Steve is the conductor. We just play in his band.

Sunday, February 18th, 2007

(Custom look and feel considered harmful)

Suppose you’re playing piccolo in a marching band. You want to play the Stars and Stripes Forever because it really shows off your skills as a piccolo player. However the rest of the band is playing the Star Spangled Banner. The talented piccolo player plays the Star Spangled Banner like everyone else. The pointless prima donna plays Stars and Stripes Forever. It sounds awful and everyone stops listening to the band.

User interfaces are no different. Some are advocating that we each choose our own tune, and indeed designing libraries to help us do that. However this serves only the egos of the players (or programmers). It does nothing for the audience (or end users) except make them walk away in disgust. I reiterate: it is the goal of a Java application (or any other application for that matter) to fit in with other applications, not to stand out.

Faint Praise: Mac OS X is Better than Vista

Sunday, January 7th, 2007

John C. Welch has a nice article in Information Week in which he compares Mac OS X to Vista, and Vista comes out much the loser. This is no great surprise, especially since he focuses on UI issues. This is like comparing a Toyota Camry to a car built by UNM engineering students for the Formula Society of Automotive Engineers competition. Sure, it’s cool that the undergrads can build a car in a couple of semesters, but you wouldn’t put the student car in your driveway to commute to work.

However, what struck me was how many of Welch’s examples of how things were easier on Mac OS X, were easier only by comparison to the even poorer Vista. Many of his examples are actions that non-geeks are not able to accomplish on Mac OS X. They are harder than they need to be be, and harder than they should be. For example,

Linux Still Not Ready for the Desktop

Saturday, December 30th, 2006

Recently I decided it might be easier to install a recent libxml on Linux rather than try to figure out how to get one on the Mac. I’d forgotten my password for the Linux box I hadn’t turned on in about half a year, and I didn’t seem to have it written down anywhere, so I decided I might as well upgrade. Linux is clearly improving, but is equally clearly not ready for an end user yet. If you like compiling and installing libxml from scratch, Linux is for you. If, on the other hand, “compiling and installing libxml from scratch” is unintelligible techie gibberish, it’s not.

The 90 Second Rule

Friday, December 1st, 2006

While reading Paco Underhill’s Why We Buy, I was struck by his discovery of the 90 second rule:

We’ve interviewed lots of shoppers on the subject and have found this interesting result: When people wait up to about a minute and a half, their sense of how much time has elapsed is fairly accurate. Anything over ninety or so seconds, however, and their sense of time distorts—if you ask how long they’ve been waiting, their honest answer can often be a very exaggerated one. If they’ve waited two minutes, they’ll say it’s been three or four. In the shopper’s mind, the waiting period goes from being a transitional phase in a larger enterprise (purchasing goods) to being a full-fledged activity of its own. That’s when time becomes very bad. Taking care of a customer in two minutes is a success; doing it in three minutes is a failure.

I suspect the rule applies to a lot more than merely shopping. (more…)

The Downside of Localization

Thursday, November 16th, 2006

The Xerces XML parser recently localized its error messages, which seems like a nice thing to do. However sometimes good actions have unintended consequences. It turns out the localized error messages are a lot harder to find with Google than the English ones. Paste an English exception message into Google, and you’ll probably find 10 people who have already had and solved your problem. But the same message in Greek or Croatian? Maybe not.