I tend to complain a lot. Which frankly, doesn't do much for what I'm complaining
about. In most cases, it comes down to "okay, here is a problem, now someone
else go and fix it." There is a direct correlation to how many people I annoy
too. The number of people I annoy increases as the magnitude of my complaining-ness
(hey, a new word) increases:
If I wanted to change something, obviously I’m going about it the wrong way.
However, there is a direct correlation between how often I do something wrong and
the likelihood I will get it right. See previous image. What that means
is if I keep screwing something up, eventually I am bound to get it right. However,
what is not necessarily apparent in the chart is that if I do nothing, I won’t improve
upon my actions. Maybe it is apparent, I don’t know – I’m still working on it.
The reason I bring this up is because I keep hearing people bash/complain/hate the
Office Ribbon and application Ribbons through Windows 7:
major complaint has been that people couldn’t find what they are looking for anymore.
There aren’t any menus, so they can’t figure out how to set [insert obscure property].
It doesn’t make sense to them. They now have to change the way they think about
the application. What is unfortunate about this is that menus are a horrible
interface. You shouldn’t have to dig through 6 layers of menus to change a single
property, and that’s what Office 2003 became. The Ribbon has it’s own problems,
but it also increases user productivity greatly when the user knows how to use the
Ribbon effectively. Which in lies a major problem.
Most end-users don’t like when you move their cheese.
Well now we have a problem because people also want improved systems. Improve
the system, but don’t change it. This paradox is why fundamentally different
– game changing – designs aren’t seen all that often. We stick with what we
already know because if we deviate people will complain. It’s a very tough way
to create a better interface.
So how do you create a better interface? You keep changing it. Guaranteed
the first couple of designs are going to annoy people: i.e. the Ribbon.
This is good.
If you keep failing at designs, that means eventually you are bound to figure out
what kind of interface works best. You will never figure it out if you never
change. Without MicroBating MasterSoft’s (hey look, two new words) ego, I must
say that Microsoft is doing well in this area. They keep making lousy design
decisions. See Expression Blend UI, and listen to most non-technical office
workers using Office 2007. I’m sure there are quite a few instances in other
applications as well. However, and I must make this clear, Microsoft is doing
the right thing. They are actively trying to create better interfaces.
Yes, it will piss people off (it’s pissed me off quite a few times), but at least
they are making the effort. And that’s what counts.
EDIT: P.S. I do like the Ribbon.
Last week Silverlight 3.0 was released. In Toronto, ObjectSharp put
on a very cool launch event, with lots of great demos and compelling reasons to start
using Silverlight immediately. I was impressed, but I’m a Microsoft fan-boy
(fan-boi?), so that doesn’t count. It was certainly fitting that ObjectSharp
propose using Silverlight for some parts of our new website www.woodbineentertainment.com,
seeing as they won the bid to build the new site. I saw the potential; as did
a few others on the team. However, some executives did not see the benefit.
I respect their opinion, somewhat because I have to – they can fire me after all,
and mostly because they have business sense on their side.
The company is very much on the cutting edge of technology in a few respects, but
very conservative in the way we choose technology. For instance, our new site
will be built on Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. I’d wager there are
less than a hundred publically facing websites on the internet that use MOSS (probably
due to complexity and cost), yet we chose to use it because of the potential in further
developing it in future iterations.
Silverlight on the other hand is a different story. Recent reports peg Silverlight
penetration at around 25-30% of all browsers. Whether or not this is accurate,
who knows. It’s the only data available. Flash penetration is at 96%.
Now, in my opinion 25% growth in 2 years on Silverlight’s part is impressive.
Flash has been around for nearly 2 decades. There is definitely a correlation
to be made in there somewhere.
At this point, I was sold on using Silverlight. The exec’s still weren’t.
Seeing as Silverlight is a browser plug-in, it must be installed in some way, shape,
or form. At 25%, that means our customer demographic would have around 10% penetration.
That is terrible. Getting them to install a plug-in to view site content is
a tough sell. The executives didn’t want to scare away customers by making them
install the plug-in. SharePoint doesn’t need a browser plug-in.
And here in lies the Catch-22
To expand our marketed audience, we build on Silverlight to give them more content
that is better authored to their needs. In doing so, we lose customers because
they need to install the plug-in. There is no metric at this point in time to
help us extrapolate the difference. There is a reasonable risk involved with
using such cutting-edge technology. We will use it when browser penetration
is high enough, yet browser penetration won’t grow if sites like ours don’t use Silverlight.
I’m a technology risk taker. I live on the bleeding edge. I run Exchange
2010 beta, on Server 2008 virtualized on Hyper-V, with IIS7 running this site, browsed
by IE8 on Windows 7 RC, and authored in Office 2007 (2010 if Microsoft would give
me the flippin bits!). The company, not so much. Risk is good – as long
as you can mitigate it properly. I can manage my risk, as it’s not the end of
the world is something here crashes. I don’t lose an audience. If the
company can’t market to it’s customers because the tools in use are too new, it will
lose audience. Period. And that means lost revenue.
Maybe we can convince the exec’s in Phase II.