, even phonics drills.[At least during those drills they were on task.] Repetition helps children reinforce their knowledge bases, which are much smaller than those of adults. But as you point out, adults are bored by this repetition. A four or five year old child wants to be read the same story every night. The adult reading the store gets bored, and tries to change things in the story. The child catches the change, and tells the adult the new version is wrong. How many times has this been repeated in homes? Millions of times.

      Ed school profs are concerned with constructing the next big theory or education, instead of conveying to prospective teachers what has WORKED in over 2000 years of formal education.

    12. Gringo Says:

      Gurray
      Windows 8 is so frustrating. Does anyone really use the apps? I’m in desktop mode all the time and have to switch to the apps mode to search for programs because there is no more start button. Why, why why?!?

      The only reason for Windows 8 was to create a Windows system for tablets and smaller.Unfortunately for desktop users, the tablet orientation for Windows 8 has created uncomfortable moments. Which means that if you are on a desktop, there is no need for Windows 8.

    13. Mike K Says:

      “conveying to prospective teachers what has WORKED in over 2000 years of formal education.”

      Nuns were so good at this. They would hold spelling bees every week. If you missed a word, you had to sit down until the last kid standing had not missed any. The seating in my classroom was by scores on tests. If you were the highest scoring kid in the class, you sat in the right front row. The second was next and so on. I doubt you could do that now.

      We diagrammed sentences in 6th grade and recited times tables in 4th. The UCLA ed school professor was racist for correcting the grammar in GRADUATE STUDENTS papers.

    14. BT Says:

      8.1 haters:

      I feel your pain.

      Go get Classic Shell. IT’s free, and removes most of the silliness. But not all, dammit.