Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Joel on Software: Choices = Headaches

Nathan Freeman pointed out this article to Mary Beth Raven on her blog and I was simply astounded by what it contained. Here is someone whom I believe is relatively well-regarded in the software development world who is 1) willing to challenge Microsoft's doublethink and 2) agrees with my own approach. It's not common for my views to be popular so I'm always surprised when anyone agrees with me.

Joel discusses the confusing mess surrounding simply turning off Windows Vista. He tallied over fifteen different ways, then describes how to pare it down to only two. This can very easily be correlated to software development in general.

How many preferences are there in Lotus Notes? Well, that depends. There are up to six different sets of preferences, plus the ones built into the mail file itself. Each one is broken up into multiple tabs and subtabs, and some such as Toolbar Preferences have a completely unique UI paradigm for making changes. In all there are over 130 decisions to be made just in File > Preferences > User Preferences in Notes 7.01, and that's not counting all the combinations of port settings and International dictionary settings.

Nathan has long supported the idea of radical simplification in the Notes client, and I'm with him all the way on that charge. For my users their single biggest complaint is not that the Notes client is ugly or slow, it's that it is simply overwhelming. That criticism is mostly based on their use of Notes as a mail client. In my own applications I keep it as minimal as possible, such as the following

barracuda spam stats
[Side note: That's based on my own "blue rinsed" standard application template.]

It could be argued that some applications need more functionality and can't be as barebones as this. I challenge that assertion. The issue isn't that the functionality isn't needed, it's that the functionality should only be presented when and where it is needed.

As a real world example, create a Reply to an e-mail message. Using the standard Notes 7.01 DWA template, the action bar in the response has Reply to All and Follow Up actions. What on Earth do those mean in this context? If I wanted to Reply to All I would have done that from the view. Is the Follow Up flag getting put on the original message or my response? Why would I want to do that from here, anyway?

Also, the vectors for accessing functionality should be presented in the fewest places possible. How many different widgets are there related to Instant Messaging in the Notes client using the integrated instant messaging?

  • Right-click context menu
  • Chat view action (with multiple subactions)
  • Instant Messaging toolbar
  • Instant Messaging statusbar
Am I the only one who finds this ridiculous? By the way, the one vector I couldn't find was a direct keyboard shortcut. You can use Shift+F10 to open the context menu, which comes up in an odd place, or use Alt+A to open the Actions menu then H to open the Chat submenu.

I applaud Joel for tackling the issue of overloaded software that tries to please everyone but ends up bewildering the majority. And I also appreciate Nathan for keeping the pressure on the Notes 8 design team to simplify while innovating. I sincerely hope that goal is met.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the nod, Charles. :-)

    Just bear in mind that even if IBM agrees with me wholeheartedly, we won't see that kind of shift until Notes 8+1. They're too far down the road with Hannover at this point.