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Why Users Hate IT Products and Developers 881

bfwebster writes "The Washington Post has a commentary by one of its regular columnists, Marc Fisher, on why computer users hate what he terms 'our techie masters.' One of his more pungent and, I suspect, on-the-money comments: 'Computer training has become the living hell of the American workplace...each new system is more confounding than the last, and each new product strips away many of the advantages of the previous system.' Not a Luddite screed; more an angry outburst asking why commercial software systems are often so wretched. Worth reading and pondering."
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Why Users Hate IT Products and Developers

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  • In short... (Score:5, Funny)

    by ZeroConcept ( 196261 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:27PM (#5245929)
    The short answer would be:
    • Even people who read the manuals are often left befuddled by 'new features' in existing software releases.

      What this boils down to is often not shortsightedness on the part of software developers, but upon software product managers, be they individual developers (as is usually the case for OSS), team leaders, project managers, or IT VP's. Most developers, if given the choice, will make the product they need and want. This may or may not be the product your customer wants. If there's an executive VP laying down software requirements, you can almost be assured that it's not the product your users need or want.
      • Re:In short... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by neuroticia ( 557805 )
        To put it simply, USERS ARE MORONS. Most user-ware (ie: officeware and consumerware, not higher-tech software like IDEs, graphics software, audio software, etc.) software these days falls into three categories:

        Category 1: MAJOR overhaul from either old mainframe or DOS-based application from proprietary vendors who have long-since gone out of business, and that won't run on any computer less than 10 years old. This is VERY common, and often gets the most complaints (as it should) from disgruntled employees who are used to the old systems. These types of upgrades cause the most grief, unfortunately they're necessary because you can no longer obtain hardware that will allow you to print, run the programs, or basically be productive.

        Category 2: Cross-grades. Changing from one vendor to another because the vendor has a.) gone out of business, b.) started charging astronomical fees for upgrades or support or c.) some major flaw has been discovered with the software that allows Bob from maintenance to log in as the CEO and give himself a 6 figure pay raise. This involves "transferral of concepts", ie: the brain power to realize "Hey, this is more or less the same damned software, just the buttons are in different places and the 'About' dialog says copyright 2001 Company A and not Copyright 2000 Company B.."

        Category 3: Upgrades between versions. Ie: from Office 2000 to Office XP. Everything works pretty much the same, looks pretty much the same, it's just a bit less crashy and has some features that didn't exist in the old version. These are usually the most annoying upgrades of all because they cost the management a bloody fortune and reduce them to a growly mess that wants to see 3000% productivity increases. HOWEVER, it's no re-learning, despite what your secretary or co-worker says, it's just a transferral of skills and a TINY bit of new stuff to learn.

        I'm not saying that a lot of stuff comes with unnecessary bulk and expense, I'm just saying that a LOT of the complaining is from someone who can't figure out that the "align center" button has moved three places over, and that the little printer icon in the area that it used to be in will NOT align center, and will--in fact--print out whatever is on screen, whether or not you want it to.

        As for "the product your customer wants", NO product is for a single customer, but every product is expected to meet the requirements of every customer... Your deaf grandmother might not want to play MP3's, and Bob from maintenance might believe anything but the old fashioned vinyl is immoral, but a LARGE number of people would be very happy to see that functionality built into everything, including their hair dryers.

        The big beef I have with software developers is often that functionality is REMOVED for no good reason.

        • Re:In short... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:31AM (#5248033)
          This post is a terrific example of why users hate developers.

          It has been proven people learn and think differently. People (at least end users -- that is to say, people with lives) use the computer to get work done. It's a tool, just like a hammer. A carpenter can't keep re-learning how to use a hammer over and over. A writer or assistant or office worker can't afford to keep re-learning how to use their tools (like computers).

          someone who can't figure out that the "align center" button has moved three places over

          Oh, please. You are going out of your way to insult people. While some may have that trouble, you might be working with someone who learns best by location and spatial relationships. Was there any reason to change that interface?

          That's part of the problem -- as stated in the article. Developers are piss-poor at understanding that not everyone thinks like they do.

          If we (as developers) are designing products for the end user, than it is our job, plain and simple, to produce a product that meets their needs. If you're unable to do that, or don't like trying to understand how other people think and learn and work, then go out and find another job that will let you hide in a cubicle and not force you to learn interpersonal skills.

          It's funny -- most of the replies in this topic basically prove what the article said -- that IT people have poor people skills and can't understand that different people think and work in different ways. Most of the replies are people pissing and moaning that users are stupid.

          I guess IT people -- those of us who are so smart -- just aren't smart enough to "get it." We can figure out things that work with ones and zeroes, but we just aren't smart enough to figure out complex systems like human thinking.

          Oh, and I'm posting this anonymously becuase I've seen how nasty people here can get when someone dares to hold up a mirror to them and say, "See how stupid you're acting?" Instead of looking at themselves, they would rather shoot and maim the messenger than even try to deal with the fact that the message may be valid.
          • by kiwimate ( 458274 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @10:02AM (#5249697) Journal
            I'd mod you up and the parent post down. Really, I'd love to rant a little more, but you've pretty much said everything I wanted to say.

            It's funny -- most of the replies in this topic basically prove what the article said -- that IT people have poor people skills and can't understand that different people think and work in different ways. Most of the replies are people pissing and moaning that users are stupid.

            Amen. IT people are amongst the most arrogant and, paradoxically, insecure people in the world. When users are faced with increasingly complex systems and the only support to which they are pointed is a conceited jerk who can't understand why they don't get it and isn't shy about saying so, is it any wonder that IT departments are being disbanded in droves and the work is being outsourced? Generally speaking, the consultants who get paid more can work as a consultant at least in part because they -- shock, horror -- understand how to relate to people in a positive manner.

            And part of relating to people in a positive manner -- bigger shock, horror -- means making software easier to use and ultimately more useful and productive for the end-user at which it is aimed. The people who fail to realize this are the same people who will also fail to understand that they're being laid off because the rest of the company is tired of dealing with prima donna brats.
          • Re:In short... (Score:4, Interesting)

            by coke_dite ( 643074 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @10:55AM (#5250053) Homepage
            YAY!!!! Someone who understands!!!

            Personally, I am an end-user and not a techie (right, so what am I doing here? don't ask!). Now, granted, I'm a tad more computer-savvy than the average end-user (having a disgustingly genius-like programmer for a husband helps), but even I fail to understand how tech staff can be so arrogant and condescending. Do the techs here think they can handle MY job? No? Then don't try to make me feel stupid for not being able to do THEIR job, which, in essence, is to help me use the technology I need to do my job.

            Now I know that it's standard for techs to assume that the user is a moron, because, quite often, the user IS a moron. However, there are those of us who do have a slight clue what we're doing. So we can't understand root code, and we may not know what's wrong the first time our printer starts spewing out toner and blinking furiously, but that doesn't mean we're unintelligent or incapable of understanding.

            I've never had training for any piece of software I've ever used, but I think I manage all right. I haven't had too many problems upgrading between different versions (I admit, it baffles me when the developer removes a certain feature for no apparent reason). All in all, even though I do basic checks before calling tech support to save them trouble, they tend to be even MORE annoyed when I seem to have a clue as to what I'm talking about. Seems they don't like knowledgeable users - it ruins their god-like image.

            It's arrogant beyond belief to assume that all users are idiots. I know that's probably not what the parent post intended, but it's the end effect that counts. If you realize that your user isn't following quite as quickly as you're explaining, just slow down. Be patient. How would you have liked it if your grade two math teacher had just plowed through long division rather than explain it to you? Would you like it if someone pushed you away from your keyboard saying "Never mind, just let me do it"? The personal skills, with MOST tech support (not all, there are many good people out there), just aren't there. It's the truth. Deal with it.

        • Re:In short... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by lpontiac ( 173839 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @01:00AM (#5248169)
          The big beef I have with software developers is often that functionality is REMOVED for no good reason.

          I've seen features removed (and more commonly, a useful feature not added) from commercial software, because it makes the applications simpler. Ask yourself these questions about a feature:

          1. Will the number of users who now buy the software because it's easier to comprehend, exceed those who no longer buy it because the feature isn't there?
          2. Will the reduction in support queries about the software (because it's now simpler) be greater than the initial support burden of people screaming about the loss of their favourite feature?

          If the answer to both is yes, it's a no-brainer.

        • Re:In short... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by nehril ( 115874 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @02:59AM (#5248611)

          while this is largely true, it's also true that "tech people" whose job it is to deal with the technology itself often forget that the point is the work to be done, NOT the tech process. So your accounting user may be a "tech moron," but that's ok, because their job is not technology, but accounting. By most accountant standards, *I* am a "financials moron," but they don't hold it against me, that's why we BOTH have jobs. Really, it's better this way.

          a LOT of the complaining is from someone who can't figure out that the "align center" button has moved three places over

          the problem is this: If a user, in the course of doing their REAL job, finally knows where the print button is, what happens when an "upgrade" moves it? well, that means looking at and clicking on every button that exists on the screen to find the new one. That's time not spent doing their actual job (accounting or press releases or whatever) and is time "wasted." Why, exactly, does the print button need to be moved?

          Look at your average program interface: how many clickable items are on the screen? count em, and now search em ALL from the perspective of someone who's not used to reverse engineering UIs (consider that "smart users" are the ones who have a good reverse-engineering-a-new-UI skillset). Then ask yourself why the result of "right click on Network Neighborhood" changed from windows NT to windows 2000. Any good reason? Anyone?

          I am no mechanic, and it would royally piss me off if the gas/brake pedals moved every time I brought the car into the shop. It also TOTALLY pisses me off if somebody moves my car seat from it's "perfect driving position." The car software analogy doesn't really fly far, but the emotional attachment people get to a certain way of working is very similar. It's just that car manufacturers respect that, and software UI engineers don't.

          So don't flame on USER MORONS too much. The "smart programmers" should use their powers for Good, and maybe avoid the temptation to put 1700 clickable items onscreen at once, then shuffle them every release in order to be "New."
          • by duck_prime ( 585628 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @01:04PM (#5251193)
            I am no mechanic, and it would royally piss me off if the gas/brake pedals moved every time I brought the car into the shop. It also TOTALLY pisses me off if somebody moves my car seat from it's "perfect driving position." [...]
            A few days ago I was looking at used cars. I got in an old '96 Saab 900, and started poking the steering column with the key. But nothing happened. There was no keyhole! I sat there feeling like a major chimp, hooting softly, morosely wishing for a banana, until my wife said, "How cool! They put the ignition between the seats."

            And so after a nice test-drive we knuckle-walked off into the sunset. But I understand end-users of software much better now.
    • by goombah99 ( 560566 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:59PM (#5246285)
      The short answer seems to be "get a mac". Ease of use, standard ways of doing things, tendency to failsafe even if it wont let you eject the disk, and desscriptive error messages are the hallmarks of mac's human interface. even the computers cost more because in part they have higher standard for fabrication and higher level of standard features (fire wire, ethernet) so the software and users can count on commonality in operation and fewer options to choose from.

      microsoft on the otherhand has won the market by doing exactly the opposite. Proliferation of features. Constantly changing features. This permits both the embrace-and-extend and the planned obsolescene (word 5 cant open word 6). It also muddies the waters so much thet people give up any buy the product with the most features rather than the product that integrates its features the best. And it lets them release code as they go, no need to plan ahead, just slam out the next feature.

      This is not an isolated effect. its well documented in economics theory under the rubric "bad apples drive out the good". meaning when the buyer has insuffient information to make a comparison between good and bad before the purchase, then it becomes a race to the bottom, or a race for irrelevant aspects that a buyer can judge.

      I am reminded of Dilbert Interviewing the elbonians for iso9000 compliance with a documented software development feature:

      Dilbert: so what is your process for code development?

      Elbonian1: We hold a village meeting and boast of our skill
      and curse the devil spawned end user.

      Elbonian2: sometime we juggle

      Elbonian1: Then we slam out some code and fo roller skating

      The amazing part is that as long as they always follow their process they are ISO 9000 level 2 compliant. They might even generate uniformly better code than someone without a process.
      • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @08:46PM (#5246703) Homepage Journal
        I have to say as a recent switcher, I agree with the Mac advice, or at least would suggest that computer vendors at least look at the platform (and not just screenshots of it either - probably the only major thing I don't like about OS X is the fricking "noisy" Aqua theme. Yet everyone copies that, or makes stuff just as garish and ugly and somehow expects their half-arsed over-complex UI to be friendly.)

        The computer world seems to make increasingly complex UIs as more and more features are bolted onto applications that very often are already over-specified and under friendly. I'm not knocking flexibility, but when you have to fight to just enter a number into a new Excel worksheet (as you did when Clippy was still a part of that platform - entire computer locked up while supposedly "friendly" paperclip awaits instructions at bottom right of screen...) then you're not making it flexible, because you're making it difficult to use what you've added. To some extent, MS has learnt from this (it doesn't include Clippy any more...) but for the most part Windows continues, if anything, to go in the wrong direction. And, much to my regret, I think most other systems including the open source and free software worlds (GNUStep excluded) are just blindly following, convinced that if they don't make UIs that work identically to Microsoft's, then nobody will be able to use it.

        What I love about OS X is that virtually everything's obvious and largely well defined. It takes 20 minutes to get the hang of everything important, from navigating the menus to using the dock, and even if you don't initially like the presets for the configurable aspects, the tools to change them are usually easy to find. You find that while initially some UI choices may seem unusual compared to the norm, there's been a real effort to choose things that will not cause frustration. And OS X has technologies like AppleScript and the BSD underpinning so that people like I, as a professional programmer of 10 years, a serious computer user familiar with a variety of OSs including GNU/Linux as my main system for the last 7 years, have all the control I need.

        All programmers who provide tools to end users need to consider the user interfaces they're building. They have to be intelligent, clear, and usability has to come first - provide the tools to customise the interface for end-users, don't force the end users to start with the worst environment.

      • an agnostic answer, i use all of these things

        the difference between the mac and win platforms has gone from a ditch (in which both rested) into a canyon. i support end users on both platforms and can tell you that the mac has moved into a more user friendly, simpler to the uninitiated, than windows.

        my main gripe is that windows renames important features at every new OS release. not only that, they change the places to find them. lastly, for the end users, they categorize so many applications poorly, that they can never find those fancy features they pay so much for.

        every person i have gotten onto the mac to start with gains a real sense of confidence. they typically need little or no support.

        i support a design house's macintoshes, bout a hundred of them, for the "hard stuff" but the worst i've ever seen was someone's machine hanging for 20 minutes at boot because she told it to connect to 5 different office servers at startup, and then left the startup aliases around six months longer than the servers lived there. took fifteen minutes to diagnose and fix. i get called every three or four months, and nobody complains about their machines. that company also has 50 windows users in their accounting and planning division. there are three windows admins around to support them.

        bottom line, m$ has made all the right marketing moves, but has sacrificed too much basic functionality to achieve market dominance.

        many WIN users i see, only use email, the web and word. they can barely use those because they don't even know how to use a file system, let alone something more fancy.

        on the other hand, my 35 year old, never used more than email or cared to spend five minutes concentrating on anything, sorts through his pictures, organizes his mp3s and burns mixes (and owns a massive and purchased music collection), does his net and word stuff, checks email once a month and watches DVDs, and calls me to ask a question when his damn printer is out of paper once a month.

        why is this rant important (or hopelessly tangled)?? to prove a point. if apple made an os X for pc, they could trash m$ in just a couple of years.

        • by TheInternet ( 35082 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @10:16PM (#5247263) Homepage Journal
          if apple made an os X for pc, they could trash m$ in just a couple of years

          I don't understand why people believe this to be the case. The main problem is not that the mass market wants x86 hardware. It's that Microsoft has used its infinite resources to completely obfiscate the advantages of non-Windows platforms. If the collective consciouness of computeruserdom undestood that you shouldn't have to put up with all of the problems that Microsoft throws at you, I think we'd see a substantial exodus to Mac OS X.

          Moving Mac OS X to generic x86 hardward partially solves the problem of initial cost, but you're still feeding into the mindset that computers can be easy to use if they're based on such on architecture. There's absolutely no way a user can expect to consistently have a good experience when their particular computer is but one instance in a sea of configurations of varying quality.

          In other words: the hardware/software integration is a core component of why Mac OS X is so good.

          And regardless of the state of software/hardware compatibility, the biggest issue is and will continue to be that Microsoft has made things so confusing that it has scared people into thinking Microsoft is their only option.

          - Scott
        • by zeugma-amp ( 139862 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @11:28PM (#5247702) Homepage

          many WIN users i see, only use email, the web and word. they can barely use those because they don't even know how to use a file system, let alone something more fancy.

          Ain't it the truth! MS would do us all a world of good if they could include a tutorial on filesystem fundamentals with their systems. I'm sure many of you know how exasperating it is to have so many users who have one directory for everything, then when they accidently put something somewhere else, they totally freak out and think the computer has somehow eaten their data.

          When I was a LAN admin several years ago, I used to try to inoculate myself against such things by providing a tutorial (both live and as a website) on what I called The Fully Qualified Filename. I would demonstrate in simple terms exactly what a directory tree was, and how you could make it work for you (re: grouping similar documents together, or grouping my topic). I would also show that everything on the computer was a file, and how to make that work for you as well.

          Understanding your filesystem is fundamental to having less troublesome computing.

      • by jmelamed ( 152545 ) <joel.melamed@gma i l . c om> on Thursday February 06, 2003 @10:05PM (#5247214)
        Steven Covey wrote a book a couple/few years ago titled "The Inmates are Running the Asylum". In it, he makes a compelling case the modern software development is divided into four areas:
        1. Management, which sets requirements and determines resources.
        2. Developers, who, uh, develop the code.
        3. QA
        4. Support.

        His premise is that what is lacking is a fifth group whose purpose is to design the usuability features. In my software development group, we've got all four of the above mentioned groups and what we end up with is a powerful, feature rich, stable tool that is the devil to learn. The developers do their best to design UIs that are intuitive, but what's intuitive to us is often backwards to our end users.

        Covey states that developers fear ceding control over their work. It is this fear that was the basis for the resistance of the initial creation of QA departments. Apprarently, back when dirt was new, developers tested their own code and resented QA encroaching on their turf. It took a bit, but now QA is more or less entrenched and developers rely quite heavily on QA (I know I do). Covey argues that the UI design work that is currently left to these same developers should similarly be farmed out to teams of UI designers. Granted, it just so happens that he happens to run one, but I still think his point is valid.

        Developers have no place designing how a user inteacts with the back end processes. Asking us to do so, or, more likely, not asking anyone to do so results in software that is a PITA to learn.
        • by LR_none ( 587989 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:48PM (#5251038)
          I am not familiar with that particular Covey book, but I agree wholeheartedly with the premise. The UI designer is considered a luxury on almost any development team except the largest or best-funded. Without a UI designer, the job of interface design usually goes to the developers themselves, and without specific direction or guidelines, they have a propensity to produce random and arbitrary interfaces that often are just thought through enough to show the code behind them works. Sometimes the client sees the results in beta, freaks out, and starts giving UI direction to QA, which makes matters much, much worse.

          (BTW, I do not consider the people who work in ad agencies or web design shops by and large to be UI designers. Usually these people are graphic designers who have no background in software usability, but instead delight in creating pretty image buttons, rollover links and the like. Having one or more of these folks on the team has no correlation to producing usuable products.)

          How can we improve our UIs if we can't afford to hire UI designers on the project team?

          1. Educate the analysts, architects, developers and QAers on design for usability. There are two resources, classics in the field, that make great starting points. Although neither directly addresses software development, both books present a theory and logic system that can be readily applied to UI design. The first is Donald Norman's book The Design of Everyday Things, which mostly addresses designing products that are manipulated with controls (of one kind or another). The second book is Edward Tufte's The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, which covers designing information displays for maximum clarity. Tufte also gives seminars [] around the country where he gives an intro to his philosophy of design.
          2. Establish UI standards in a document that can be referenced by your developers when creating interfaces. There are references by Apple and Microsoft which are good starting points, but your UI manual should cover material specific to the domain your team is working in. For instance, if you're a securities firm, you should standardize on how you represent security names, prices, and labeling of market data points (e.g., "52Hi" vs. "AH" vs. "YrHi", etc.).
          Many development projects also neglect to spend sufficient time observing how the target users do their work. Even though there are lots of users whose work requires too much keyboard dexterity and accuracy to use a mouse, developers don't often account for keyboard shortcuts, hot keys, etc. I've seen a trader pick up a monitor and throw it because he couldn't use the program running on his computer fast enough to do his job. Not a good way to discover a hole in your requirements process.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Users hate IT and software because each desktop is an individual installation of all applications which can break down.

      This is why the old dumb terminal systems worked well since there was complete control over the version, upgrades, and availability of software.

      Recommended end user system for widespread deployment:
      1. bootable CD-ROM
      2. FAT32 C drive with user data only on it
      3. Hidden file in root of C which has:
      a. desktop layout
      b. startup config options
      c. no executable code
      4. Quick filesystem consistency check on bootup
      5. In the background, disk optimization process

      This boils down to making any system ugrade/rollback a simple process of booting with a CD-ROM. Users can't add executable code and can't overwrite the hidden startup file.

      Can this be the $199.00 Wal-mart sold corporate desktop?

      Easier than that is reversion to the UNIX diskless workstation model.
  • by Glock27 ( 446276 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:31PM (#5245963)
    100% of the project is done, leaving 80% still unfinished. ;-)
  • by Keighvin ( 166133 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:31PM (#5245966)
    The software is usually designed for the wrong reason in the first place: to fulfill a marketability niche seen by some buzz-word driven demand. It's sold from a marketing and sales rep, whose usual job description could be summed up under "schmooz with customer", who pulls out his checklist of latest technologies to make sure he promises X, Y, Z and hyperbaric interoperability with toasters from obscure places like Kansas.

    These requirements and obscure promises are handed to engineering who satisfy the technical aspect and ship it. Never have any of the QA departments I've seen have a dedicated usability expert; most of the QA engineers were just re-tasked programmers without any HCI design principle background or experience.

    So, since corporate and enterprise level software development is driven by the sale by those out of touch with the true needs of those making use of the software the incredibly wide gap develops that frustrates the @#$( out of everybody.
    • The software is usually designed for the wrong reason in the first place: to fulfill a marketability niche seen by some buzz-word driven demand.

      Yes! and I'll add another point: too much of 'enterprise software' and especially software for *inhouse* use is driven by management agendas and expectations, and are often directly anti-user. These are projects driven by suits who have no clue about what well-designed interfaces are and who could care less about how happy users are about their system.

      A thumb rule I use to detect how lame (from the POV of a non-privileged user) a system is (ok, it doesn't work all the time, but still) the ratio of estimated man-days in planning the "reporting" module of enterprise software, versus the data-entry-screens.

      I believe this is the reason portals like Yahoo, and apps like Photoshop and Excel are *popular*, while managers continue to scratch their heads while wondering why their spanking new Employee Management Portal (which they shelled out big $$$ for) isn't showing the ROI it was expected to show.

  • Heh ... (Score:4, Funny)

    by SuperDuG ( 134989 ) <> on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:32PM (#5245973) Homepage Journal
    If you want to avoid these situations ...

    You can come work at my school, we haven't upgraded our computing system in nearly 18 years.

    Western Illinois University UIMS

    University Information Management Systems uses an IBM Multiprise 3000 model 7060-H50(S/390) processor to support host-based administrative information systems. The H50 system's suite of operating system software is based on IBM's z/OS. More.. []

    The four members of the systems staff select, install, test, maintain, implement, and trouble shoot a wide variety of z/OS based products on test and production systems. Over eighty products from about twenty vendors make up this system. A separate z/OS system is maintained on the same machine for use by WIU students enrolled in programming classes. More.. []

    While these systems may not seem so out of date you have to remeber they're all COBOL backwards compatible from 1985 and up. So don't like upgraded, don't do it! Upgrading to a new system would be completely impossible right now as tied in as the entire thing is. The best case scenario for switching to something not so old would be a phase out plan, which is not in place.

    So obviously this doesn't affect EVERYONE! :-)

  • System changes..? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NineNine ( 235196 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:33PM (#5245994)
    Also, why in the hell are companies "upgrading" constantly? What ever happened to the days of buy something and use it. Hell, that's what I do for my tiny business. Every "upgrade" is expensive and time consuming. I'll just use what I have, thank you.
    • by amigaluvr ( 644269 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @08:04PM (#5246331) Journal
      Company's are changing their license agreements constantly thats why

      You may find that the app your company depends on has changed. This is all well and good, until the license for the old one runs out. After that, it is technically illegal to run the old one when the new one is accessible. I think generally company's allow you 2 versions 'grace' period to upgrade before licenses are withdrawn

      What to do then? you're in the middle of a dilemma. Either you stay with what you have and risk the law, or you're in deep with upgrade mania that just causes you more problems than you bought. They have you over a barrel when you buy commercial software

      OSS is the way. Well the proper licensed stuff is anyway. You can use what you have and leave it working well. I think this will be the greatest part of the threat to commercial software from OSS, that systems dont need changes
      • by NineNine ( 235196 )
        I was primarily talking about apps developed in house, since those are the most used apps in the corporate world, I'm willing to bet.

        As far as commercial licenses, what happened to just buying the damn thing? That's what I did for my biz. I bought a license to use the software indefinitely, and that's it. I use it, it works, end of story.

        OSS is the way. Well the proper licensed stuff is anyway. You can use what you have and leave it working well. I think this will be the greatest part of the threat to commercial software from OSS, that systems dont need changes

        Oh, now that was just plain funny. It seems that /. alone posts a "Version of GNUXKApp is out today" several times daily. RedHat has, what, at least a new major release every year for the past few years? Maybhe more ofen than that? Sorry, bud, but that last paragraph doesn't hold water.
        • by adjuster ( 61096 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @08:27PM (#5246560) Homepage Journal

          (Parent of parent...)

          OSS is the way. Well the proper licensed stuff is anyway.


          Oh, now that was just plain funny. It seems that /. alone posts a "Version of GNUXKApp is out today" several times daily. RedHat has, what, at least a new major release every year for the past few years?

          (And now me... *smile*)

          The point is that no one can stop you from using Free software in whatever manner you want to. If you love Linux 1.2.13 you can keep right on using it for as long as you want. You can contract out for firms to add drivers or fix bugs as much as you want. If you want to pay somebody to backport IPtables or Usermode Linux to 1.2.13, go for it!

          Remember USB devices that used WDM drivers that say "Requires Windows 98". There's no reason why WDM drivers couldn't be made to work under Windows 95-- except that Microsoft didn't want to do that work when you could just pay them more and get Windows 98. That's just fine, too! It's their code, so that's their right. Want to add that support yourself? Too bad-- you don't have the code, and it probably violates a license anyway. Think "Group Policies" and Windows NT 4.0 (if you've never noticed, Group Policies are implemented mainly by a tweaked-up USERINIT.EXE), or perhaps FAT32 and Windows 95 OSR2. I'm picking on Microsoft a bit unfairly, 'cuz there are other manufacturers that are more flagrant about it-- but it's their code, so it's their right, and you're stuck "on the treadmill" because you chose to use their software.

          Free software isn't anybody's code, though. You can add whatever you want-- or hire somebody else to do it for a fair and equitable rate.

          "Upgrades" don't "have to" happen. These "forced upgrade" cycles are a symptom of the idiotic "commerical software industry" believing that they are somehow both manufacturing and service companies-- all at the same time! Use and contribute to Free software, and get yourself off the treadmill if you don't like it.

  • by nebular ( 76369 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:33PM (#5245996)
    Perhaps when developing a new system the developers could take some time to study the methodologies that are used in the gaming market. After all Games are highly technical but must be very easy to learn and use to be popular.

    If anything they might start thinking more about the end user then they do right now
    • by sweetooth ( 21075 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @08:01PM (#5246309) Homepage
      Creating interfaces for business apps that resembled gaming apps would probably only make the problem worse. When a user sits in front of a game there is incentive to learn how the game and the interface works. To do well at the game you have to understand the workings of the game. To become better at the game you have to learn how to quickly and easily use the interface to perform the game functions.

      With business applications there is little to no incentive to learn the application like this. The users use what they have and poorly at that. If they can't figure something out they don't pick up the manual they call support.

      I think the best example of this is comparing gamers who know the shortcut keys for all of the commands in thier favorite games and business users who rarely know more than how to cut/paste with shortcut keys. For everything else they mouse through a menu which is less efficient because one hand has to leave the keyboard to go to the mouse.

      I like to occasionaly walk through the office and see if anyone uses the shortcut keys. 90% of the time one hand is on the keyboard and the other hand is on the mouse and they are fiddling with various menus.
    • by budgenator ( 254554 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @08:02PM (#5246323) Journal
      A very long time ago, I took a class called systems analysis. In this class they taught to design computer systems by using very radical technics like;
      Asking people how they work

      watching them work to make sure they did what they said they were doing or even working with them

      Asking people what would make there work easier, faster

      Letting them make changes to the user interface and participate in testing

      It sounds like all of they radical ideas never took. If the workers don't like say using MS office, then get new people. If the business doesn't fit a Quickbooks template, change your bussiness rules. Why do Games work for their users and business programs don't is an easy one, Game programmers play games, bussiness programmers usualy don't run businesses they work for them.
      • by CaptainCarrot ( 84625 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @08:52PM (#5246728)
        I'm fortunate enough to be working in an environment where we have ample opportunity to do just that. Our product is used strictly in-house, and I'm the one primarily responsible for the user interfaces. In the 10 years I've been on this project, there has been exactly one major interface redesign, and that happened only because it became apparent that most of the features the users were asking for could not be accomodated using the existing design. The result is that we have a solid, stable product with an experienced user base that hasn't needed intensive hand-holding for many years.

        The key here is that new features are user driven, not techie or marketing department driven. When you do business this way, the users get exactly what they want, and they're a whole lot happier. The problem with the systems mentioned in the article is that the users are never consulted. The software buying decision-makers allow themselves to be dazzled by the marketing drones and never stop to reflect that the system currently in place is well-matched to their actual requirements. Certainly they never ask their employees if they want something new. The marketing drones are interested primarily in sales --that's how they make their livings, after all. What they demand in new features is driven less by what their customers actually need thay by their own need to have something, anything, that they can take and convince those customers they really want. The techies who actually implement the requirements are now at three removes from the end users, and so it should come as a surprise to no one that they don't have much of a clue as to what those users might want.

        In other words, the way business is mostly done in the IT industry is broken. While at first glance it might seem reasonable for the users' ire to land on the techies who do the work to create the new systems they despise, the techies are in a way the people least responsible for what's in them. About the best they can hope to do is to implement what they're told to implement as best they can.

        I'm so glad I don't have to live with this kind of thing myself.

    • by CVaneg ( 521492 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @08:45PM (#5246699)
      Perhaps when developing a new system the developers could take some time to study the methodologies that are used in the gaming market. After all Games are highly technical but must be very easy to learn and use to be popular.

      I can see it now:

      Drone1: Were you here all night?

      Drone2: Yeah, I just kept on filling out TPS reports, and before I knew it, the sun was coming up. I just need to fill out a couple more before I level up to Middle Management!

      Drone1: Sweet!

      Drone2: Yeah, I can't wait to use my new "Schedule Meeting" power.

    • This has been tried before. However, the similarity only goes so far. Differences between playing games and using other software include:

      1) Game players want to be entertained and challenged. Playful distractions are generally resented by application users, as they want to focus on completing their task.

      2) Games generally have an amount of randomness, in order to challenge the player. Predictable behavior is preferred in non-game designs.

      3) In games, players compete with the system or with other players; non-games should give the user a strong sense of being in charge.
  • by masonbrown ( 208074 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:34PM (#5245999) Homepage
    Example - Sniffer. Great piece of software. Does everything you could want. But it's so confusing with random tabs all over the place, buttons that are similar but do different tasks in different parts of the program, and completely lacking in intuitive interface....
  • by garcia ( 6573 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:34PM (#5246002)
    haha, this is +5 Funny right?

    What computer program do any of you use that you had to be trained to use? Microsoft Office? Umm, *most* people have no use for any of the apps other than Word.

    I was able to sufficiently use Access and Excel in 30 mins or less.

    Now, let's look back in the day. WP5.1, DOS 5.0, and Lotus 123. WYSIWYG+123 was not much better. Those applications required training and complicated Function Key cards above the KB.

    Most people can fumble their way through the current Word version by searching the menus and using their doc "wizards".

    People are just lazy [].

    If we are talking about mainframe frontends, they are even MORE insane. Most programers (while not the best UI designers) have made it much easier than using a VT100 term emu. for using the mainframe.

    Stop the whining and learn to use the god damn things...
    • by KingJoshi ( 615691 ) <> on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:42PM (#5246105) Homepage
      This is exactly the problem, so far as I know. Whenever I've seen an app, I pick it up instantly. Easy to hack stuff, read help, etc. The interface is mostly intuitive because the programmers designed a lot of things like I would. Not always, but at least I can reason it out. The "clueless" "end-user" just thinks fundamentally different. For whatever reason, they can't figure it out. Just as I can't hear the difference between tones or pick up a dance step or whatever. So, even if I design things I think have a good interface and is intuitive and so forth, many of those out there still don't get it.

      I think part of the problem is fear or lack of real desire to learn in or something pyschological that prohibits them from picking it up quickly. But there is a fundamental difference and that has created a divived between those that can and those that cannot.
      • I've watched my mother work with programs and helped her solve problems several times. I've come to the conclusion that:

        She doesn't want to learn how things work. She just wants to get things done.

        If you can design a system that a person who doesn't want to learn how things work can use, you're set. The problem is, any system that's sufficiently powerful to do anything but a small, limited set of things is going to have metaphors that people will have to understand underlying principles in order to use (and especially combine) effectively.

        Even the "mouse" metaphor or "dialogue" metaphor, or the "menu" metaphor can really be foreign to someone who simply doesn't care to understand how things work.

        Don't get me wrong. I think we can do better. But mostly, I think at some level, some kinds of apps will always be hard to people who don't want to try and fathom a set of underlying principles.
  • so.. (Score:5, Funny)

    by Maskirovka ( 255712 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:34PM (#5246005)
    He must be new, and uninitiated by his bofh. My users would commit suicide before uttering such heresy. Almost.
  • by cygnusx ( 193092 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:34PM (#5246008) Homepage
    Not a Luddite screed; more an angry outburst asking why commercial software systems are often so wretched.

    Heh, let's give 'em all Linux kernels to play with, and files and procmail filters too while we're about it, and watch their eyes shine with joy as they appreciate the wonders of the non-commercial world...

    Er, maybe not.

  • by mr. methane ( 593577 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:35PM (#5246017) Journal
    There is a good point there. Users don't always understand what they want, or can't think through the "unintended consequences" of a system change. They see the result, not the process.

    But on the other hand, I know that us geeks have a tendency to read our own agenda into what we're asked to provide, and to ride hard on anyone who disagrees with our intepretation of "how it should be". We deliver a wonderful process, and if it has a good result, that's just icing on the cake.

    I used to work with a group of professional architects, and I learned a lot from watching them take user input, question it, refine it, and try to turn it into a project. They spent a lot more time learning about the customer's personality, what sorts of things they liked and didn't like... and the ones who were consistently loved by customers were the ones who were the best listeners.

    (A nickle to the first person to identify the person I quoted above!)
  • "Move!" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by autopr0n ( 534291 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:35PM (#5246021) Homepage Journal
    Was anyone else reminded of that SNL skit with the Obnoxious tech-support guy? I can't remember the name, ah well.

    I think a lot of this has to do with the elitist mindset of a lot IT workers. They see themselves as the masters, the ones who ought to be in charge because so much of the work is done through systems they built. But really, they should think of themselves as servants, trying to build the best system they can to support the end-users. After all, in a business setting, the end users are the ones who produce the true value of that business. IT people are just there to make it easier.

    I think this attitude is seen here on slashdot a lot, I see posts by people who feel they are entitled to set policy because they can implement policy at the touch of a few buttons. But that's asinine, policy should be made by people paid to set policy. The IT person's job is to implement policy on a technological level.
    • Re:"Move!" (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Dr Caleb ( 121505 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:49PM (#5246180) Homepage Journal
      The IT person's job is to implement policy on a technological level.

      In a large company, that is true. I've sat in change meetings, where what the company wants is discussed and the IT drones are charged in implementing it.

      Now I'm MIS/CIO/CTO and chief bottle washer for a small/mid sized company (~200 users). No one here has a clue how to 'implement policy'. I tell them that the domain security policy should be set to disallow users from installing software, as they may bring software from home, which is illegal and the company may be libel. They hear "disallow ... users ... installing software ... illegal ... company libel ..." and hear $ker$chink$. Anything technical . . . it's just deer in the headlights. Implement that policy . . .no way.

      I am the IT person, and it my job to see the need for a policy, decide on that policy, and implement that policy.

    • Re:"Move!" (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Tailhook ( 98486 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @09:02PM (#5246792)
      "I think a lot of this has to do with the elitist mind set of a lot IT workers. They see themselves as the masters, the ones who ought to be in charge because so much of the work is done through systems they built. But really, they should think of themselves as servants, trying to build the best system they can to support the end-users. After all, in a business setting, the end users are the ones who produce the true value of that business. IT people are just there to make it easier."

      This is dribble. Pure, 100% unadulterated Dilbert. I am thoroughly fed up with this "master, servant" BS.

      Why do IT folks worry so much about what their position is relative to non-IT folks? How do we come to the point where IT pin-heads dictate that people who work in the same organization are to be referred to as "customers"?

      Lets set the record straight. People who work for your organization and do not happen to be in IT are co-workers and peers, not "customers". They don't pay you, they can't fire you, they can't send you back under warranty and you don't get to refuse to do business with them. When they fuck up systems you have as much right to complain about them as they you. I'll begin to behave as though non-IT folks are "customers" the day I get to install a cash register near the door to my office.

      Is it true that some IT "professionals" are elitist? You bet. The fact that they are elitist isn't the problem. There are elitists in every walk of life, from the Vatican to the local Jiffy Lube. The problem is some IT manager hasn't done his job and fired the hell out of the "elite."

      IT staff doesn't exist just "to make it easier". Computing long ago transcended the simple role of reducing labor costs. Computing is the single most important method of communication in the business world. Modern business is not possible without modern computing.

      Screwed up people (IT and otherwise) using screwed up software for screwed up reasons, all under the auspicious of screwed up management. Some people think all this screwing up can be fixed if we just straighten out the relationship definitions; make sure IT knows that everyone else is the "customer." It cannot. Making systems work well requires talent, hard work and investment. This is required of all parties involved; IT and otherwise.

      Here's a bit of common junk science from the article:
      In a study of 8,000 tech projects in businesses, only 16 percent of the new systems were deemed successes

      What, exactly, is a "tech project"? Define "new systems". What criteria is applied to conclude whether things may be "deem successes" and by whom? I could pick this apart in my sleep. Suffice it to say, that statement is ambiguous to the point of being worse than meaningless. It is laughable. Anyone naive enough to quote such a thing in their own material is equally laughable.

      Whatever the case may be, I'll take it on faith that up to as much as 16% of "tech" projects can, in fact, be "deem successes". What I know for certain is that every one of those successes were created by hard work, talent and mutual respect among IT and non-IT contributors, not because some CTO publishes a memo about how the word "user" is offensive and will no longer be tolerated.
    • I agree! (Score:4, Informative)

      by aquarian ( 134728 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @09:12PM (#5246866)
      That SNL skit resonated because it's true. Hey, they don't call 'em "geeks" for nothing -- many technical people *are* socially retarded.

      I too see a lot of this on Slashdot -- a lot of one-dimensional thinking, and serious immaturity.

  • by Dracos ( 107777 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:36PM (#5246022) that they don't want to learn how to use any software on their computer, much less the computer itself. They don't see the computer as a tool. Bolts don't get tightened by staring at a wrench and wondering what it does.

    • by vorpal22 ( 114901 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @08:28PM (#5246569) Homepage Journal
      The problem with most software is that, to be competitive and to make further money (by encouraging customers to upgrade), more features and bloat are thrown into a product.

      The majority of users will probably use less than 10% of the features in a given product, and those 10% of features probably won't vary dramatically from user to user. Because of this, user interfaces should be designed so that these 10% of features are easily accessible, and the other 90% are not so overwhelmingly presented with the commonly used 10%. I hate having to dig through menu after menu in Office XP because I want to do the simplest thing. And the GIMP is even worse; IMO, a well designed piece of software should be usable by even the most novice user with little or no training, but should offer power and flexibility to the advanced user. I tried repeatedly to do simple things with GIMP that I'm sure it can do, but I couldn't figure out for the life of me how the hell to do 'em. And I'm not interested enough in computer graphics to bother learning the insides and outs of the GIMP.

      I'd consider Mac OS X's version of Photoshop to be well designed. Never having used it before, I opened an image and it only took me a few seconds to figure out how to do the basic things I wanted to do.

      So my claim is that your analogy is flawed; these days, instead of a wrench, to screw in a screw you're handed a multi-dimensional hyperspace screw-tightening device complete with automated tension measurement for optimal tightening (MDHSTDCWATMFOT), with screw-tightening history tracker and a happy holographic automated assistant that pops up at the most inopportune moments, distracting you when you think you may *just* have figured out how to use this state-of-the-art piece of machinery to screw in the one screw you wanted to screw, chiming, "It looks like you're trying to toast some bread! Would you like me to spout off more nonsense as you become increasingly frustrated?" This is usually the point where you'd burst into tears and have an overpowering urge to throw your new feature-packed MDHSTDCWATMFOT out the window and never speak of it again.
  • by sczimme ( 603413 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:36PM (#5246025)

    From the article:

    If I were on the other side of this relationship, I, too, would find enormous joy in seeing the arrogant reduced to carping simpletons.

    Heck, we all enjoy that. :-)

    To the author:

    +3 for using the phrase 'carping simpletons' in a sentence

    -1 for excessive use of commas

  • by Chardish ( 529780 ) <chardish AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:37PM (#5246051) Homepage
    In software..

    1) Corporations think it's a good idea to add more features to their software.
    2) Corporations have no idea what people actually want to do with their software's new features.
    3) Corporations fail to realize that what we often want are not new features, but actually smoother design, better ease of use, more speed, and more stability.

    Thus, what we get is "bloatware" such as ICQ - where so many new "features" are added to the program that it becomes impossible to use and navigate even when you want to use the program for even the simplest functions. (When I got the latest version of ICQ it took me 5 minutes to figure out how to add a new contact by UIN#.) AIM is headed this way, too.

    I can't stand Office XP because of all the stupid features you don't need.

    Even Office 97 has a large plethora of thoroughly useless features.
    Send To Routing Recipient, Send To Fax Recipient, Footnotes, Comments, Document Map, Field, Cross-Reference, Index & Tables, Insert Object, Insert Bookmark, Look Up Changes, Track Changes, Change Case, Style Gallery, Merge Documents, Letter Wizard, Formula

    It gets worse as the version numbers get higher. Maybe what we want is more ease of use and less damn paperclip animations.
    • by transient ( 232842 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:53PM (#5246228)
      Even Office 97 has a large plethora of thoroughly useless features. Send To Routing Recipient, Send To Fax Recipient, Footnotes, Comments, Document Map, Field, Cross-Reference, Index & Tables, Insert Object, Insert Bookmark, Look Up Changes, Track Changes, Change Case, Style Gallery, Merge Documents, Letter Wizard, Formula

      If you think these features are useless, you're using the wrong program. People in my department use many of these features on a weekly, if not daily, basis. In fact, just today I used "Track Changes" to make changes to a job description before sending it to my superior for approval.

      Maybe you should try WordPad.

      • I think these extra features are fine, as long as they don't clutter the interface, and don't happen automatically.

        I just want to finish my resume without MS Word randomly assigning 17 different text styles. This line is "Heading 1", next heading line is "Heading 7"... they look the same, but behave differently.

        I've turned off every single friggen "autoformat" feature I can find, but Word still wants to indent, autobullet and boldify the damn text after I hit return.

        Bah! Nonintuitive useless hidden features.

    • by iso ( 87585 ) <(slash) (at) (> on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:55PM (#5246244) Homepage

      I believe that what you're saying is true, but you're forgetting one important thing: people buy on features, not "smoother design, better ease of use, more speed, and more stability." I have done a lot of reasearch in this topic, and read a lot of market research data. The results are quite conclusive: the vast majority of users believe that speed and stability (bugfixes) should be free. While "better ease of use" and "smoother design" are things that some customers are willing to pay for, most decide to make a jump in version almost entirely based on new features.

      Unfortunatley, this is the way it is right now. People may want a more easy-to-use program that's more stable, but they don't know it (or, at least, aren't willing to pay for it). So what's the solution? If people are only willing to buy on features, where's the incentive to spend development time on bugfixes and usability? If people truly want this, they're going to have to vote with their pocketbooks.

      - j

  • Because..... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pong ( 18266 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:37PM (#5246052) Homepage
    ... entropy is getting the better of us. Have never been in a devshop where that wasn't the case. Most developers I've met have had the knowledge but most imho lack the discipline.

    Always ask yourself this before you commit (to CVS): "Will this commit add value to the program?" - or have you introduced new weak ideas or hacked around to get a new feature introduced in a hurry. Abstractions live, details and entropy kill.
  • by donnz ( 135658 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:38PM (#5246068) Homepage Journal
    The computer industry defies the pattern of all previous technological revolutions, making little or no progress toward convenience.

    So 20 years ago I would have had to pay more for an airline ticket than today, to fly to Washington, to by a copy of the WP, to read whatever this bozo has to say. Now I can do it sitting at my desk at the arse-end of the world withing seconds of him hitting the "publish" button. No progress or convenience there that I can see. other news today and old bastard said "things ain't what they used to be.

  • Underwood? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by orthogonal ( 588627 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:39PM (#5246076) Journal
    Note however, that Fisher doesn't propose returning to his trusty Underwood typewriter to write his columns.
  • by spooky_nerd ( 646914 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:40PM (#5246086)
    I'll bet if the people who wrote MS Windows had to answer help desk calls, they wouldn't have changed the location of TCP/IP settings in every single operating system. I also like the quote "Techies, professors conclude, must act more like psychoanalysts; they must learn to "appreciate the difference between what people say and what they mean."" For example - "The CD-ROM won't read my CD" translates into "I keep putting the CD in upside-down" Or - "My Email program doesn't work" becomes "The voice in the computer says I don't need to dial an area code"
  • An Important Note (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NDPTAL85 ( 260093 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:40PM (#5246092)
    This frustration and hatred also applies to Free Software projects/products, probably even moreso.
  • Usability Experts (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bunratty ( 545641 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:42PM (#5246112)
    It's incidents like this that make me think it really is time to listen to the usability experts. Sure, the extremists we hear about seem to have some crazy ideas, but there must be some out there that have a clue about how we can make interfaces more usable, right?
  • by JohnFluxx ( 413620 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:43PM (#5246123)
    I worked on large systems for large companies. However I never got to meet anyone that actually used the product. We were on the forth revision of software by the time I left.

    I was basically the main coder. I was pretty good at my job, but I would get 100 page technical specs, 70 pages of which would describe how on the front page this dolphin would swim from one side to the other. On a company intranet. sigh.

    Several years later I saw the said company at a careers fair. I mentioned that I wrote quite a lot of their intranet, and how it was doing. They said there were still many problems with it - and I wasn't surprised.

    The trouble was that I had to go through my boss, who went through the company bosses, who went through the top level managers. The end users weren't consulted at all.

    Also everyone wanted to see results _now_, requiring fast development.

    Anyway, I've rambled enough.
  • by argoff ( 142580 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:44PM (#5246130)
    At least in part, because they make more money each time they re-invent the wheel, and what's in their best interest is not in the users best interest.

    With free software, it is just as difficult and technical - but long term standards are allowed to emerge and be built on, learnt slow or fast, used all or just some. You can form an education and a culture arround them, you can build learning, sharing, and application into that culture so that it becomes more and more second hand as society moves onto other things, and as those who really want to can specialize and grow as fast as their able to without artifical or closed limits.

    The acceptance of closed software as normal commercial behavior has caused a lot of collateral damage, and I think this is one of the symptoms.
  • umm, what? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Telastyn ( 206146 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:45PM (#5246138)
    Techies, professors conclude, must act more like psychoanalysts; they must learn to "appreciate the difference between what people say and what they mean."

    And they say the techies are the ones lacking communications skills? How about people ask for what they actually want; maybe they'll have a better chance of getting it that way...
  • A few quibbles... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TechnoWeenie ( 250857 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:45PM (#5246144)
    It takes much longer to turn on your machine in the morning now than it did 20 years ago.

    I don't know what kind of system this guy was using in 1983, but mine required one floppy to boot, one floppy to load the Word Processor (anyone remember WordStar, now that was a simple system ;)) and finally another floppy to load my document in. Faster, yeah right.

    Techies, professors conclude, must act more like psychoanalysts; they must learn to "appreciate the difference between what people say and what they mean."

    Actually, it sounds like techies are suppossed to be more like psychics than psychoanalysts.

    In a study of 8,000 tech projects in businesses, only 16 percent of the new systems were deemed successes.

    Maybe this because the techies gave the users what they wanted, instead of what they _said_ they wanted?

    I don't know, you make the call.
  • by kahei ( 466208 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:45PM (#5246146) Homepage

    Whereas Righteous Free Software programs like crontab and gnu make and grep always have intuitive, orthogonal systems that make sense at once!

    Mind you, oddly enough I do find vi[m] extremely intuitive.

  • by Apreche ( 239272 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:47PM (#5246158) Homepage Journal
    The first answer is simple. Ease of use and power are inversely proportional. If you increase ease of use you decrease power. A CLI with toos like grep is powerful, but harder to use than F3 in windows. You can sometimes get more power without losing ease of use, but only to a certain extent.

    The second answer is that people fear computers. The tech industry on purpose or by accident has created the illusion in people's minds that computers are difficult to master, extremely complicated, and hard to learn. This is not the case. I tell people every day to build their own computers, and they have this fear they will mess it up, or that its difficult. In fact it is no more difficult that putting together a set of legos. Square peg and square hole. If people stop fearing computers and begin to believe they are simple, then people will have an easier time learning them.

    The third problem is trainers. The method of teaching computers sucks. People learn processes, click this, click that, then click this. They don't know the meaing behind what they are doing. To use the old car analogy, they've reduced the number of controls in a car to steering wheel, two pedals, and stick. The driver doesn't have to know how the car works, because they can memorize what all the controls do, since there are few. In a computer it is impossible to reduce the number of controls to so few. So in order to make use of it, you have to know at least a little about how it works. The biggest thing people need to learn is file systems. We all know about the metaphors of desktops, files and folders. But common folk just don't get it. Because of this "easy to use" programs like MS Office become difficult. Trainers should teach people the parts of a computer, how they work, how their operating system works, and all the basic things that apply to everything they do on a computer. Once they comprehend this much, picking up a new system is not so difficult. Instead the trainers just say "click on the OK button in this box". If they don't know the meaning of this, they don't know what to do when something weird happens.

    A)power or ease, can't have both
    B)don't fear the reaper
    C)learn the basics then the specifics

    • by Etyenne ( 4915 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @09:43PM (#5247092)

      the biggest thing people need to learn is file systems. We all know about the metaphors of desktops, files and folders. But common folk just don't get it. Because of this "easy to use" programs like MS Office become difficult. Trainers should teach people the parts of a computer, how they work, how their operating system works, and all the basic things that apply to everything they do on a computer. Once they comprehend this much, picking up a new system is not so difficult. Instead the trainers just say "click on the OK button in this box". If they don't know the meaning of this, they don't know what to do when something weird happens.

      I disagree. In my time, I had been doing a lot of computer training. Once, I advertised an introductory course as "for people who never touch a keyboard". There was a lot of interest and my course was booked full. I had that vision of what real beginner should learn, like how the file system is organised, how to start a program by naviguating the Start menu (it was Windows 95 back then), etc.

      This course was a complete disaster. People are not good with abstract concept such as the file system hierarchy. I spent almost an hour explaining them how file was organized like a tree, why drive could be compared to drawer, folder to folder and file to individual document, etc. After my lecture, I had a little exercise where they were asked to create a folder in Explorer, drag a file there and rename the file <your name>.txt. More than half the class created a folder named <your name>.txt and did not know what to do from there.

      If you are a cartesian type of person, you probably believe that you must first learn the foundation and than put it in pratice. Most people are not wired that way, especially for stuff even remotely abstract. I regret I did not taught them useful stuff instead, like word processing or changing the background image of their desktop. None of these person took any of my more "advanced" course.

  • by jafac ( 1449 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:51PM (#5246200) Homepage
    in a conversation with a co-worker; the rhetorical question - what is the function of the IT department anyway?

    A: They observe you carefully and determine whether you're doing your job. Then they try to find some rule or regulation about the machine or network they control, that you use, that will prevent you from doing your job. Then they enforce it.
  • by Door-opening Fascist ( 534466 ) <> on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:51PM (#5246204) Homepage

    From what I have seen, not having the IT staff train all the employees is a good to avoid friction between IT and the other departments. Have IT train a few enthusiastic and knowledgable non-IT people, and then have those people go out and train the rest of the employees. The teachers will be able to sympathize more with regular employees, and the regular employees will look at the teachers with more respect than if they were IT.

  • Ok... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BigBir3d ( 454486 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:52PM (#5246215) Journal
    Anyone can state the problem.

    How about a solution?

    That few percent that were deemed a success; what was different? What should the teeming masses attempt to emulate? Why?
  • Oh no! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Snosty ( 210966 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:57PM (#5246269) Homepage
    They're on to us! Hide all the evidence that we've been deliberately writing confusing software and in an effort to become their techie masters!

    Remember: You have no idea what they are talking about and we never had this conversation.
  • by TheNumberSix ( 580081 ) <NumberSix@simpli ... EL.com_minusfood> on Thursday February 06, 2003 @07:58PM (#5246274)
    I'm one of those software instructors who provides the training on the huge custom software package to the customer.

    Typically when I arrive on site to show the customers the software we just spent a year creating for them, (**after the customer signs off on the requirements**) and I show them some super wham-o-dyne feature that is not included in the base package, I usuallyt get one of these responses...

    1. (90% of the time) What a stupid feature. Why do we have that? Does anyone on earth use this feature?

    Typical answer: No one else has it but you, your firm asked for it, and we spent about a jillion hours of developer time working it in and testing it even though the only person on Earth who thought it was a good idea was your project manager.

    2. (10% of the time) What an excellent feature! I'll really use that. It will make my job easier. I'm glad we have this super wham-o-dyne feature.

    I've seen it again and again. Most of the software ends up confusing users and being far too complicated because a few people insist on adding bizarre stuff to the base package.

    I've seen the same thing in some open-source projects too, where the main developer can't resolve (or doesn't want to resolve) a dispute between two other coders, so they add in "options" so everyone can be happy. But it sometimes ands up making the final product a mess.

    And as for spending enormous amounts of time in training on the new computer systems, I have to say that many times customers demand it.

    If a customer lays down a lot of money for a custom software package, they simply expect an instructor to appear on site, in a tie, wielding donuts and coffee and lunches. We have CBTs that take about 2 hours and cost virtually nothing and cover the base package really well, but customers would rather have half thier staff sit around in a class room for two days instead. For non-technical personnel especially, they just demand that level of service if it's needed or not. So at least in my case, I can't take the blame for forcing the end users to sit through training! Guilt no more!
  • I call "bullshit" (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @08:00PM (#5246294) Homepage
    Take anyone off their current WinXP/P4 1GHz+ box and put them back on a 33MHz 486 running DOS or Windows 3.11 and force them to use it to do work for a week. Not even anything involving networking or receiving files from outside sources, just let them create a few Office documents and try to work with them. At the end of the week, ask them whether or not they still miss the "good old days". I'll bet anything they'll shut up.
  • by dubbayu_d_40 ( 622643 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @08:00PM (#5246296)
    'techie masters' hate users
  • A important point (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Zorton ( 2520 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @08:02PM (#5246322)
    As much as i've personally spearheaded various upgrades throughout my time working with computers this article raises a very interesting point.

    I can't remember how many times I have had users almost beg me not to do upgrades. It is not as if they didn't care about security concerns or the latest greatest version of the software, it's the trouble of having to re learn how to use the software. My most recent experience was with Quick-books Pro for Macintosh. The small business I worked for had spent approximately 3 years working with a copy of Quick-books Pro 4.0. All the inventory and accounting information had been tweaked to suit this particular business and for the most part everything worked as it should have. From my perspective this outdated copy of Quick-books was a constant thorn in my side. It had numerous bugs and the user interface was awful. Well, one week ago I got a call from the bookkeeper of the business. She was delighted to hear that Inuit had released a copy of Quick-books for OSX! This shocked and surprised me as I was under the understanding that Inuit wasn't going to release any more copies for the mac (not enough demand the phone rep told me). As I headed back into the shop to help do the upgrade I had visions of a improved user interface complete with networking support. To make a long story short they didn't change much. In fact they managed to remove some of the features (perhaps bugs) that my client had come to use quite frequently. The toolbar comes to mind. In the older version of Quick-book Pro the toolbar had about 15 or twenty buttons with icons. It could be moved all around the screen and even disabled if needed. The best part was the ability to add almost any report to it. The owner and bookkeeper of the company had become very used to opening the pending sales report from the toolbar. The new version changed that, you could no longer add reports to the toolbar. You where even limited to less spaces in the toolbar than the older version! After spending a few more minutes working with the newer version I discovered quite a few bugs that where still present. This was definitely not an improvement.

    I think this outlines one of the basic problems that programers have in relation to their users. What is obvious to the programer or even the power user is not obvious to the end user. For programer the task up dialing up is as simple as finding the ppp program and telling it to dial. For the end user this logical progression of steps isn't so obvious. Why do they need to know what a dialer is? Why not have the system just work as expected. I find it hard to come up with concrete examples of this problem because most every system I work with is logically laid out. For the client that I work with it is not. He is a mechanic and what is logical for me isn't logical for him.

    In my most humble of opinions apple has made great progress in this regard. They have tried to keep their interface consistent across many changes in the underlying operating system. Even when they made drastic changes to their system as in the case of OS-X the user interface was still quite the same. However small things did change. Once again from a computer users perspective moving the status icon for the dialer to the upper right hand corner isn't a big deal. But for my client it is just one more annoying thing he is going to have to relearn.

    Computers are tools. I feel that the industry sometimes forgets that with every change we make in the name of progress. I for one love having a updated system and latest technology but for my mechanic friend a simple consistent system is the most valuable asset.

  • Weak Article (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Soong ( 7225 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @08:03PM (#5246329) Homepage Journal
    He doesn't know what he wants. He didn't cite one specific gripe or even a trend. All he said was "new software sucks", simply because he was used to the old stuff. May as well say "change sucks". Some reputable theories of the universe say that change is the only constant.

    That aside, yes, there's a personality/approach gap between those making the software and those using it. Most frustrating are the multitudes whose approach is so crippled that to their questions I deliver the pithy universal advice "try it and see".
  • by RobinH ( 124750 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @08:04PM (#5246347) Homepage
    I get pretty sick of these stories. I certainly understand that there's a lot of bad software and user interfaces out there, but I'm aware of it, and I put a huge amount of effort into designing interfaces to be intuitive to whoever's going to use the system.

    However, here's how my projects go: we get a contract in mid-January to write a custom software application. It has to be completed by, say, May 1st, because that's what our sales dept. sold them. They never asked an engineer how long it would take, they just promised the moon to get the contract. Then, we write a functional specification, and give it to the customer for review. We need to get it reviewed and signed before we can move forward, but for some reason, my contact with the customer doesn't have the authority to sign anything. Not only that, it goes through countless revisions as the customer finally realizes they don't actually want what we sold them. Of course, the deadline of May 1st never changes, so by the time the functional spec is approved, it's April 25th, we've had to start writing the application without a fully approved functional spec, and we've got a week to finish writing, testing, and debuging the application, so no matter what, we're going to deliver late and overbudget.

    That's when your boss comes by, shows you the budget numbers for the project and says, "We can't afford any more time on this project, so just do whatever it takes to make it work." Making it work does not mean spending hours designing and revising user interfaces to make them intuitive. I hate it, but that's why software interfaces aren't intuitive.
  • by adjuster ( 61096 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @08:11PM (#5246415) Homepage Journal

    The unwavering constant in my world of IT consultation work is the assured shittiness of the Customer's line-of-business application. Either it's an off-the-shelf app. that they're pushing beyond its functional limitations, or it's some home-grown bag of dung that coddles their entrenched antique business processes and reeks of inconsistent user interface, poor or completely lacking forethought in design, and lamentable "technologies" (everybody say "toolbars of icons with no tooltips and no menus", "two digit decimal date fields" and "shared file database"). In the end, it really doesn't matter how they've chosen their IT fate, it always ends in everybody bitching about how bad it all is!

    The idea of defining requirements and selecting off-the-shelf packages based on those requirements seems to be completely foreign to non-technical users ("I have three (3) kids and a dog-- I think that two-seater little red convertible sportscar will make a good family car!"). Of course, software marketing would have you believe that their products will allow you to travel backwards in time and transmute gold from pocket lint, as long as you keep up on your "maintenance agreement".

    On the "internally developed" side, the failings I see almost always involve an inability for a development group to shut the fuck up about their fucking "technology" and learn about the users' BUSINESS REQUIREMENTS! They users aren't going to get any benefit from your buzzword-fortified J2EE-compliant mobile wireless XML fibre-channel attached pneumatic Bluetooth ass-rampager if they never USE the damned thing because it doesn't satisfy any of their business requirements.

    We don't have the fucking computers in the business because we just want to have computers! We are here to make fucking money, and the computers are tools to help us.

    Doesn't really matter much to me, though... They'll all still need switches, routers, and infrastructure gear, whether they ever get it together or not... *smile*

  • Lazy M-Fers (Score:3, Insightful)

    by N8F8 ( 4562 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @08:18PM (#5246475)
    Users want software that will wipe their butts for them. Trying to develop for the LCD is almost pointless. No matter how easy you make it there is always some idiot who can manage to screw it up.

    We live in a society that results from three generations of teaching that the entire class must move at the pace of the slowest person. I say to hell with the idiots. You need to know how to use the software to get your job done? Tough, learn how to use or make way for someone motivated to figure it out. McDonalds is always hiring.

  • by slouie ( 8781 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @08:24PM (#5246522)
    The largest problem is that there is no time or budget to review and improve the human experience on software products. In the "Skate or Die" world of software development, finishing touches are always set aside for the next version of the product.

    Software companies aren't profiting on the fact that their programs were the easiest to use. They make money buy selling their products with shinier chrome and more options than the other guys. Even worse, companies will try to glue on new shiny bits and pieces of bought-out software onto their product and hoping to get it to work. And if they get it out first, they'll get all of the customers who might need those features (and drag in those who were happy with the old one but need to upgrade because the new formats are no longer compatible).

    Selling the support contracts makes companies a pretty penny too.

    There is VERY little incentive to improve user interfaces or simplifying tasks. Apple has been able to tap into this market from the beginning, but even now is derided by those "in the know" as more toy than tool.

    Software engineers are a problem too. The "cool" and "sexy" obscure features of a product appeal to most programmers while the rather mundane problems of fixing bugs and ease of use fall to the wayside.

    Even customers are a problem. Management wants to be able to keep tabs and increase production by having new and different reports created and all information tracked. And they are willing to buy software from a different company (with an imcompatible format) to get that information. Plus demands for customization increases the level of task obscurity. Oh, and if they don't spend the money for the upgrade, they lose the money in next year's budget.

    It's insanity.
  • MBTI (Score:5, Insightful)

    by stonewolf ( 234392 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @08:24PM (#5246530) Homepage
    The author got it almost exactly right. When you study the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) for techies you find that they are made up almost entirely of 4 types INTP, INTJ, ISTP, and ISTJ. nearly all the core software that runs the Internet was written by INTP and INTJ people. (In general INTs are more likely to like python or lisp while ISTs are more likely to like Perl.) NTs are concept oriented with STs are detail oriented.

    INT*s make up about 2% of the population and IST*s make up about 10% of the population. The key is the IT in the type. "I" stands for Introverted and "T" stands for Thinking. The ITs make up only 12% of the population. The opposite types, the EF Extroverted Feeling folks, make up 36% of the population. The EF folks like to talk to people and make friends. The IT people like to learn things and make systems that work.

    The result is that the people writing the code have a point of view that is shared by only a small minority of the population. While the largest subgroup of the population has a point of view that is exactly opposite of the techies.

    Obviously the techies can not design for the "feelies". And, the "feelies" will not take the time to communicate with the techies. They write us off as "geeks" and "nerds" and belittle us every chance they get. While we tend to call them "air heads" and ignore them.

    There really are two cultures. Until people on both sides of the divide understand that the divide exists and work to bridge it, we will keep seeing articles like this one.


  • by cranos ( 592602 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @09:34PM (#5247025) Homepage Journal
    Well he should try dealing with PHB's who have some vague idea of what they want but can't explain it. Then when the project is 90% complete turn around and say "Thats nothing like what I wanted" even though it matches the original specs to the letter.

    I think mr Journalist had better have a talk to his IT procurement committee before he goes off half cocked. Usually these committees are staffed, not by end-users and techs, but by middle management types whos closest interaction with a computer is getting their arse kicked on any number of first person shooters.

    While I sympathise with end users of shitty software (I too am forced to use Windows now and then), I take offence when they start blaming the techs themselves for the problems of an entire package. Its like blaming the carpenter because the building committee decided to only use styro-foam in the foundations of the building.
  • Major User Problem (Score:3, Insightful)

    by simetra ( 155655 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @09:55PM (#5247170) Homepage Journal
    The main problem I see with typical end users is that they don't realize that the computer is a tool they are required to use to do their job. They are extremely reluctant to learn anything. The funny thing is, when they interview for jobs, they say "Oh, yes, I love computers, I have one at home, it's great." Then when they get on the job and don't want to make an effort, they call support and laugh, saying "heh, I'm computer-illiterate".

    Would you go to a mechanic who held up a wrench and said "heh, I'm wrench-dumb, these crazy things." ????

    Users need to understand that they CAN read the screen and actually THINK about what it says before panicking and calling support. They need to realize that they must know how to use the tools that are required for their jobs. Or, they need to find another job.
  • by DavidBrown ( 177261 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @10:00PM (#5247192) Journal
    I'm an attorney at a law office with about 16 computers. We are still using WordPerfect for Windows 6.1. Why?

    Because EVERY new release since then, of both WordPerfect and Word, hasn't given me (I make the IT decisions) a sufficiently good enough reason to ask the staff to learn how to use a new system.

    Contrary to those bashing Microsoft, this isn't MS's fault, and it's not a case where people using Macs just don't have this problem. It's really simple - Once you get used to a system, you don't want to change, as long as the system you know does what you want.

    We've gone though multiple changes in software - WordPerfect for Windows 6.1 was much easier to use than WordPerfect 5.1, ACT! has improved over time, and we've more or less kept upgrading Windows whenever Bill Gates wanted more money. Except for ME, each windows upgrade was worth it, from a usability and reliability standpoint.

    But we still use WP6.1, even though it has 8.3 filenames and an automated template system that's crippled (and was finally finally fixed in WP10). Not only is this program reliable and does what we need it to do, it's faster than any of its successors because it was written for computers running 80386's.

    Also, I have to say that the WP6.1 file dialogue boxes, are just plain better than anything I've seen since. Who in the hell thought that a sideways scrolling file-open dialogue box filled with useless icons was a good idea, especially when you can have really long filenames that take up half the screen?

    Before I upgrade our software, there's got to be a reason better than "there's a new version out". The new software has to fill a need that isn't filled by the old software, or it has to solve serious reliability problems.

  • by Borealis ( 84417 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @10:28PM (#5247331) Homepage
    While it's true that some techies are poor in the "user friendly" department, the majority of bad system design comes from the management.

    I've worked on a number of systems where what would have been a nice design has been sabotaged by management decisions. Almost always by management that doesn't actually use the system in question.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 06, 2003 @10:35PM (#5247382)
    It's nice to hear this guy whine about not being able to use the new systems. Try being a developer and keeping up with the changing technology that keeps getting thrown at you every 12 months because of the marketing departments of MS and company. He seems to think that it's the technical staff vs. the users. Sorry buddy, but I am a developer and from my perspective it's the techie's vs management; but the users get the fallout (crap product). The clueless are not the users as far as I am concerned. Anybody ever work for a tech help line? Can you BLAME the customers for being pissed? These companies just want your money...period.

    I can't even count the number of times that the dev team has tried to convince management that we, (the dev team) should be allowed to help with creating specs for systems (I preume they feel it would undermine their authority). Companies unleash the sales guys, who don't know their assholes from a hole in the ground, who promise stuff that WE can't deliver. And then the client wonders why it's not in the system or just plain crap.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg. The ENTIRE High tech industry needs a reality check. Starting with management. It isn't possible to be a good manager of the high tech department without having some sort of background in the project your managing.

    Fear not users, every techie I know wants to build you a good product(do you like the idea of your work being respected? So do we), but the MBA's from above know ALL.........;)
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday February 06, 2003 @11:32PM (#5247718) Homepage
    You click on the link to the story, and you get "This will just take a few moments". That's like hearing the dentist say "this will just hurt a bit". You know what's going to happen. They're going to ask you lots of questions. There's going to be some end-user license agreement which you really need to read, in case they're asking for permission to install software on your machine that pops up ads or worse. If they ask for an E-mail address, you know what that means.

    This is outright hostility, not mere feature bloat.

  • by Belgand ( 14099 ) <belgand@planetfD ... com minus distro> on Thursday February 06, 2003 @11:46PM (#5247782) Homepage
    I'm still a student and thus largely insulated from this sort of thing. Still, I think that people are looking at the wrong issues here.

    First it's more likely that people are simply pissed off. They're not the head jock anymore, they're drone #2817-G and noone gives a fuck who they dated in high school. Even worse the people they used to pick on back then matter now. They're doing something and rather than spend the minimal ammount of time required to understand how to use something they'd rather get pissed about it. "That damn geek expects me to learn this shit? I've got better things to do than read a manual writen by some science club loser."

    Second is that these training classes don't seem entirely necessary. Indeed there's a lot of bloatware out there with obscure and pointless features that are a pain in the ass to get at. Still, you don't need to spend 8 hours having some idiot try to teach you how to use them. In some highly technical applications it may be necessary and useful to spend some time in training, but you probably don't need it for the next version of Word. Seriously. My school teaches 8 week courses on how to use Word and Netscape and they're unnnecessary crap. Back in high school there was a "Technology Literacy" class that would spend a day explaining the basics elements of the Windows UI, one day was spent almost entirely on right-click context menus, another on signing up for a Hotmail account and e-mailing someone. Not the theory behind any of this, just the practical ability to do it. People will try to teach anything whether it's necessary or not.
  • by DunbarTheInept ( 764 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:09AM (#5247923) Homepage
    The real problem here is that the people who have to use the tool aren't the ones picking which tool to use, and so they automatically resent that. One very large difference between how it works in the modern workplace verus the ones of yesterday is twofold:
    1. People today are not expected to understand their tools enough to fix them themselves, which means they *need* an IT department to do it for them. And once that happens you get forced upgrades because the IT people don't want to support multiple versions of something. In an old fashioned paper and pencil office, if you purchase a pen to use on your forms you fill out, you are expected to deal with making sure the pen works correctly yourself. If it doesn't go get another. If the stapler jams, fix it. Thus users had the choice to use whatever they felt like within reason, because it was Their Problem if it failed.
    2. Compatability. If I use one model of stapler to staple my document, and you a different one, we can still use each other's document. Your stapling of the document with a different stapler didn't ruin my ability to read it. So we don't need to force you to use a stapler you don't like if for some reason you have a special attachment to that Red Swingline you like so much (no reason to take it away from you and piss you off). With computer software, it's not like that. You all have to be using the same thing or it doesn't work. So again, choices are forced onto users that they have no control over.

    It's these forced choices that piss off the users.
  • by collapser ( 610412 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @01:38AM (#5248334) Homepage
    I remember when I first started to use a WIMP system (Acorn Archimedes). I had not the slightest clue what I was doing.

    Since then, I have found that what I have learned is not just how to do things, but 50% of it is how to deal with unexpected/confusing circumstances.
    I think sometimes thats the real reason I can use one - I'm not scared out of my wits about what is going on. I know it, its my environment, and I understand the (in)significance of various popups/error messages, actions, etc.

    I suppose I really went on a steep learning curve because the software wasn't aimed at any specific user type; rather, it is aimed at everyone, specifically those with prior experience.

    But there seems to be less Training given in the basics of operating a computer (filing, security, etc), than there are in using a computer to perform a small set of tasks (MS Office XP course, anyone?).

    I have also noticed that once new user has worked out only what they want to do (not what they *can do), they will in general stick to that small range of skills but not branch out any further - wether that be through fear or laziness. A lot of the training for applications is quite mollycoddling in that way - the trainers know the users limitations - and they just want to show them how to use "mail merge" and get out of there, rather than increase the user's confidence in using a computer, overall.

    *That*, ultimately, is why it is so hard for people to use new Software. Most of the time, it's not the software - it's that the users are pissed off that they have to relearn everything, for the same tasks they could do before. (as I said, its a heck of a lot easier with prior experience of a variety of other apps)

    Of course manufacturers could remedy this by having every tool look and operate the same way (albeit near impossibly), but in the long run it would make more sense to teach people how to explore and deal with their overall environment. Its only natural that this ability and confidence spreads into the other areas.
  • Old Computer Stuff (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cyranoVR ( 518628 ) <cyranoVR&gmail,com> on Friday February 07, 2003 @10:39AM (#5249943) Homepage Journal
    The author writes:

    Give me back my old computer stuff. And this is what I mean: I'd really like to have the system before that.

    The funny thing here is that the "hard-core techies" this guy is complaining about would say the same thing! Reference all the PDP-8 / Amiga / VMS / Commodore / Apple ][ nostalgia that we are regularly subjected to here on /. I rest my case.
  • by CaptainPhong ( 83963 ) on Friday February 07, 2003 @12:17PM (#5250741) Homepage
    Sure IT people have problems. Some are their fault, many are the fault of management or marketdroids or someone else. But when it comes right down to it, it is impossible to design software that is easy to use by all who need to use it. It's that simple.

    Let's start with a real world example. Many people drive cars. Most consider cars easy to use. They go as far as to compare them to software and say "it should be simple, just like turning a key and it goes!"

    Cars are NOT easy to use. You have to take many classes to learn how to use them and log many hours of driving before you're even allowed to use them unsupervised. It takes years to get proficient at it (inexperienced drivers get in lots of accidents). They aren't a "turnkey solution", they require a very complicated set of actions to get it from one place to another, and the actions vary significantly each time depending on conditions, traffic etc. But since people do it every day, and are willing to learn, and practice and work hard in order to have the priveledge, they THINK it's easy.

    Cars only are good for one task really - driving from place to place. On the other hand, computers perform HUNDREDS or THOUSANDS of tasks. Most of the time, those tasks require the exact same steps each time you do them. But people are unwilling to set aside time to learn, and just complain. They ask for changes, but won't articulate what they'd like it to be like. They just want it to be "better" or "easier" or "more like [some invalid analogy]".

    No matter how easy you make the software, people will still be unwilling to learn it, and will remain confused because of their own stubbornness. An example to prove my point:

    We recently installed some new shipping software. We had to because it needed to interface properly with the company doing the shipping. It isn't the greatest software in the world, but there weren't a significant number of end-user changes, and all of them were good changes, mostly small ones. Of course, right away we get a call from an employee who is utterly confused. They were so confused in fact, that they shut down the computer and were afraid to turn it back on.

    They had entered some orders, and with each a dialog appears asking for shipping information. There is a certain checkbox that they check for almost every order. After entering several orders, a dialog box popped up that says roughly "I see that you've checked [that checkbox] for the last four orders. Would you like me to check it automatically in the future to save you time?" It had two buttons, "yes" and "no".

    Now, I would argue, that the course of action in this situation should be COMPLETELY intuitive, and any idiot should be able to decide which they'd prefer. But apparently that's not the case. This is almost an exact transcript of the conversation. No, I'm not joking.

    Employee: "It came up with this box, I've never seen it before!"

    IT: "I'll take a look at it." [brings it up on the computer] "Oh, it's just asking you if you want it to automatically check that box for you in the future."

    Employee: "But it's never come up with that before! Why is it coming up with it now? What should I do?"

    IT: "Well, it's probably part of the new software. It sees that you always check that check box and wants to save you time."

    Employee: "But it's never come up before! I don't know what to do."

    IT: "Well, do you want it to check that box for you automatically when you enter orders?"

    Employee: "I don't know. I don't want to do the wrong thing."

    IT: "It will just check the box automatically. If you have an order that doesn't need that, you can uncheck it."

    Employee: "So which should I click."


    Employee: "I'm not very computer-literate."

    IT: "Just click yes."

    Employee: "Ooookaaay. I just don't know. It's never come up with that before."

    IT: "Yes, you mentioned that."

    You can see that the person didn't even want to try to learn what the thing does. They went as far as refusing to let the English language of the box into their brain for fear of being contaminated with thought. It goes way beyond being unwilling to learn complicated instructions or cryptic commands. They were unwilling to not be a robot. If a task involving computers requires any sort of independant thought, logical processing or even READING of direct, onscreen instructions, many users are completely unable to accept the idea of them performing the task themselves.

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them WHAT to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. -- Gen. George S. Patton, Jr.