Martin @ Blog

software development and life.


Management overkill at Microsoft

Miguel de Icaza of Novell, pointed to a article of usability blogger Joel Spolsky. This article is about the overly complex shutdown/logoff/hibernate/.. feature in Windows Vista. While I don’t have Vista, I didn’t notice this before, but it seems it is a nice example of flawed usability (to many choices for a thing which doesn’t require choices at all). Interestingly, one of the developers at Microsoft who worked on this, wrote a reaction on this article. According to this article, the brokeness of this feature is caused by overly complex development processes and a large number of management layers which makes the development process more like a bureaucratic process of making compromises while it should have been based on the thing the user wanted and facts derrived from usertesting (after, of course, creating reasonable prototypes.
In the blogpost of de Icaza, he also mentioned that in usertests at Novell, they discovered that a search box in a start-menu (Novell has developed a Windows-like startmenu for Gnome) should be at the top of the menu instead of the bottom, because users won’t notice it when it is at the bottom. It makes one wonder (if this is true) why Microsoft decided they should put the search box at the bottom of the menu. But then, I realised that a large number of Windows usability aspects seems to be decided by engineers and not tested. For example, creating a cd is not very straight-forward in Windows (try to find the ‘burn’-button in the Explorer (no, it isn’t there, it is only visible when you open the ‘cdwriter’ from via My Computer)).

I think it is safe to conclude (again) that Microsoft simply has become to large to develop software efficiently. While this could already conducted by the fact that it took five years to develop a ‘new’ OS which almost adds nothing really new to the existing products, stories like this prove this. Maybe they can develop ‘good’ software when they fire 90% of its staff… Open source communities (like Gnome and KDE) prove that is possible to develop similar software with much lesser developers (KDE has approximately 3000 contributers, which are not all developers. I don’t know the numbers on Gnome, but I guess it is similar). Only on Vista worked 10.000 developers (according to Microsoft).

An Apple developer also describe the process of the shutdown/logoff feature.

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