- # GUI bloopers
I wish I’d read this book when it first came out in 2000. Instead of telling the developers of Mozilla Composer’s (now defunct) image map editor that “Dialogs should never, never, have menus”, I could have just said: “That’s Blooper 5!” Instead of explaining in great detail to Netscape Mail’s interface designer that her designs were overusing group boxes, I could have just said: “That’s Blooper 23!” Yeah, okay, it might have been even less effective than what I did say, but damn it would have been fun.
And how pleasant to find, on page 27, the “Save” command in computer software described as “an extraneous concept”. Quite.
- # Spray-on corrections
When I first came across Eric Raymond’s complaint about printing on Linux, I smiled. First Havoc Pennington, then Jamie Zawinski, and now Eric Raymond, I thought. Maybe this time something basic will change.
John Gruber, however, really sticks the boot in. He criticizes Raymond for implying that a good graphical interface is just a “GUI wrapper” on a geeky foundation. Well, nothing new there. From Ilan Volow last year:
Eric Raymond said something about the whole unix system of creating back ends first and then grafting GUI's on to those later.
My response: “But Eric, most usability experts recommend you design the interface first and then write the code”.
His response: “then they’re wrong.”
Gruber’s point is somewhat undermined by the printing system of Mac OS X, an OS Raymond holds up as a shining example, being a “GUI wrapper” around the same Cups system Raymond was criticizing. (On the other hand, OS X does devote a help topic to apologizing for the existence of something with such a stupid name as the “Gimp-Print” driver. That wouldn’t have been necessary if the internals had been designed with usability in mind.)
Then Gruber criticizes Raymond for assuming that programmers can become good at interface design:
Most programmers don’t have any aptitude for UI design whatsoever. It’s an art, and like any art, it requires innate ability … Conversely, some people who are good UI designers aren’t programmers. But the rock stars are the guys who can do both, and they are few and far between.
Well, nothing new there either. From me three years ago:
It’s certainly possible for a good programmer … to also be a strong UI designer; but that’s no more likely to be the case than that, say, a construction worker will also be a good architect.
But there’s one thing John really gets wrong. It is this:
One exception is the Mozilla project, which has released two very well-designed web browsers, Camino and Firefox. But Mozilla’s long development was in large part fueled by full-time Netscape engineers. And look at how well that’s worked out for Netscape.
This is completely unfair to the developers of Camino and Firefox. The mostly non-crappy design of those two browsers is in spite of Netscape, not because of it.
Yes, Camino and Firefox were begun by Netscape programmers. But in the early days of both projects (then known as Chimera and mozilla/browser, respectively), those programmers (Mike Pinkerton for Chimera, Ben Goodger and Blake Ross for mozilla/browser, and Dave Hyatt for both) were terrified that Netscape would shut them down.
Camino and Firefox are as well-designed as they are because:
- they’re not designed by Netscape’s incompetent designers (like the Mozilla suite, and especially Netscape 6/7, were),
- they have few primary developers, and
- those primary developers have become fairly good at design as well as programming.
Unfortunately the developers of most other Free Software projects aren’t as good.
- # Not the end of the beginning
It’s time for me to bring this Weblog to an end.
I’m tired. I’m tired of whining about the poor usability of computers, like someone in Dante’s Inferno suggesting that maybe someone could turn down the heat a little. I’m tired of using Manila, with its crufty URIs and hard-to-use archives and bad ignorance of HTTP and prohibition of valid HTML. Most of all, I’m tired of what I’ve written here. Crap, most of it.
But before I finish, there are some things I should follow up on.
- # Customer service
They say I imagine saying I actually say “Do you have a computer free?” “Actually, we have about 27 computers free.” “Sure, help yourself.” “Can I have a screen, please?” “Sure. Would you like a mouse and a keyboard too?” “Sure, help yourself.” “Can we have two terminals, please?” “No, we only have fully-fledged computers. More fool us, eh.” “Sure, help yourself.” “Can we have two Internets, please?” “There Can Be Only One Internet.” “Sure, help yourself.” “Can I just jump on a computer?” “Actually, we’d prefer if you sat on the chairs provided.” “Sure, help yourself.” “Can I check my Hotmail?” “You poor, unfortunate creature. Why aren’t you using Yahoo Mail instead?” “Sure, help yourself.” “Can I go on the Web, as well as checking my e-mail?” “Actually, you’re doing your e-mail on the Web already.” “Sure, help yourself.” “Do you have any scrap paper?” “Yes, it’s in that tray labelled ‘Scrap paper — please help yourself’.” “Sure, help yourself.” “Do I just … [neverending pause]” “Do you just what?” “Yes.” “I turned off the computer when I finished.” “What the smeg did you smegging do that for?” “Okay.” “What time do you close?” “We close after I’ve worked twelve hours straight and lost all feeling in my legs.” “We close at eight o’clock.”