February 14, 2002

How OS "upgrades" don't make 'da grade
Excellent post (a "ManifOSto") and very lively discussion at Signal vs. Noise about things an operating system upgrade should do (or not do). The discussion covers a lot of areas including future direction of desktop metaphors.

It's wishful thinking, but an ideal operating system should...
  1. Run on my current hardware.
  2. Require equal or less system memory than the previous OS.
  3. Require equal or slightly more hard drive space (for the core functionality) than the previous OS.
  4. Run as fast or faster than the previous OS on the same hardware.
  5. Include the previous GUI skin as an optional install.
  6. Back itself up. Automatically.
  7. Not reduce any of my peripherals to paperweights.
  8. Allow me to do more with my computer than the previous OS.
  9. Display error messages a human without a computer science degree can understand.
  10. Not reduce me to a quivering ball of cytoplasm when things go wrong.

February 13, 2002

A New Architect
Web Techniques Magazine is no more -- it's now called "New Architect". I have to congratulate them on doing one thing right that many other similar sites have done wrong in the past: their old URLs still work. Yes, that's right. They chose NOT to break the thousands of links to their old content. Why am I surprised? Because for some reason, many businesses don't think twice about revamping their site's file structure when they redesign -- they "clean up" things on the server, only to make a mess of it for their users, advertisers...and any associated revenue streams.

Resources on URLs -- why and how to not break them in a redesign:See also previous post: Design Not Found

As far as the new magazine goes, if you're curious about what's the same, and what's different...well, according to the editor:
"We've held on to many of Web Techniques's unique ideas. For instance, we still believe strongly that the cornerstones of any Internet project are strategy, infrastructure, development, and interface. This structure lets you see all sides of the problem, and its solution, before you devote your time and money to it."

"We've added two completely new sections to the magazine: Critical Decisions and Case Studies. Each article in the Critical Decisions section is written with the intent of helping you answer a strategic question."

Web Techniques has regularly covered topics on design and usability in the past, and judging from the first issue of New Architect, it looks like they'll continue that into the future.
Uncle Sam needs Information Architects
"The IT systems in place at the CIA and at other agencies within the intelligence community have made analysts less efficient, because they spend valuable time searching for information stored in many different locations, Louie said. The systems don't allow users to quickly find or compare data especially if the search terms aren't exact.

"We had an IT failure — all of the systems that we put together with the best intentions weren't doing the job," he said. "We couldn't fuse the data."

"This fact was made glaringly clear Sept. 11 when CIA employees at almost every level ended up printing out stacks of paper and searching them manually because it was faster than searching through data stored in IT systems, he said."
Federal Computer Week: Systems fail to deliver


February 12, 2002

Why be stupid when you can keep it simple?
An article on spartan design from webreference.com. The first page is golden, the rest get down into development techniques (not all of which I agree with).

A few poignant quotes:
"The first goal I have is to convince some of you to simplify everything that you are doing. There are several reasons for this, the most enticing that your income will likely go up."

"It is not easy to create something very simple, and I believe it takes more artistic talent to create a beautiful page when the designer must work within usability restrictions. There is always one thing I keep telling myself as I ponder this age-old art question. My attitude towards producing useable work is the primary reason I have made a good living as an artist for close to fifteen years without a "day job." And isn't that what it is all about?"

February 11, 2002

Outlook, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.
ZDNet has a good rant and discussion of Outlook frustrations. Here are a few of mine:

  • Can't drop a contact in the To field of a new email message
  • Forgets any aliases I don't use after few weeks -- frustrating
  • Rules management sucks...you end up with way too many rules
  • Rules performance is horrible. They take forever to run and won't run in the background
  • Outlook runs rules when mail "arrives"...but not if it "arrives" while Outlook isn't running.
  • Takes forever to start up over dialup. Has to process all reminders, events, tasks, etc. before you can get to your inbox. (Hint to MS developers: multitasking means some tasks can run in the background.)
  • HTML email authoring is a mystery...where do I enter my code, please?
The Web Standards Project: Phase II Coming
Hmm...looks like the WaSP is undergoing a metamorphosis. According to their site, they are "retooling, and a Phase II will "launch soon". Their last signoff on Phase I leaves some clues to possible new directions:

"Browser makers are no longer the problem. The problem lies with designers and developers chained to the browser–quirk–oriented markup of the 1990s...It lies with “helpful” software that generates sites optimized for 4.0 browsers with nary a thought for document structure, open standards, separation of structure from presentation, or the long–term durability and viability of web documents...above all the problem lies with clients who confuse the web with print...who are so concerned with “backward compatibility” that they neglect the far more important issue of forward compability."

Given the focus of "phase I", my prediction is that they'll target tool makers. Developers and clients are the more difficult of the three to tackle, and in phase I they went after browser makers...Let this serve as a warning for Adobe, Microsoft and Macromedia.

See previous post Whither (or wither) the WaSP?

(found via Zeldman)
Jakob Nielsen on false prophets
I received an email from Jakob Nielsen about my previous post on usability snake oil vendors. Here's what Jakob had to say:

"I noticed your essay on false usability a few days ago. I commented on the same phenomenon back in 1999, calling it "voodoo usability":

Unfortunately, as you point out, flawed approaches have been increasing, rather than declining, in the time since my essay, so it's good that you took the initiative to revive interest in the matter."
Jakob Nielsen
Author, "Homepage Usability: 50 Websites Deconstructed"
Nielsen Norman Group

I've received a number of other comments via email, all supporting what I said. One person said they avoid using the term "usability" to describe what they do because it is just too vague. They think its vagueness allows an opening for "snake oil merchants". That may be, but in my book wrong is wrong, no matter how big an "opening" is provided by the victim or the environment.