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December 96 - Editor's Note

Editor's Note

Caroline Rose

Regular readers of develop may know that, while I always use the latest hardware and software at work, my home system is woefully out of date -- at least it was until I recently upgraded to a Power Mac. The initial setup wasn't too hard, once I got used to flipping back and forth between the manual for the computer, the manual for the monitor, and the online updates; when all else failed, I relied on common sense. But when I moved beyond hardware setup into software installation, it seemed as if I was expected to know much more than I did. The modem software installer, for example, would just name a software module and say "click OK if you want to install this," with no mention of which module(s) provided the basic modem capabilities (which is all I wanted). What to do? I recently had this same feeling while trying to learn a new e-mail application at work: though I immediately saw how to address mail to anyone on any network in the known world with barely a keystroke, I couldn't tell how to simply enter an address for someone here at Apple. In these and many similar cases I've encountered recently, I couldn't figure out how to perform basic application functions without the intervention of an experienced user. The manuals and online help were somewhat helpful, but they were limited by the design of the software, which was the problem in the first place. Common sense was no help at all.

Naturally I griped about this to my "friends in the industry." I think one of them hit the nail on the head when he said the problem is that too many products are being designed by experts who, consciously or not, design for experts. Designing with experts in mind ends up complicating everything, even the features that should be simple. Bud Tribble, when he managed the software group at NeXT, used to tell programmers, "Simple things should be simple, and complex things should be possible." It seems increasingly true these days that designers are trying to make complex things simple, but as a result are making simple things complex. Design by experts for experts is not the answer: developers need to find out what real users want, and focus on their needs.

Is develop guilty of a similar problem? When I looked at the feedback we gathered at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference this year, I noticed that some develop readers are asking for more entry-level articles, saying that a lot of what we publish is over their heads. While we're limited by what types of articles are submitted to us for publication, the develop Review Board does get to say which ones are accepted or not, and the Board is largely made up of "expert" programmers. Do we consequently tend to decide in favor of the more advanced articles? We'll keep an eye out for this from now on.

I often recall the days when Steve Jobs envisioned that the Macintosh would be as easy to use as a home appliance. Sure, we don't want to go back to that first oversimplified product, but maybe we should all ponder whether we've gone a bit too far in the opposite direction. I'd like to believe there' s still a place for common sense.

CAROLINE ROSE (crose@apple.com) has been a Mac enthusiast ever since she started writing the original Inside Macintosh in 1982. After a reorganization that suddenly changed the entire managerial hierarchy above her (up to and including Steve Jobs), she left Apple, but like so many other formerly disgruntled employees, she eventually returned. This year, again, a reorg happened that changed the entire managerial hierarchy above Caroline. At least there's some stability in her home life, where her cat Cleo remains the boss after 15 long years. *

 
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