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Joel (of Joel on Software) writes in a recent article about Vista's overabundance of choices in logging off/powering down/etc.... While I agree in principle with him that there are too many choices presented in a poor way, his reasoning is a prime example of oversimplification and suffers from two flaws: he assumes his usage is everyone's usage, and he assumes the happy case.

For example of the former he writes:

"Once you've merged Switch User and Lock, do you really need Log Off? The only thing Log Off gets you is that it exits all running programs. But so does powering off, so if you're really concerned about exiting all running programs, just power off and on again. One more option gone."

Uh, yeah but we may not be the only user on the box Joel.... Two examples:

At home I run XP home edition. We regularly have three or four users logged in at the same time, however when I'm about to head off to work, or go out for a while I like to log off. It frees up resources on the box, and  why should I stay logged in when I know I'm leaving for hours? However, I certainly don't want to shut down. After all, other people have programs running in the background....

Second example: at work our project's build box is running Windows 2003. By default this allows two users to connect remotely to the machine. For us, this is fine. There's about four people who regularly access the box, but rarely for very long. However, because of this two user limit we need users to log off when they are finished working on the box.

Granted neither of these examples is using Vista, but the idea still follows. Who needs a Log Off feature? Users who regularly share a single computer. He doesn't (seem to) and thus he thinks it's a useless feature...

His second problem was Happy Case, exemplified in this quote:

"Why do you want the power off? If you're concerned about power usage, let the power management software worry about that. It's smarter than you are."

Why do I want to power off? Well I don't know about Joel, but my computers screw up from time to time. I usually leave my machines up, but when they start acting odd sometimes you just have to restart. The world is not perfect, sometime a fresh reboot fixes problems in seconds and you can get back to work.

I have another problem with the quote above, the power management software is not smarter than I am. The power management software has no idea that I'm using my laptop now, but in a few hours I'll be remote and I need every spare watt of laptop battery juice to keep running.... Sometimes I do want to shut down, and now.

So what's all this mean? Are choices bad or are choices good? Like most oversimplification problems the answer is neither and both.... Choices need to be tailored. Software exists in a non-physical world. A world where the experience I have does not have to be the same as the experience you have. My world needs a Log Off and a Power Off button. Joel's does not. That's ok, and a good UI design will allow different experiences to be established simply and easily....

It's not about the overall choices available, it's about the choices presented to you and how smart or stupid those UI's can be. Getting back to the Vista shutdown mess, why doesn't it auto-collapse infrequently used choices like other Windows menus? Why doesn't it remember the two most common choices I use and present those choices as the buttons instead of fixing them at "Sleep" and "Lock"? Why can't I right-click a menu item and hide it? There's a host of ways to design these features, I'll leave that up to others. The point is, computers can and should be smart dynamic things that learn user's patterns and anticipate our needs, not static, locked down, utilitarian, one-size fits none physical machines....

Features I use constantly should always be available, quickly and without delay or complexity. Features I use rarely should not be removed altogether, rather they should be subtle but clear and available.  It's not a boolean state, but a dynamic sliding scale....


Posted on Wednesday, November 29, 2006 10:32 AM | Back to top

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