Friday, March 21, 2008

feed your mind, feed the world

Did you know that holly is a type of ilex and a planarian is a flatworm? FreeRice lets you learn new vocabulary while feeding the world's hungry. They give you a list of words, you select a meaning, and for every one you get right they donate 20 grains of rice. There is lots more information on their site about world hunger, so go learn a new word or two (or three) and help end world hunger. I'm looking forward to more erudite vocabulary in the blogosphere. Just don't cross over to magniloquence like some people are wont to do. You know who you are. ;-)

Monday, March 17, 2008

12 Steps to Stellar Software Design

A while ago Computerworld published the following list (edited slightly for brevity). I've had it up on my wall for a while and realized it would be a good thing to share.
  1. Admit you have a problem. It is impossible to design good usability on your own. Know thy user. Use personas -- fictitious characters that are created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic that might use a site or product. "Guerrilla" usability tactics such as informal customer interviews and teaming up with tech support staff might work too.

  2. Believe in a power greater than yourself. You need to find out who these folks are that are using your stuff, and they may not end up being the people you started out with when you designed the product.

  3. Make a decision to recognize good design. Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

  4. Make a fearless inventory of your user experience shortcomings.

  5. Admit to someone else the nature of your problems. More than just getting feedback, talking as an equal to users can help sort out why an application may not be working.

  6. Be ready to remove these defects of character. The interviewer used Microsoft Office 2007 as a case study. As the company added more features into its Word product, for example, it began using "rafted" toolbars buried in the interface, moving from 12 to more than 31 toolbars by the time it offered Word 2003. "Of the top 10 feature requests, five had been in Office for more than one release." The latest version, in contrast, uses a "ribbon" with a master set of toolbars that helps find what you need.

  7. Ask for help. Post mockups of the next version and solicit feedback. You don't have to listen, but it's good to know what people are saying.

  8. Make a list of all the users you've harmed, and make their lives better. A scale goes from functional > reliable > usable > convenient > pleasurable > meaningful. Most fall halfway to convenient. This is a really hard one to cross.

  9. Make direct amends. If you can't deliver an improvement, prepare for the worst. Don't burn bridges with your users. They will never come back, and they will tell all their friends.

  10. Continue your inventory. Usability testing is not a one-time event but a cycle: Observe, analyze, design. It should be like using shampoo.

  11. Realize that without users, it doesn't matter.

  12. Pay it forward. The software community has a number of resources, including Yahoo's User Interface Library and the Tango Desktop Project, to offer lessons learned.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

a little confused by Sametime trial installation options

Can anyone point me to something that documents the difference between these options? I've been digging on the Lotus site and can't find any reference to it.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

IBM and Apple ... does it blend?

As you may have noticed by now, I subscribe to several Computerworld newsletters. I find they cover a variety of subjects, have a lot of good content, and they even sometimes surprise me with the off-the-wall things they come up with.

A recent article by Don Tennant really got me thinking. Don puts forth the idea that Microsoft's worst nightmare is an IBM/Apple merger.
I asked Gates what trend or development had occurred in the technology sector in the past 20 years that really caught him by surprise. His deadpan response: "Kaleida and Taligent had less impact than we expected."

Gates was referring to two software joint ventures formed in the early '90s by Apple and IBM that were already fading into oblivion. There was something different in his tone -- a biting sarcasm -- that reflected a degree of scorn that he seemed to reserve for the Apple/IBM combo. And it was telling.

Microsoft's worst nightmare is a conjoined Apple and IBM. No other single change in the dynamics of the IT industry could possibly do as much to emasculate Windows.

Rumors of an IBM and Apple merger have come and gone for years. There's something different in the air now. Just as Apple is starting to gain greater popularity, they have started dropping their enterprise-oriented products. At the same time, IBM's heritage has become a bit of an albatross around its neck so it has to do something soon or risk losing the recent momentum that it is building.

IBM has obviously drunk the Kool-Aid that says sexy sells. Just look around. They finally updated their website to a new look, they actually made Notes not look like a 1980's throwback, and they're trying to engage a younger crowd. IBM needs to take it the next level, though. They have excellent products for business, but with the spinning off of its consumer printers as Lexmark and the sale of its PC division to Lenovo a few years ago, IBM has no entree into consumer technology. If you ask the average person under 30 why IBM is a household name it's because "they used to be relevant". No consumer will ever purchase an IBM product today. That's a bad thing for IBM.

As we are clearly experiencing, the next big things in business IT are coming from the consumer side. They're often not new, corporate IT has been doing things like mashups, composite apps, and social networking for years, but they are being torn apart and reinvented for consumer use, who then bring the simplified and exploded versions back into the corporate world. That's the power and the promise of the Internet Age, and IBM is going to have to get into the consumer market to be a player in future corporate IT. It was moderately important in the 80's and 90's, but today if you make business software without a consumer presence of some type you're dead.

So I think IBM needs to buy Apple. It would give Apple the credibility it needs in corporate IT, and give IBM the street cred it needs. If such a thing happens hopefully IBM has learned from its mishandling of Lotus and will be extremely laissez-faire. It took about a decade for IBM to finally grasp that the community is what made Notes successful and that backing off was the best thing. I'm not sure Apple's faithful could survive IBM's Nurse Ratched-like tenderness for that long. :-)