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User Interfaces (26/05/2007 04:28:16 AM)

loadup_400Hi all,

Today, I will start with my usual rant about something in life. Today's topic is User Interfaces and I don't know exactly what's brought this discussion up, but probably something to do with me being pissed off yet again with the IT industry and poor designed interface - and finding videos on the topic ;)

It has amased me over the years with 'interesting' designs, and how some professionals automatically reject what would be considered good designs. For starters, lets have a look back in history with DOS. DOS was considered a good interface, could do everything with that one would ever need to do and there was no need to upgrade. When Doug Englebart first came up with the theory of GUI and Xerox came up with their own (then Apple stole his theory to produce the Macintosh GUI), the people in the DOS world were completely convinced that GUI's had no real purpose in the real work environment.

The mouse for example was a device considered stupid, and would never sell - however it does increase productivity, and does work as an easy device to use. I mean, how many people these days could live without a mouse? Dating a bit further, lets have a look at user interfaces in todays environment. Most of you have seen my CMS, if you havent - a video is on my CraDanKa! CMS Version 2 page. The system is apparently quite easy to use by more people than just me. Why is that? Because there are very limited features. It does just a basic website, with a few slight additions. I must admit - I could make this system much more easier, but in the mean time. It's much easier. Let's compare and contrast:


My system to create a new page is shown on the left hand side. You can see that there is a simple text entry box using the Open Source TinyMCE editor, and a title for that web page. What ends up being entered here is then shown as a webpage, or simply add it to the webpage. There is a button for uploading and attaching images (the link button also has this function to browse files and upload files to the web server), and well - it functions just about like any other word processor. Clicking submit adds the page to the website.

I believe it's easy enough to follow, even if you have had one to many to drink prior to sitting down attempting to create the website you really should have done prior to opening that can. There are no "confusing" menu's to choose from, just the buttons most people will ever need to use.

Now, lets take a look at doing exactly the same thing in Joomla! which is supposed to be one of the very easy systems to create your website with.

admin_screen2_400As you can see, this screen looks prettier than my one above, but damn... that screen goes FOREVER just to create a simple static webpage. It's not even called Page, or even webpage, or even 'thingamajig to put on the website'. It's called Content Item which well, er... that could be anything. This thing is supposed to be a Content Management System, and you are creating a new Content Undecided Well, er... ok then. It's nice to have the buttons up the top though - something I will implement one day into my Content Management System, but the 2 entry boxes, the tabs with options that are just completely strange. For starters, who uses most of these features?

There is a show in Front Page button, but how many pages do you want there? I for one only want one page, so why is this an 'important' option? The administration level for the content by default should simply be the person/group who created it. Why is there an option there? The Author is probably logged in already! Why is the an option to Alias the author! The created date is rarely changed aswell, yet it is STILL shown there. Oh, lets not get started on page statistics that obviously are NOT SET YET given it's a NEW PAGE! Even look at the editing windows. Notice how the actual page's content is the one in the bottom box? The one called Main Text? Who's bright idea was it to place a main text box called Main Text at the bottom? Both fields are also OPTIONAL! I suppose it's like Microsoft Word and people creating Blank Documents. I don't know too many people who want to create blank documents, but rather documents that contain something in them Tongue out I know my University Lecturers and Tutors don't want to receive "Blank Documents".

So... is Joomla! the only thing I can think of bitching about today? NOPE! One of my personal favourites (and was reiterated by a guy I was watching a little over 2 weeks ago) is the shutdown screens. Here is a typical Microsoft Windows 2000/NT/XP/2003 (XP only with eye candy turned off) shutdown screen:

And here is a typical one for a GUI based Linux Distribution using KDE:

I can think of atleast 2 things wrong with Microsoft's implementation over this Linux based one. First of all, who needs help clicking a button. If someone can't click a button, then HOW THE HELL ARE THEY GOING TO CLICK THE HELP BUTTON? Secondly, given the ample amounts of space in the window, then why on earth do they put the options "Shut Down, Log Off etc..." in the combobox when clearly there is enough space to put buttons? Thirdly (ok, so I have 3), why is this interface so poorly designed that it requires context sensitive text explaining that Shutdown means Turn Off when clearly, the gurus who designed KDE do not require this 'important' piece of text turn off a PC! I mean look for a moment. These screen sizes are not altered, yet the KDE one uses far less pixels to produce the same screen, yet much more user friendly? (With all jokes aside, I have always wondered about the motive to create a start button to turn off a computer. Ok, I know the Start button was always a "Click here to begin using your computer" theory, but a PC user is not new everytime they turn their PC on).

iexploreWhilst  I am on the 'Microsoft Stupidity' band wagon, I may aswell show you another one of those quirks that have existed for 7 (SEVEN) different versions. Have a look at the icon. Notice something about it? Maybe the E rather than another letter to represent the Internet? Who has ever associated the internet with the letter e? I have seen some crazy ones such as the Netscape Navigator icon using the letter N, but I suppose atleast Netscape starts with the letter N. I have always wondered, why though the letter I or an application called Internet has never been used in any operating system apart from linux and KDE? Some versions of Linux call the application Internet which points to a browser? I mean for starters, what significant 'internet meaning' does the word Netscape Navigator have? the Net maybe, but what's the rest of the crap? I don't know what Microsoft has been thinking for all these years, but rather than the gel look, they could have replaced the e with Earth or the letter I.

lang_400Webpages have always amased me and locations. For instance, most websites and computer software now assumes the whole world has computers. For example, lets take a look at Regional and Language Options in Microsoft Windows. Atleast the default language is English (for those who purchase english copies of the operating system). Also, atleast the default country is the United States, but one thing that has amased me is the way the list is structured. Ok, consistancy is a great thing, but is it truely a good thing when if we look at the top of the list in a combo box, the first language is Afrikanns followed by Albanian and many different "versions" of Arabic. ENGLISH DOESN'T APPEAR ON THE FIRST LIST! It's nice to think the whole world is interconnected, but I don't think the amount of users in the United States, Japan, Australia etc... is signficiantly less than those in Africa!

Ok, so Microsoft is learning from their mistakes, especially with Microsoft Office 2007, but is it too late now to change? For the past 10 years, users have been exposed to some attrocious designs and well - people know how to use Office 2003. I for one do not like Office 2007 in general because I find the interface lacks professinality, and it's crippled in my department for just load up something and type.

For School Work on the other hand, the new versions of the Microsoft Office Applications are actually easier to use. Things like citations, reviews and commenting is much easier to carry out, and it is significantly easier to manage the document in its entirety. As far as using the piece of software as a dynamic application (ie page numbers, headings, overall font changes etc...), it is brilliant - I can set up easier in more logical places page numbers that change dependant on the location (excellent for contents page), I can create cover sheets and there is no more times that looking at a menu produces a completely bizarre option when I click new. I mean... in Office 2003 (pictured below), if you click File - New, you are presented with a funky tool down the right hand side of the screen. Funnily enough, this responds to quite a few different options, but take note where the Create a New Document link is actually located! IT'S NOT LOCATED UP THE TOP LIKE A SANE PERSON WOULD LOOK FOR, IT'S LOCATED RIGHT DOWN THE BOTTOM AFTER OPEN, AND HELP LINKS! Atleast this is changed now, so that when you click the New button, you are given the option to create a type of document. I'd still like to see them come up with a creative name for Blank Document. Maybe a Blank Template would be a better word than Document.

Oh well, if anyone actually read through this and is a programmer - take some of these poor examples of good user interface development, and actually make easy interfaces! Remember, less is more - so just think how much more is Wink


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