Interface critique #1

I’ve noticed that Brian Hayes hasn’t updated his interface halls of fame and shame since June 2000. So I guess I better post my interface examples right here.

Today’s post shows three interface designs (technically, it’s actually software design). Two are something that Microsoft could have implemented years ago and saved not only a lot of grief to its customers, but also a loss of face. The other example is something that’s not talked about much but is annoying enough.

Example #1

I use Eudora as my mail client. I’ve used it since 1994 and consider it much better than Outlook/Outlook Express (try sending an earlier message to another recipient in Outlook without using the “Forward” option.). The best reason to use it, however, is that it has no scripting holes waiting to be exploited. For example, while it allows Javascript, VBScript, and Java to be embedded in email messages, it wisely leaves them turned off by default, as you can see from the following screenshot:

Image: Eudora options menu

Notice how the “Allow executables in HTML content” option is unchecked by default? That’s the way it should be.

 Microsoft’s usual contention is “the users need it”. I’ll accept that argument at face value. Just leave the damned thing turned off by default. The 2% of users who do need it can turn it on in their mail clients. In fact, many of Microsoft’s security holes are because everything is turned on by default. Sigh

Example #2

Let’s say you left the scripting on in Eudora. All is not lost. Your PC doesn’t suddenly become a virus-spreading machine. That’s because when some rogue program tries to send mail without you knowing about it, Eudora pops up this warning:

Image: Eudora dialog box


While a little verbose, the dialog box tells you in no uncertain terms what the danger is. It tells you that there could be a virus on your system. Now, you probably know that most people just press “Yes” or “OK” without reading the stuff in a dialog box. That’s why this is so brilliant. It doesn’t ask you, “Do you want to send the message?” and thereby risk spreading the virus. It asks you if you want to see the message. Even if you hit Enter without really looking at it, you don’t screw your system. I love it!

What really amazes me is that only in Outlook 6.0 has Microsoft finally recognised this problem. This is surprising given how much money Microsoft spends on usability research.

Example #3

The bad interface example for today comes from… well, it could come from any graphics program, because they all have adopted the same bad convention. Try saving an image from your favourite graphics program and you’ll probably get a dialog box like this:

Image: Save Image Dialog Box

This is a really bad interface choice. Look at the choices in the “Save as type” dropdown. Once upon a time, the options used to be like “GIF”, “PCT”, “IMG”, etc. Picking an image format was easy. Since they were all arranged in alphabetical order, you only had to press “G” to get “.GIF”.

This was easy. Then some moron decided that it was more important to emphasise the origin of the image format. So “.GIF” became “Compuserve Graphics Interchange (*.gif)” and “.PCT” became “Macintosh PICT (*.pct)”. Unfortunately, this made it much harder to select the proper image format. Now, you had to press “C” to get GIF and “M” to get “PCT”. There are several people who don’t even know that the GIF format came from Compuserve. Was knowing that bit of information really essential? Was it worth the reduced interface usability? Not at all. They could easily have had the following choices in the dropdown instead:

GIF – Compuserve Graphics Interchange

PCT – Macintosh PICT

BMP – Windows or OS/2 Bitmap

A better option, don’t you think?

3 thoughts to “Interface critique #1”

  1. So the big day finally arrives. You’ve got an interview at a company where you’d really like to work. You eagerly arrive 15 minutes ahead of schedule, are ushered into a room with three interviewers, and it begins. Just when you think everything’s going great, the HR manager asks you one of those groaners. “So… what would you say are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?”
    Your mind screams, “Oh no, not that one again!” but you somehow manage a clich?d answer anyway. And just as you’re hoping that the question was just an aberration, out shoots the next one: “If you were an animal, what animal would you be?”
    In an instant, your impression of the company crumbles. Is this the company you admired? How could it be, when you’re being asked such asinine questions?

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