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The Biggest Usability Bug in Windows

Posted by Bob Warfield on September 9, 2007

There’s an interesting rant over on Dexo that says the biggest usability bug in Windows is how long it takes to boot up.  I’ve got two other thoughts on this:

The second biggest usability bug in Windows is how long it takes it to shut down.  I can’t tell you how many times I started Windows shutting down at work, was in a hurry, left, only to come back in the morning and discover it hadn’t really shutdown.  Sometimes it would be in a weird brain dead limbo state.  More often, some program refused to cooperate and there would be a dialog asking me to confirm I really wanted to shut down.  Usually, that dialog was from Outlook.

Why is this a problem?  Well, it is annoying because you have to deal with it before you can start back up.  But worse, it is a huge security flaw in the whole thing.  Anyone who came along after I had left could sit down tell the dialog they’d made a mistake and be in my computer doing whatever they liked.

My second thought brings us to why this stuff happens at Microsoft (and believe me, we could make a long list of “this stuff” when it comes to usability).  I had an interview with James Allchin one time.  Allchin ran the entire Windows empire and Microsoft was one of those places like Google is these days:  they call and you show up, whether or not you were even looking for a job.  After the usual get acquainted chat, James fired his first pithy question.  Having noted I claimed some user interface expertise, he asked me what Windows biggest usability problem was.

This was in the day of Windows 98, and without hesitation, I stated that I thought the biggest problem was with the setup and configuration of programs.  There were so many little files all over that had to be fiddled with, that were invisible, that contained highly technical programmer syntax, and so on and so on.  Files like the old AUTOEXEC.BAT. 

James sat back in his chair, sucked on his teeth, and pronounced, “That’s not a usability problem.”  I went on to explain I thought the Mac did a much better job with resource files and tried to explain to him why this was a usability problem, but it was to no avail.  We talked for a little while after that, but it was clear the interview was over and I had failed.  It did not even occur to Allchin to think of that as a usability issue and I could not budge his thinking on this.

So it is with booting up and shutting down windows, and don’t even get me started on the new Office 2007 ribbon interface.  Ironically, Windows XP introduced the Registry and the Device Manager, so maybe word did get through at some level.  Never say never!

On the other hand, isn’t it great you don’t deal with anything I mention in this post when using web software?

2 Responses to “The Biggest Usability Bug in Windows”

  1. […] more: The Biggest Usability Bug in Windows Office Security Office […]

  2. […] laconic remark that he wonders what Microsoft Research has been doing all these years echoes my own sentiments posted earlier (and Google isn’t a whole lot better, BTW).  Microsoft doesn’t innovate.  In fact, […]

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