I went to order some goods in a furniture store the other day. At the customer service desk I was politely asked to be patient because this was the first day that a new system had been active.
There was a trainer, presumably from the software developer, overseeing the retailer's staff, and was she needed! I looked at the screen and thought that this is never going to work; it was so incredibly complex just to look at. The trainer could cope but not the staff. I haven't had the need to return, so I have no idea how they are coping, but experience tells me that the staff will have learned to use a simple subset of all that functionality, ignoring most of the functions.
The moral of this is that most computing type devices today are far too complex. Take my own pet hatred for instance, Word. I can use about 10% of it, and that is all I need. Much better would be a product that gives the basic functions and allows users to add a few relevant features from a pool of functions, without making the basic product more difficult. No one wants all the extended features but most people need something a bit different, hence the need to be able to tailor the system.
PCs are a major example in which the software has become ever more complex, and in so many cases increasingly inadequate. It is proving impossible to go back to earlier and better versions of applications. The software vendors must continually release new versions with "improved" features which make them incompatible in small but irritating ways with existing versions; only the new versions are available with new hardware. This approach must inevitably lead to a point at which a market opens for a new generation of (simpler) products, which is why there will be the inevitable growth of Open Office at the expense of Microsoft Office.
It isn't just PC specific applications that are too complex, the example mentioned above is a badly designed business application that happens to use a PC client. The dominance of technical expertise in the development of client/server applications has emphasised the front-end over the business logic (the server side), which has unfortunately caused a loss of realistic business function in favour of the flashiest GUI interfaces.
Over complexity is not unique to computers. Many homes have now added VCR and DVD players to the TV, which results in total confusion over which remote controller does what. The solution is to buy an integrated "home cinema", with a single controller, but this doesn't work either because the "standard" for interconnecting components from different suppliers is no more consistent than the IT standards. The usual way out is to turn to the children and let them do it. The youth of today have been brought up on gadgets and are better able to cope. But this doesn't mean that it is alright. Surely they should have more logically designed devices as well; we are in danger of producing a generation of illogically minded, visually impaired people.
Mobile devices are only going to make things worse as young and old spend their time and money downloading games, and still nothing is done to make everyday electronic devices more user-friendly. I know that this sounds like the grumbling of a senior citizen, but I still feel sorry for all those hotel and doctors receptionists suffering with the inappropriateness of a mouse because today's programmers don't know how to design user friendly interfaces.< BR>
Martin Healey, pioneer development Intel-based computers en c/s-architecture. Director of a number of IT specialist companies and an Emeritus Professor of the University of Wales.
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