Usability and Software Fitness

Justin Mason jm@jmason.org
Mon, 20 Aug 2001 20:22:49 +1000


Jeff Bone said:

> Failure to design with the users in mind is just engineering
> masturbation.

Great line!

> Usable:  Windows, IE, Office, Apache, Linux for servers, ICQ, Palm, C, Perl
> Questionable:  Netscape, IIS, Windows NT, Napster, Linux for desktops, Java
> Unusable:  BeOS, Newton, Objective C, Smalltalk...  Macintosh?
>
> Note that in many of these cases, the "usable" products fail on *any*
> but the intangibles mentioned above.  Windows is uglier than the Mac and
> maybe Linux, Apache is complete crap from an administrative standpoint,
> ICQ is ungodly baroque, Palm is ugly, Perl is ghastly.  OTOH, BeOS is
> pretty and fast, Newto n was 20 years ahead of its time, the Mac has
> always been more user-friendly fr om an immediate perspective.  Both
> Objective C and Smalltalk were beautiful languages.  OTOH, because they
> "failed" to some degree on the other critical fronts, I can't use them
> today to accomplish what I want, which is to help mo ve things forward
> for our industry.  Therefore:  unusable.

Here's another 2 bits:  each of these products has different usability
scores for different "markets", for example, Apache is beautifully usable
for a UNIX sysadmin -- someone who knows how trad-UNIX software is
installed and works, and where the log output appears.  But give it to
even a very experienced Windows user, and they'll be stumped (or at
least irritated) for quite a while.

When I write code, I'm often aiming at a certain "market", the UNIX user
who doesn't mind running command line apps, and knows that they may have
to check the syslog to see why something failed.  I can make my stuff
pretty usable for those guys, but then translating that to Windowsland
just doesn't work... you need to forget the command line, forget the
copious printf's etc., and redo it as a GUI app to be usable there.

--j. (finally back online after a long trip to Australia ;)