Trevor's Rant- by Trevor Smith

Technical Mumbo Jumbo.

I know that most of the world thinks that only "power users" buy or use OS/2 at home. Or that only business people ever use OS/2 and then it's only as a platform to write their own customized apps. I'd argue with this notion but for now I'm willing to let it go. What bothers me is not the belief that "only power users run OS/2" but the practice of writing software that only a power user could love.

Sure Warp is a great operating system. A powerful operating system. Sure it has preemptive this and multi that. Sure it's great for high tech, corporate, industrial and scientific use. But that doesn't mean it's not suited for home use. And similarly, just because a piece of software is written to be powerful does not mean its interface has to be obtuse beyond the hope of a casual home user ever understanding it.

Let's start with Warp itself. IBM is certainly one of the biggest offenders with the practice of not "humanizing" their interface enough. OK, Warp grew out of an immense company full of hand-me-down mainframe expertise and attitudes, fine. But folks, this is the '90s, can you drop the darn mysterious acronyms already? Can't you modify your thinking just a bit and call an APAR a Problem Report Number? Or just a Problem #? Is that too much to ask?

Or how about the OS itself? I'm sure you've all seen a SYS3175 error. IBM should be applauded for having the sense to offer the option of seeing the full details of the error by selecting the appropriate button (and not displaying those details by default) but they should have taken this further. What do you think Joe Lunchbox thinks when he installs this spiffy new OS (or sees it on a friend's computer) and he is greeted with a bizarre white box with a prominent "SYS3175 error" written in it? Don't they have anyone doing usability testing at IBM?

How about a simple, smaller box that says something like, "I'm sorry, one of your applications or the operating system has encountered an error and can not continue. Press here if you would like the technical details." Simple concept, simple language. In the corner could be a small "error code 3175" for quick identification of the problem. This kind of strategy would be just as good for the power user, infinitely better for the home user.

Sure the same info is already being displayed by the current error dialog but doesn't anyone think it is a little foreign and disconcerting the first time you see it? There are plenty of other examples of this throughout OS/2; one that jumps to mind is the installation routine. That thing just doesn't hold your hand. Before you start screaming at me, I know you don't need your hand held but what I'm saying is that a little hand holding wouldn't hurt you but it would help Sally Housecoat.

But enough about IBM. At least they have the excuse of gargantuan size and momentum for their obscure language and obtuse interface decisions. There are plenty of examples of this kind of excessive technical detail and language in otherwise good software written by independent software vendors. I won't name names because the problem is really so common that it would be unfair to single anyone out. But you know who you are. C'mon software developers, we want the power you're offering us but give it to us with simple language in a simple package.

Why not develop software that is functional but is set up out of the box so that if Joe Sixpack looked at it he wouldn't scratch his head and walk away. How about a scheme where every dialog box or drop down menu contains a "Details..." push button or "Advanced..." selection. If we choose that selection then give us the technical mumbo jumbo or add a few menu options that explain or give more techincal details. But don't clutter up the interface with unwanted details before we ask for them.

So what am I saying? Power is good. Hey, that's why we all bought OS/2, right? But we don't always need to have all the technical details thrown at us. Sometimes they only serve to scare off the lesser initiated. Just because software is powerful doesn't mean it has to be unintelligible.


Trevor Smith is the editor of OS/2 e-Zine!. When he's not lecturing ISVs, he's lecturing you.

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