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GUI Graphics Microsoft Apple

The Condescending UI 980

Posted by Soulskill
from the all-i-ask-is-some-text-and-a-blinking-cursor dept.
theodp writes "Paul Miller has some advice for user interface designers: Don't be condescending. 'The Ribbon in Microsoft Office products,' complains Miller, 'is constantly talking down to me, assuming I don't know how to use a menu, a key command, or an honest-to-goodness toolbar.' Miller's got some harsh words for Apple, too: 'And of course, there is the transgression of the century: Apple's downward spiral into overt 1:1 metaphors. The physical bookshelf, the leather desk calendar (complete with a torn page), the false-paginated address book...these new tricks are horrible and offensive [and likened to Microsoft Bob]. They're not only condescending and overwrought, they're actually counter-functional.' So, how does Miller cope while waiting for his UI knight in shining armor? 'I recently switched my Windows 7 install over to the Classic Theme', Miller explains, 'which is basically Windows 95 incarnate, just with all the under-the-hood improvements I've come to rely on. I really like it. It feels right, and if it isn't beautiful, at least it's honest. I wish there was a similar OS 9 mode for OS X.'"
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The Condescending UI

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  • by InsightIn140Bytes (2522112) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:16AM (#38334188)
    Many people like how easy and straightforward Mac OSX is. I didn't like Ribbon first either, but after getting used to it I like it much more than the previous Office UI's. It does take some adjustment if you've used the old ones, but that's true for every kind of change. And people don't like changes, but the truth is, Ribbon is much better interface. It would be stupid to drag using bad interface because old users hate change. Everything is displayed much more clearly. I noticed this especially when I used Office products I haven't really used much before. If I had used them, it was always more work adjusting. But when they were new to begin with, there was no problem. I think Ribbon is still a great idea, especially for non-geeks. I guess they could include both interfaces though, like Opera does (not with Ribbon, but with hiding menu).
    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:25AM (#38334222) Journal

      Many people like how easy and straightforward Mac OSX is

      But how many prefer the 10.7 version of iCal to the 10.6 one? With 10.6 I could quickly skip to any given month. With the 10.7 one, it decides to show me that it's like a real calendar by showing a page-flipping animation on every transition. It turns the sidebar into a pop-up, making inserting and inspecting appointments more difficult. It removes the small calendar display, making navigation harder. The same is true of the 10.7 Address Book. It now looks like a real book (so, once again, slow page-turning animations rather than instance changes) and the two-page metaphor means that you can no longer see groups and individuals at the same time. Using groups to navigate is harder. I was going to say that they'd removed the groups functionality, but on closer inspection it is there just less discoverable and requiring more mouse clicks and more mouse movement to use.

      I agree on the ribbon though - it is a menu, just one that stays open all of the time and presents larger targets. I'm not totally convinced that it's better than menus + toolbar, because the hierarchical nature of it means that you need more mouse clicks and movement to use two actions that are on different menus. The only real complaint about it I have is the amount of screen real-estate it takes up - this is not a problem on a desktop, but Word on a laptop with a smallish screen ends up with less than 50% of the screen usable for actually displaying the document...

      • by InsightIn140Bytes (2522112) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:38AM (#38334302)
        This is why it should be important to have something like Google Analytics for applications. There's already several such solutions for games, like Playtomic [playtomic.com], but there only seems to exist such for mobile applications. This could give app developers and UI designers great information on how exactly users use their application.

        But truth is, users need clear interfaces and sometimes they really need help doing even simplest things. This is why Ribbon is better for new users, and design goal Apple has too. I own several websites and we use heatmaps to determine how users navigate and where they click on site, collectively. Things like that provide good information on how optimize applications or services.
        • by hjf (703092) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:21AM (#38335012) Homepage

          Carrier IQ?

        • by epyT-R (613989) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @12:26PM (#38335976)

          unfortunately, this attitude of 'we must make it as simple as possible for new users' is quite prevalent today. this newage fisher price UI crap puts a cap on the user's potential with the machine by preventing the application from growing with his skill. While it might make things a tad easier initially, the user doesn't get a chance to learn more of the skills and processes needed to get more adept at getting what he wants. I think the society groupthink needs to relearn the old 'you get out of it what you put into it' adage...and we should accept that sometimes it's best to tell people to RTFM if they lack remedial skills. idiotproofing is a stupid race to the bottom.

          • by DragonHawk (21256) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @02:53PM (#38337162) Homepage Journal

            From a classic Usenet "Computing Dictionary":

            Easy to learn: Hard to use.

            Easy to use: Hard to learn.

            Easy to learn and use: Won't do what you want it to.

            I'd call it a joke, but it's really rather apt. In most cases, there are trade-offs involved in UI designs. Make something flexible and powerful -- letting people do more -- and you necessarily make it more complicated, and harder to use. The more obvious and straight-forward you make a UI, the less you can pack into it.

            Designing things that fit multiple user experience levels, and which transition cleanly, is hard.

            This is one of the things I think the classic pull-down menu + toolbar paradigm does well. Sort things into categories, so like items are grouped. The accelerator keys for each menu item are highlighted, so as an intermediate step, you can remember (V)iew, (Z)oom, Whole (P)age. And shortcut keys are also displayed, so very frequently used commands give one the opportunity to remember something like [CTRL]+[0]. With icons next to the menu commands, you have an alternative shortcut for the mouse visually or mouse inclined.

            Sadly, some people campaign actively against this kind of design, which facilities both novice and expert users. One complaint I read is that a Product Manager at Microsoft didn't like the underlined letters, saying novice users don't understand why letters are randomly underlined. While true, it also didn't really hurt them any. Meanwhile, removing the underlined letters prevents people who wish to do better from inquiring and improving themselves.

            An advantage to GUIs is it lets those so inclined explore functionality. Hiding things removes that advantage. That's a loss.

            • by Gr8Apes (679165) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @11:54PM (#38340288)

              I can honestly say that I personally despise the Ribbon menu. Everything is moved, and nothing is obvious. It feels like every other MS menu change: a reason to have a new training class and certification test for "learning" what you already new, just in a new layout that makes little sense in comparison to the "old" one. Regarding ribbon, there's crap on the main "menu" that I never use, and stuff I do is buried. Fortunately, for me, MS Office products are an ever lower frequency used item, to the point I pretty much can ignore the entire toolset of late. I only need it occasionally when an alternative doesn't work, but even then it's painful.

          • by cjb658 (1235986) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @03:22PM (#38337356) Journal

            As much as I like the eye candy newer GUIs provide, I miss the old days when you had to be smart to use a computer. Sigh...

            Unfortunately, computing is going to be like TV - if you want to maximize profit, you cater to the lowest common denominator. Hopefully Linux will continue to be Team Discovery Channel.

            • by Galestar (1473827) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @05:34PM (#38338228)

              Hopefully Linux will continue to be Team Discovery Channel.

              requiring 20 manual edits to conf files and 3 commands with 15 switches, all just to install something is not exactly what I'd call "good user interface design" either.

              • by oursland (1898514) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:40PM (#38338928)
                If we're busy discussing how horrible software used to be, let's not forget how much a pain in the ass it was to install and use DOS software with all those switches (seriously, I have to specify IO port and IRQ to the audio devices?!) or DLL hell brought on by Windows. Or, you know, you could talk about software as it currently exists. You don't have to manually edit conf files and install things on the command line with modern distributions these days.
              • by CAIMLAS (41445) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:20PM (#38339472) Homepage

                Users were never supposed to be allowed to 'install' anything, though.

                And if you're having a hard time editing a string in a text file, I suggest something my be wrong with you, not with the system. It's not like editing text files is something new or novel.

                That said, you're grossly over-exagerating. You're not just stalling "something" you're either installing something incorrectly, or something esoteric not in repositories.

            • by forkazoo (138186) <wrosecrans AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday December 11, 2011 @07:55PM (#38339028) Homepage

              Unfortunately, computing is going to be like TV - if you want to maximize profit, you cater to the lowest common denominator. Hopefully Linux will continue to be Team Discovery Channel.

              You want the Linux UI to be based on occasionally shooting a cannon at people? Or, you want somebody to fork Linux and make it only ever print messages about weddings and such?

          • by Grishnakh (216268) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @04:43PM (#38337920)

            The other problem I see is this constant striving to make digital metaphors for physical objects. For instance, from the article summary: "The physical bookshelf, the leather desk calendar (complete with a torn page), the false-paginated address book." For someone who's 80 years old, sure, metaphors to these things might make use of a computer easier since they can compare to things they're already used to. For someone 30 or under, however, it's dumb: how many people under the age of 40 have a paper address book? I haven't had one of those in ages, and I'm sure younger people have never had one and wouldn't know what to do with one, since they keep all that information on their phones now. A leather desk calendar? WTF is this, 1890? Do they even make those things any more? And even physical bookshelves are rapidly disappearing thanks to ebooks and simply looking everything up on the internet.

            What are they going to do next, replace the print queue manager icons, so instead of a picture of a laser printer, when you print a document it shows you a fancy (and slow) animation of a Gutenberg printing press?

      • by DJRumpy (1345787) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:58AM (#38334422)

        The calendar has a Go To Date functioning the menus under the View menu (Shift + Command + T). It goes directly to the month, or day in question without having to switch through various months.

        On the address book, if you double clip the bookmark ribbon (placeholder) graphics, you can see both contacts and groups in the left pane (Command + 3), although selecting one or the other will show you that specific view in the right side (Command +1, Command + 2, & Command + 3 toggle these views respectively).

        I actually prefer my groups to be partitioned from my general contacts, but as with all things, everyone has their own opinion as to what is functional and what is fluff.

        • by JoeMerchant (803320) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @05:12PM (#38338100)

          You know, I've been using computers 8+ hours a day for 25+ years now, and I don't give a damn what sub-sub-menu spock pinch hot key this week's latest incarnation of calendar uses to do the same damn thing I have expected a calendar program to do since 1991's Sidekick.

          I especially don't care that I can spend 3 hours learning how to and executing a reconfiguration of my latest desktop software to make its UI almost mimic the program I used to use last week. I move from machine to machine, OS to OS throughout the day, Windows 7, XP, Vista, OS-X 10.4, 10.3.9 and 10.7, iOS 4 and 5, and a couple of flavors of Ubuntu. I don't have the time, or inclination to set each and every one of these machines up so that they are familiar to me. When a new one comes around, I just want the damn thing to work, in a non-mysterious fashion. For every "improvement" that has come down the pike, there have been a half dozen changes for the sake of change - my favorite was the "Apollo" OS - very similar to Sun, it was Unix, with all the commands renamed and options rearranged for no particular reason.

          The path of least resistance is to grin, bear it, and get on with it. I still wish that programming editors would get back to the simplicity of Brief with its easy to use column text selection (yes, most editors have an Alt-mouse click version, which sucks by comparison), but even if I had that in one editor, it still wouldn't be present in the 3 others that I have open at the same time.

          So, if you're a "new" ui designer, really really think about taking a look back at what worked 20 years ago - ask yourself if what you're planning is truly any better, or just different, for your users. If it's different, deduct 10% usability points for the required learning curve, and, don't kid yourself, your app will be replaced soon enough.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:10AM (#38334508)

        I'm not defending the ribbon, but as for the screen real estate issue with Ribbon, you can improve that by double clicking on the "Home" tab (or any other tab). The meat of the ribbon will be hidden, and now it's more like a good ol menu (gosh!!). Double-clicking on Home again restores the ribbon to it's full, bloated glory.

      • by Half-pint HAL (718102) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:55AM (#38334820)

        I agree on the ribbon though - it is a menu, just one that stays open all of the time and presents larger targets. I'm not totally convinced that it's better than menus + toolbar, because the hierarchical nature of it means that you need more mouse clicks and movement to use two actions that are on different menus. The only real complaint about it I have is the amount of screen real-estate it takes up - this is not a problem on a desktop, but Word on a laptop with a smallish screen ends up with less than 50% of the screen usable for actually displaying the document...

        Also, we've all widescreens these days, and under the ribbons, everything looks really claustrophobic and letterboxy.

        Anyway, larger targets than what? Because in software with menus, I use keystrokes to get wherever I want to go. The ribbon is the graphical-only endstate of the process that caused Microsoft to drop visual underlining of hot-keys by default: no-one is willing to train anyone to use a computer properly. The average computer worker is woefully underefficient due to relying on mousing to do even simple everyday tasks such as switching between italics and plain typeface, or to send an email, or to lock, log off or switch off a computer.

        The problem is that the ribbon interface has given up the advantages to the true power users in order to make undertrained desk jockeys marginally more efficient.

        • by berashith (222128) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:43AM (#38335144)

          I was doing quite a bit of work in photoshop when widescreen monitors were first appearing. I was happy to be able to undock the menus and place them to the side on the new real estate that the widescreen gave me. My canvas was free for me to work. I havent found many other apps now that allow the interface to be removed, and everything on these damn monitors is compressed. The new ratio isnt new anymore, but no one has decided to actually make things usable within the available size.

      • by BasilBrush (643681) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @12:00PM (#38335754)

        With the 10.7 one, it decides to show me that it's like a real calendar by showing a page-flipping animation on every transition.

        The problem isn't the page turn transition, the problem is the implementation that means that the animation has to finish before the UI will accept another click. A real diary isn't like that. It'll let you bend up the corner of a few pages and then let you turn them together. So actually it's a failure to implement the metaphor well enough, rather than a problem in using the metaphor.

      • by 0100010001010011 (652467) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @12:04PM (#38335782)

        1) Hold down the alt key while flipping between stuff. No animation. (Hold down the shift key for a very slow animation).
        2) Click on year, double click on month.

    • by Kagetsuki (1620613) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:30AM (#38334260)

      Actually I very much agree with him, and I'm a user. I feel like OSX is trying to make me do things with mittens on, the freedom of my bare hands obstructed with a warm fuzzy enveloping layer. And I absolutely disagree that the Ribbon is a better interface as well, I want to know exactly where things are and have them there all the time even if they aren't related to the current context I'm working in.

      I am not however rejecting "new" interfaces - now that there's an extension to add a taskbar to GNOME 3 (shell) and after tweaking it a bit I feel like I can use it more efficiently than GNOME 2 now, and like it. I'm an old user, and though I resisted a bit I'm all for change and I'm enjoying change that lets me take more control and work more efficiently.

      As for the Ribbon and new users, I have clients who hated it so much that when I showed them OO/LibreOffice they immediately switched. That says a lot if you ask me.

    • by DarkOx (621550) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:52AM (#38334374) Journal

      I will agree with you I don't know where all the ribbon hate comes from, at least from a UI perspective. Now the API interface, for it SUCKS, if I wanted to use XML to build my interface, I'd write a browser based app, thank you very much. I don't see the ribbon as being much different from the old toolbar from a user perspective though. If anything its how tool bars would have been if displays had been higher resolution in the past.

      The modern Apple and MS Bob like one to one metaphors are wrong headed. The author is dead on there. It does not scale at all. It works ok for things that have a good one to one metaphor with near universal familiarity, but it falls down for more esoteric things.

      I struggled for nearly a half an hour the other day with an OSX machine. I wanted to add a new certificate to the system wide trusted roots. I have a pretty solid understanding of the functional elements of public key cryptography the stumbling block was entirely UI. I knew what I wanted, but the UI was not easy. First finding the darn thing, then trying to make sense of the really forced key chain metaphor. I suppose the key chain makes sense of user certificates but falls down when it comes to roots and intermediates. Perhaps something like a notary stamp icon would make more sense, but how many users would recognize that? Computers are all about abstraction all the way down, both in terms of what we do with them and how they operate. One to one metaphors don't offer a flexible frame work for things that don't have a physical analog.

        Its terribly inefficient from a developer perspective you have to create a new interface for every task, or its terribly confusing from a user perspective you force something on them that really does not make any sense. It also means that every application is different with its own rules, users can't take knowledge with them from task to task. Not only do they have to know what they want to do, but they have to know the unique mechanics for doing it. Instead of just going ok I want to store my changes, I am sure there is a save command on the file menu, now its um ok I drag the icon to my book shelf?

      • by Half-pint HAL (718102) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:30AM (#38335084)

        In the 20th century, one of the goals in the IT world was "context-less computing" -- ie you shouldn't have to switch "modes" to do different tasks. The ribbon has reintroduced modes in a very clumsy way: the ribbon's idea of "context" is the last section of the ribbon you were using. It doesn't matter what you've been doing since you last used the ribbon. You could have been typing constantly for two hours without touching the ribbons, but they're in the last place you left them. You might have forgotten the context, but the computer hasn't. This leaves you unable to work by instinct, because it's random from the user's perspective what you have to do and when.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:11AM (#38334514)

      To paraphrase you:

      "Ribbon is better, and if you don't like it, that is because you are resisting change"

      I think that's the biggest mistake the designers and proponents of the new UIs are making (mind you, not all of them, but it is widespread to the point of being annoying).

      • by Nursie (632944)

        It's a line with many variants that's used all over the place. Esp. in software departments IMHO. Any criticism of management can always be put down to developer negativity or obstructionism, regardless of actual merit of argument.

      • by quixote9 (999874) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @11:47AM (#38335650) Homepage
        Exactly. And a commenter who shows so little understanding of what condescension is doesn't inspire me to believe that they'd have a clue about which UIs condescend.

        Just for the record, I'm a user who completely agrees with the post. Make it easy for me to customize the UI to suit my workflow = Not Condescending. Shove big shiny buttons at me that mean my work takes more clicks to accomplish = Condescending. (Why, yes, I do hate Unity. Why do you ask?)
    • by Hatta (162192) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:54AM (#38334808) Journal

      Many people like how easy and straightforward Mac OSX is.

      Many people expect and require condescension and don't know what to do when their hand isn't held. That doesn't negate the fact that the UI is in fact condescending.

      • by BasilBrush (643681) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @12:35PM (#38336050)

        Many people expect and require condescension and don't know what to do when their hand isn't held. That doesn't negate the fact that the UI is in fact condescending.

        Interesting use of the words "condescending" and "fact" here. Condescension is a quality of human to human communication. It's subjectively judged by the receiver from the speaker/writer.

        For sure where there's a text message from the the developer to the user such as "You look like you're trying to write a letter, would you like me to..." that would be recognised as condescending by most. But non language based aspects of UIs? I don't think "condescending" can be used there. My microwave oven is easy to use, but "condescending"? That word just doesn't fit.

        But it's a very subjective topic. What the hell is the word "fact" doing in there?

  • Easy and Advanced (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TaoPhoenix (980487) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:21AM (#38334204) Journal

    We're back to this discussion again.

    Unskilled Users (not necessarily new!) like the new Padded Rails simplicity. I have advised a couple of such users now and they really do like things being as "Safari is the internet". They don't know what a web page address is. They just type words into the search bar until it (hopefully!) shows up.

    So if companies would quit playing Proprietary Lockdown games, we really do need "Basic / Advanced" versions of a UI at the click of a button.

    • by buchner.johannes (1139593) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:30AM (#38334258) Homepage Journal

      Experienced users want it the way they got used to.
      Finding interfaces that new computer users can learn quickly and be productive in is difficult (you also need new test subject all the time).
      This story and the GNOME3 discussion on /. seems to be a case of "I want it like it has always been", not being interested in what could be done better. I know new ideas in UI development can make you very productive, a very good example is Mylyn [eclipse.org].

      On a related note, Apple has always used silly analogies ("Desktop", "Trash", Eject by dropping to trash). I hope I offended everyone now.

      • by TheLink (130905) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:19AM (#38334582) Journal
        In my opinion it doesn't have to be the same way people are used to, as long as it can be much faster.

        I'm happy that Apple, Microsoft etc are taking care of the "newbie" users - that's actually a good idea.

        BUT in my opinion they should also provide short-cuts so that skilled/trained users will be able to do things much faster.

        Not everyone remains a "newbie". Being skilled at complex stuff is not beyond normal people. Many gamers can do many actions-per-second. And look at some of the experienced "old-school" supermarket cashiers (who can identify products and enter the correct product codes faster than low-end barcode readers can read a barcode) or those using those "dumb terminals" - using all the short cut keys to jump to various fields/pages to enter the data or search for stuff quickly.

        But what I see nowadays are UIs where you have click/swipe, _WAIT_ for fancy animation, click again, _WAIT_ for fancy animation, then only finally get what you want. That gets old if you already know exactly what you want.

        Any non-idiot can create a UI that allows a user to manage 1-3 windows/items. Give me a UI that allows a normal user to manage magnitudes more than 3 items/tasks easily. One that actually _augments_ humans, rather than gets in their way.

        All those fancy animations and pauses are like those cut-scenes in a game. They are very nice the first few times round, but most skilled/experienced gamers skip them in order to get to the real stuff they want to do.

        In most games, if a weapon/skill that has a long fancy animation before it actually does stuff, it's considered a disadvantage of the weapon/skill by experienced gamers. The same applies for Desktop GUIs.

        A Desktop GUI is crap if even GNU Screen is faster at managing "windows" in the hands of users who are experienced+skilled in both.
      • Re:Easy and Advanced (Score:4, Interesting)

        by stewbacca (1033764) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:26AM (#38334638)

        On a related note, Apple has always used silly analogies ("Desktop", "Trash", Eject by dropping to trash). I hope I offended everyone now.

        Yeah, I'm not sure why everyone is jumping on this one, other than maybe there's an entire generation of "power" users who don't realize the modern desktop's origins stem from the first Macintosh in 1984?

        Maybe it's a tired metaphor, but it can't be that bad since Microsoft copied it. It will be interesting to see where desktop UIs go from here. I bet Win8 is a huge flop, as it tries to be both touch and desktop UI. Instead, I bet both are just poor versions of touch and desktop UIs that exist now.

        • Re:Easy and Advanced (Score:4, Interesting)

          by Ihmhi (1206036) <i_have_mental_health_issues@yahoo.com> on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:36AM (#38335116)

          On a related note, Apple has always used silly analogies ("Desktop", "Trash", Eject by dropping to trash). I hope I offended everyone now.

          Yeah, I'm not sure why everyone is jumping on this one, other than maybe there's an entire generation of "power" users who don't realize the modern desktop's origins stem from the first Macintosh in 1984?

          I'm personally very aware of it. I like to point it out all the time. "Man, check out the original Mac! You could mess with the software, change out hardware, it's awesome! Too bad you won't be able to do any of that pretty soon."

      • by jginspace (678908)

        ... silly analogies ("Desktop", "Trash", Eject by dropping to trash) ...

        Icons for the trash bin, control panel, application shortcuts might be great. But the over-elaboration we see these days - eg calendar complete with torn page - is what the submitter is taking issue with.

      • by Nursie (632944) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:53AM (#38334796)

        The GNOME 3 discussion isn't just on slashdot. The change to GNOME shell even drove Linus away from GNOME.

        The problem with GNOME Shell is that it takes away options. All of them. It promotes some specific programs to indelible places on the screen (e.g. empathy) while relegating all others (e.g. pidgin or other IM clients) to second class status. It also adds complexity. The problem with the GNOME devs is that any argument against any of the decisions they take are met with the same argument you just gave - people are stuck in their ways, we're changing things for the better, you have no vision etc etc. It's not helpful.

        Sure, there are people who will resist change for the sake of it. There are also people who will resist change because it's a productivity hit to switch their way of working, one they're not prepared to take. There's also a third group who have genuine problems with the way things are going. Calling them luddites and putting them with group 1 is not helpful, and makes people (and interfaces!) come across as arrogant. In the case of GNOME they're going to be lucky if they don't lose the majority of their existing user base whilst they go on the search for a mythical new one.

      • Re:Easy and Advanced (Score:4, Interesting)

        by wfstanle (1188751) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @12:51PM (#38336206)

        "Experienced users want it the way they got used to."

        Exactly! Instead of ramming a new GUI down our throats why don't the designers do something radical. When upgrading to a newer version offer the option to continue using the older ("classic") version of a GUI. Newbies will be happy because of all the new eye candy and experienced users can continue using a computer in the way they are used to. Later on, if the new way of doing things isn't just the latest fad and really is better the older users will surely migrate to a new GUI. It's the test of time.

    • by visualight (468005) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:31AM (#38334268) Homepage

      The problem is that if weren't unnecessary abstraction layers and illogical "real world" metaphors there wouldn't *be* any unskilled users. These interfaces not only assume you're ignorant, they *keep* you ignorant.

      The premise that I disagree with is that it's okay for people to go on thinking that "Safari is the internet". This isn't rocket science. Having some basic grasp of a hierarchy, or understanding the concept of a URL would not be difficult if the UI(s) weren't so disconnected from reality.

      • by InsightIn140Bytes (2522112) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:44AM (#38334324)
        It's more ignorant to think that users need to know the underlying system or how URL is formed to use computer or internet. Truth is, no one wants to have to learn things they don't care about. While you may think it's essential for everyone to know how computers operate, many people think otherwise. Likewise, I bet you don't have to learn things you don't care about just to enjoy them. We have almost 7 billion people on earth - we can specialize in things and enjoy all the things world offers but someone has to simplify it for the rest of us so that we have the time to enjoy and use everything. You can't learn everything, and for majority of people computers are just something they want to use, not something they want to learn to understand.
      • Re:Like and Okay (Score:5, Insightful)

        by TaoPhoenix (980487) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:47AM (#38334348) Journal

        It's a difficult problem!

        I remarked that my two Anecdotal Users "liked" that ultra low level understanding of Safari = Internet. I think it's rather disturbing, but I will politely call it the "wide base of learning problem" where any brand new field of information will have a wide swath of extremely confused users in a big circle at the base. These are decent guys who just didn't get the whole Computer Revolution thing, but they're stuck needing to check their email, so that's the best they can do.

        Likewise, don't ask me any car questions. Or road navigation. Or hunting/fishing/golf/_____/____/_____ questions. I'd look equally dumb. Not even Command Line ones! (Oops, is my Geek Cred now at risk? Oh well!)

        However, once I DO know how to do something, the message for companies is "don't take it away later." It's like the story Harrison Bergeron - "Let's move everything around so much that Everyone Becomes Equal because none of the stuff the old power users liked works anymore."

  • by Xugumad (39311) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:21AM (#38334206)

    I've spent a decade in the firing line (developer exposed directly to users), and this goes directly against everything we've heard from the vast majority. Yes, your power users are going to be frustrated by simplified UI, sorry guys, you're not our main audience. The average user does not want to spend time learning the UI, they want to pick up the app, do what they need to do and move on with their life.

    • by InsightIn140Bytes (2522112) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:28AM (#38334250)
      I don't think he has. He sounds like grumpy old guy who just wants to do things the old, especially since he is talking about how Windows Classic theme "just feels right" because he knows how it functions. He just wants to use something he has got used to it, and doesn't even think if it's really better for other users. Having used both, Windows 7 theme is still much better than classic one, especially since it groups windows in task bar and only show icons with a hint of the windows title. When you hover your mouse over the icons, it quickly shows all windows. This is much better design than in the Windows Classic theme where everything was just dumped together.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by zigfreed (1441541)
        He's older than that. You have some powerfully tinted rose-colored goggles if you want OS X to look like OS 9.

        Back then, the Mac desktop was filled up with aliases, you didn't default copy things from disk (you just made 'links'), and the dock was more like a control panel with advertising for whatever you installed. Although his argument could apply to OS 10.7, a user can turn the extra features off.

        With Windows, the 'classic' Windows 7 theme is a lot less usable than a 'tuned' Aero Windows 7 theme.
    • by vlm (69642)

      I've spent a decade in the firing line (developer exposed directly to users), and this goes directly against everything we've heard from the vast majority. Yes, your power users are going to be frustrated by simplified UI, sorry guys, you're not our main audience. The average user does not want to spend time learning the UI, they want to pick up the app, do what they need to do and move on with their life.

      Not anymore. This has been the rallying cry my entire life, from the late mini-era thru the birth of PCs to today. For decades we've been telling ourselves all the growth means "most users will be noobs". All must bow their heads and bend their knees to the whim of the noob because only noobs matter. This cannot go on forever and is changing.

      Standard /. car (err, motorcycle) analogy: Imagine the motorcycle is invented, and its the first form of 2 wheel transportation to exist (no bicycles). Noobs need

    • by geekmux (1040042) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:05AM (#38334464)

      I've spent a decade in the firing line (developer exposed directly to users), and this goes directly against everything we've heard from the vast majority. Yes, your power users are going to be frustrated by simplified UI, sorry guys, you're not our main audience. The average user does not want to spend time learning the UI, they want to pick up the app, do what they need to do and move on with their life.

      And most of us have absolutely no problem with the "For Dummies" theme that's skinned over so many products today.

      The problem isn't even if it's the default look and feel.

      The problem is generated when frustrated (and experienced) users cannot change it to suit their liking.

      And while you may be doing your job to address your "main" audience of "I'm-too-damn-lazy-to-learn", I wonder if they recognize the irony of the downward spiral they're helping perpetuate by forcing you to placate to the masses that continue to lower the bar. You know what they say when you constantly try and make something idiot-proof. Someone usually comes along and builds a better idiot.

      We keep this up, and computers are going to look like Babys first cell phone because people don't want to spend more than 17 seconds learning anything these days.

    • by gbjbaanb (229885) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:08AM (#38334480)

      which is exactly why the new UIs are so poor.

      Remember when Windows first came out, it has menus and every app had the same menu bar. Everything had a file menu that had new/open/print/etc items on it.

      You could open any app and instantly know how to create a new document - because there was the file|new menu item, every time. You'd received training for all apps, instant familiarity, instant productivity.

      Fast forward to today and we have different interfaces for everything. The new UIs with shiny orbs and animated transitions mean you have to figure out where all the new bits are for each app. Then some of them start working differently (eg Excel that has multiple icons in the task bar, but they're all running in a single instance so you close 1 you close them all kind of bo**ocks), and some don't even have menus - well, they have menus, but they're tucked away behind a little coloured icon so they appear when you click it, if you can find the f***er in the first place (eg the new hide-everything-away browser interfaces). The the ribbon comes along (which is a fine toolbar repacement BTW) but is used as a menu replacement too - with loads of bits hidden away in little menus behind tiny ">" icons.

      The old interfaces were fugly, but functional. They made us productive and really that's what is needed for line-of-business apps. No-one really cares that excel looks cool, not when you're typing in the accounts.

    • Training Wheels (Score:5, Insightful)

      by drooling-dog (189103) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:08AM (#38334490)

      I look at it like training wheels on 2-wheel bicycles. They definitely make it easier for a beginner to make it down the driveway and back, but at some point they become a hindrance and you'll want them off.

      This isn't about old geezers pining for the UI they used back in the day; they're used to changing UIs and have been through many. This is about not being able to remove the training wheels, or to get a bike without them.

  • Wait. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by knuthin (2255242) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:21AM (#38334210) Homepage

    No mention of Unity? It has been made to look worse than the ribbon these days (by techwriters).

    Also one could comment on UI on websites, webapps, phone apps. The author didn't seem to mind them at all, though they are the ones that successfully annoy the shit out of me.

  • by Compaqt (1758360) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:25AM (#38334224) Homepage

    ... is what a lot of Slashdotters have been saying over the past few years/months regarding the weird new direction of Ubuntu/Gnome: It's not that they've made it simpler to do what you were doing before (as in Program Manager to Start Menu), but rather you can't get there from here. It's actively and actually harder to do stuff you used to take for granted before.

  • by decora (1710862) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:29AM (#38334256) Journal

    it's not condescending. it assumes you have memorized dozens of little one-letter commands.

  • by overshoot (39700) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:46AM (#38334336)
    In office products and other general computing tasks, performance/productivity isn't really very important. It's much more important to be "friendly," whatever "friendly" means to the people making buying decisions (often the ones running the help desk.)

    When performance is important, you get a different picture. For instance, how many FPS games have a ribbon-type interface for weapon selection? FPS is probably the single most performance-emphasizing part of general computing, so there may be a lesson or two to be found there.

  • by vlm (69642) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:53AM (#38334382)

    Miller's got some harsh words for Apple, too: 'And of course, there is the transgression of the century: Apple's downward spiral into overt 1:1 metaphors. The physical bookshelf, the leather desk calendar (complete with a torn page), the false-paginated address book...these new tricks are horrible and offensive [and likened to Microsoft Bob]. They're not only condescending and overwrought, they're actually counter-functional.

    Why is amazon.com cool, and apple junk?

    If the design teams were switched, I would imagine the worlds biggest online retailer would be something like second life, no "grep" or "search" just have to walk endlessly around a virtual walmart, standing in virtual lines at the checkout counter, trying to sign virtual credit card receipt after being handed it by virtual slacker teen by waving the mouse around to make cursive signature, and empty because no one uses it, no one would ever put up with that garbage. If a website tried anything that stupid, it would be insta-replaced by a slightly more intelligent website. God only knows what stock trading websites would look like if OS UI designers made them. Imagine if /. were designed by the same gang of idiots, we'd have a cork background and have to use MS-Paint with virtual dry erase markers to hand draw our comments and then push pins inserted with mouse gestures. Overall, website UIs are much better than OS UIs, because they have to be.

    I would theorize that the cost of setting up a computer OS and hardware business creates so much friction that competition cannot create a better UI. Sure, I could trivially do better than MS or Apple or Unity, but I cannot afford to try, so we get junk.

    You want to see the future of OS UIs, go to websites. The future looks a lot like the google homepage, or Amazon.

    I have the technology and skills to make a website UI as bad as an OS UI, but I'm not dumb enough to try it because market forces would crush me. Won't happen to multibillion dollar multinational corporations, so thats why their products are trash.

  • by TuringTest (533084) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:56AM (#38334404) Journal

    The best advice I've found for thinking about user interfaces is by CS. De Souza, the author of the
    Semiotics of Human-Computer Interaction [google.com]. She calls the interface a 'design deputy', meaning that the interface is to be seen as a message from the designer saying "this is what I know of you and what I think will serve you best".

    The most the designer knows about the users, the better tailored the interface will be. A designer may indeed be condescending when giving that message if she doesn't really know enough about the targeted user.

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:57AM (#38334410) Homepage

    And that is the problem.

    Every single Iteration of Linux or Windows creates a ball of confusion for everyone. Microsoft starts hiding things, moving things, or WORSE, re-naming things.

    Honestly, if you put in consistency so that a person looking for system tools like. Updates, Software Manager, Hardware Manager, etc.. It's easy to find.

    But the latest iteration of Ubuntu and Mint, it's easier to drop to a shell and type sudo apt-get update than it is to find the farking Update manager.
    In windows, Add and remove programs is now renamed. And unless you change away from the "idiot at the wheel mode" of control panel you will have a bugger of a time finding it.

    Microsoft renames and reshuffled everything to force their certifications to be updated every release, but the Linux people have ZERO excuse for making thing confusing as hell by renaming and putting something important like Update Manager Under "Menu,Other" It fricking goes under Menu,System... Anyone in charge of layout in Mint that put it in "other" needs to be beaten with a sack of doorknobs until they lose consciousness.

    It seems we have entered into the era of change for the sake of change and not for the sake of better. I honestly am waiting for Windows to rename "control panel" to "shiny stuff" in windows 9.0

    • by vlm (69642) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:21AM (#38334602)

      I honestly am waiting for Windows to rename "control panel" to "shiny stuff" in windows 9.0

      With the long term trend in the groupthink arena toward icon-ization, we are nearing the point where there will no longer be words or names. The inability to discuss the interface is an advantage for marketing, to some extent. It is 1984 new-speak like.

      So, click on the shiny ball (color depends on your local theme). Then click on the paradichlorobenzene molecule, don't know what that is, well tough cookies. Then click on the smiley face. Ta da you're now upgraded. Whatever you do, don't click on the icon that looks like two mating centipedes. And the Cthulhu icon, thats not a good choice either. Who knows what any of this will do, and if it doesn't do what you wanted it to do, thats because you're using it wrong; the user is always to be blamed either for being too much of a power user or too much of a noob. Our UI did great in the focus groups; everyone knows focus groups are never wrong; after all they brought us Palin, Hillary, and Britney Spears; our UI is proven perfect QED.

      Think about even simple stuff like replacing the "my pr0n" directory with a wordless ribbon-like icon... we probably won't be able to agree on an icon of exactly what body part, nor agree on female or male, nor even what species.

  • Indeed (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lightknight (213164) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @08:59AM (#38334424) Homepage

    That appears to be the focus of GUIs these days.

    A well-designed GUI is fast, efficient, user-friendly, and conveys the maximum amount of information possible to the user without overloading the user's senses.

    Many GUIs these days fail to do this. Why? Many reasons, which I will now list:

    1.) The CLI Guys -> these people believe the command-line interface is that cat's ass. Anything that can be done with a GUI can be done with a CLI, plus it works with pipes! What's not to like?
    2.) The Artists -> these people think that a GUI is a social commentary on the growth of the computing industry and mankind's adjustment to technology. They treat every GUI like it should belong in an art gallery somewhere, and their work tends to resize like sh*t. Elements are not anchored correctly, discerning what is an clickable element and what is just an image / background may take several moments and a careful read of the online help manual. Look for navy blue text (size 8) on a royal blue background.
    3.) The LCDs -> these people create GUIs for the lowest common denominator. They assume that the user is an absolute idiot, and make even the smallest configuration changes go through a 15-page wizard. The greatest experience an IT professional can feel is setting this program up correctly once, and never having to run one of those wizards again.
    4.) The Minimalists -> these people are like the CLI guys, but they decided to include a half-broken GUI just to tease you into thinking that you won't be spending several hours looking through various usenet posts looking for the proper flag to launch the GUI with. The GUI will be extremely simple, with a poor design and badly labeled elements (the checkbox with a non-descriptive name or in a few instances, no name), which includes a link to the manual explaining a highly comprehensive scripting system for anything more complex.

       

  • by stewbacca (1033764) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:13AM (#38334536)

    This article is terrible.

    People don't like the ribbon because it sucks, not because it's condescending. It makes doing the job HARDER for both new users AND experienced users.

    The bookshelf/faux leather metaphor is simply that. It has no functionality. It doesn't get in the way, so it's a complete non-issue. It is slightly offensive to anyone with a design-sense, but the world doesn't end because of it.

    The fact that geeks like this author feel like they are being talked down to is why the millions of other non-geeks call us geeks. Computers aren't the sole domain for us. Companies have to make money, and when there are millions of more computer-challenged customers than experts like this guy, so they'll make their product for them. The fact this guy is mad about that tells me somebody should give him a Linux build.

    • by Livius (318358)

      "People don't like the ribbon because it sucks, not because it's condescending."

      I always understood it to be both. There's an argument to be made that the condescension is the root cause of the other problems.

  • by Zaphod-AVA (471116) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:19AM (#38334576)

    I want to break into their houses, and take all of their possessions out of their closets and drawers and nail them shut. Then I'll lay all their stuff out in piles sorted by type and leave a note that says "There! Now you can find all of your stuff more easily! Have Fun!"

  • by jon3k (691256) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:22AM (#38334610)
    If the poster is so "advanced" he should know he can hide the ribbon and use keyboard shortcuts.
  • by Kjella (173770) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:25AM (#38334632) Homepage

    Apple's downward spiral into overt 1:1 metaphors. The physical bookshelf, the leather desk calendar (complete with a torn page), the false-paginated address book

    Only part of the population can think abstractly. The exact percentage differs somewhat depending on what standard you use, but about 40 to 60% of the population is able to think using purely abstract models in well developed countries, without a good education far less. The rest may be very smart if they're dealing with physical objects or people, but the less it works like the "real world" the more lost they get. I've noticed this myself with simple cubes for reporting. Once you pass three dimensions that you can draw up physically, people start to zone out. Programming is dark magic, as is writing an SQL query - for me I'm just making an abstract skeleton where "The hip bone is connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone is connected to the leg bone" and so on.

    In theory, that sounds like a huge market but just because they can do it with some effort, doesn't mean it comes easily to people. The people that can easily, effortlessly think in the abstract and would like to do it in their daily computing is probably in the single digit range. And most of them are here on slashdot and swear by the CLI, which is the ultimate in abstraction. No graphical hints, no feedback, just type in a command and abstractly understand what it and any switches you apply will do, particularly if you daisy chain it though sed, awk and grep. You might argue that there should be a middle ground here where the UI is both powerful and easy to understand, but the people on either side aren't going to see it that way.

    • by joh (27088) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:39AM (#38335130)

      Apple's downward spiral into overt 1:1 metaphors. The physical bookshelf, the leather desk calendar (complete with a torn page), the false-paginated address book

      Only part of the population can think abstractly. The exact percentage differs somewhat depending on what standard you use, but about 40 to 60% of the population is able to think using purely abstract models in well developed countries, without a good education far less. The rest may be very smart if they're dealing with physical objects or people, but the less it works like the "real world" the more lost they get.

      And even those who *can* think using abstract models often just don't know that they can profit from things like an application having a unique design and style. Yes, things like fake pages and leather looks are just cosmetics, but they can make an app or a window look familiar and instantly recognizable among others.

      Try it: use Expose in OS X and have only apps with "clean" UIs open -- they all look the same when zoomed out. The false-paginated address book still looks like an address book even at thumbnail size and you can find it without even trying.

      Not everything that looks silly actually is silly.

  • by devent (1627873) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @09:39AM (#38334704) Homepage

    It's a shame you can't just change the desktop on Windows or OSX to something what you like. I would say the most best feature of Linux is KDE4 and it would be very nice for me to have the same desktop on Windows. Yes, you can install KDE for Windows, but it's not the same because the ugly and useless Windows desktop is still there.

    PS: to not to start a flame war, please replace KDE with your favorite desktop, like Gnome or Xfce.

  • right (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tom (822) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:00AM (#38334866) Homepage Journal

    While I don't agree to all his details, the general point is strong and true.

    One of the things that I have learnt to hate about all the recent MS Windows interfaces is how it tries to outsmart me. Not having used an option for a while? It'll hide it from you, so all the things that you need only rarely you always have to go and hunt around for. And I won't say anything about the "ribbons" interface, because there's not a single positive word I could say about it.

    I also see the same trend in websites recently. Dumbing down and pseudo-smart seems the new trend. I long for my Unix commandline, where the system assumes I know what I'm doing and considers its two main jobs to be: a) do what I tell it to do and b) get out of my way as much as possible.

    The computer interface is important, very important in fact. But not in and for itself. So let's kick all those artsy people and the managers and idiots out of user interface design and put some actual designers in charge again.

  • by AbRASiON (589899) * on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:21AM (#38335016) Journal

    I haven't been switched yet but I have briefly tried them.

    Holy ......... what a mess, or rather - what a ridiculously over-clean, sparse user interface. Minimalism for the sake of minimalism. No lines to define where one item begins and another ends, worse shading and use of colours to identify rows / columns / boxes / sections. The entire thing is designed by committee. The old one feels like it was designed by technical people with design skills. Now it feels it's designed by designers with technical lackeys to perform the work.

    The entire thing is more difficult to use and slows people down, a complete step backwards.
    Sorry for the language here but this picture I've made was designed for another forum. Including the file name.
    http://chattypics.com/files/newcalendarisfucked_4ynyf5yix1.jpg [chattypics.com]
    I've outlined why the original one is better, it's designed logically and well themed, the colours match with gradients of light / dark depending on heading / menu / etc - there's simple, clean lines seperating items (which should be damned well seperated)
    Etc

    User interfaces seem to be generally getting worse and worse, it's quite unfortunate.

  • by Culture20 (968837) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @10:25AM (#38335048)
    I personally like clicking on a vague icon and not knowing what will happen. It's thrilling.
  • by master_p (608214) on Sunday December 11, 2011 @12:52PM (#38336224)

    The people like me who complain on the Ribbon are not old geezers that cannot adjust themselves to the new way of doing things. There are legitimate reasons for complaining.

    The Ribbon is actually worse than menus and toolbars because it forces the user to do more clicks than menus and toolbars. For example, if you make a piece of text bold, then you add a table, you have to click the 'home' tab in order to be able to change the font again. With toolbars, everything was on the screen all the time, you didn't have to click tabs.

    Furthermore, the tabs of the Ribbon make it difficult to memorize where everything is. With toolbars, you could arrange them in such a way that you always had the same picture in front of you, which means you could memorize the interface much easier.

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