Saturday, October 14, 2006

Fundamental UI things we need to fix

I just spent the last 38 minutes and 29 seconds helping my mother, who is 2000 miles away, hook her network printer into a new laptop her work gave her.  Helping people with computers over the phone is amazingly frustrating -- and it's no fault of their own.  It's the fault of UI choices programmers made years ago and we can't seem to lose today.  Here's my list of things we need to somehow overcome.

#1.  The double click vs. the single click 

This is probably my biggest pet peeve.  It's not clear when someone should double click to activate something or single click to activate it.  I blame three groups of people for this confusion:

  1. The folks at Apple who decided to ship a one button mouse.  If we had had a two or three button mouse, there would be no discrepancy here.  But in trying to make things mechnically simple, they made the UI more complicated.  (Let's not foget one of the original Macintosh's massive failures in UI:  that you drag a floppy to the trash to eject it)
  2. Either Marc Andreesen and/or Eric Bina.  Whichever one of them decided to make hyperlinks activate in Mosaic with a single click instead of a double click immediately confused the entire world.  Today, you still see people double click on hyperlinks in web pages.
  3. Microsoft for making it so you can put the Windows explorer into a "single click" hyperlinkesque mode.  Why did Microsoft try to make the Windows Explorer web-like?  Ugh!

A huge concern I have for the future are all of the web UI designers who are making hovering an active event.  Egads.  Now people are going to be afraid to move the mouse, much less know to click or single click.

#2. The Forward Slash vs. Backward Slash

First of all, why are these two on the keyboard in the first place?  Can't we all agree that slashes can generally go in a single direction?  You hardly ever see anyone use the back slash in print.  The backslash is almost exclusively used by programmers since it's such an obscure character.

Yet, some genius at Microsoft decided to use it to separate files and folders circa 1980 or whenever, and now we have to deal with it daily for network paths.  I agree that it's kinda handy to have slashes in filenames, but did we have to use the backslash to separate those paths?  Why not use the colon like Apple used to? 

Someday, we can only hope that Microsoft might make it possible to use using the backslash.  I'm not even going to start ranting about drive letters in this post, but that's yet another huge failing that continues even in Vista.

#3.  Windows XP mode vs. Windows 95 mode of Windows Explorer

What was someone at Microsoft smoking when they decided to allow old UIs to run in the Windows explorer?  It took at least 10 minutes longer to help my mother out with this problem because the IT guy at her work configured her machine in Windows 2K explorer mode and my machine is in Windows XP explorer mode.  At my work, we actually have some software that has never been corrected to work for Windows XP explorer mode.  The software vendor has not fixed the bug and just tells you to run in Windows 2K mode!

Did Microsoft get rid of this backwards UI option for Vista?  One can only hope, but somehow I doubt it.

Those are my rants for today about UI.  Maybe one day we can hope UI designers will think forward about the decisions they made.  God forbid some hover interaction a Flash guy designs becomes a precedent and 20 years from now and we're still trying to help people over the phone to work around it.

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