Friday, February 09, 2007

I often wonder what could be done to simplify applications and desktop environments, such as Windows, GNOME, KDE, OSX etc. What is it about applications and DEs that annoys me? What could be done to make using them more enjoyable? What will simplify my workflow?

When I write a new email in Outlook, the toolbar has 21 buttons available. Twenty one! I don't send HTML emails, only plain text, so at least twelve of those are unnecessary. I always use keyboard shortcuts for copying, cutting and pasting. That frees up another three buttons.

I use Outlook at work - I receive far too many emails each day and never organise them into folders. I can sort my inbox by date received or the name of the sender. Outlook kindly groups emails into dates: "Today", "Yesterday". "Last Week" and "Last Month". I find this extremely useful as it provides a visual distinction that reduces the time I spend looking for older emails. I sometimes organise folders - most of them are labelled "Archive 2006 Q2" and so forth. So I guess I am lazy, but am I lazy because I want to be or because Outlook isn't helping me make the most of my time? Am I disorganised because "I am" or because Outlook requires too much effort to stay organised? I'm guessing mostly the former though organising folders and dragging and dropping emails info folders is painful when my folder hierarchy is too long to fit onto the screen.

Applications and DEs try to be all things to all people. Is this is a good thing or can functionality and configurability be reduced to reduce complexity?


Anonymous said...

Have you tried OS X? I'm using Mac Mail and I count 7 buttons on the toolbar with *almost* the same functionality as Outlook :)

What I like about OS X is that it doesn't terrify you - but at the same time the heavy weight features are there if you poke around. iWork is classic example of this, as soon as you open an application from this suite up for the first time, you think "this isn't going to get anywhere near Word/Excel etc." but the functionality is there and it is easy to use.

Most applications (in particular the 'Pro' apps) seem to favour the use of key presses rather than button bars for extended features and although they do take time to memorise, it does help in keeping the interface clear. Since I moved to OS X from Windows I am using key presses a lot more - and I like it. Almost like stepping back to a DOS app...

Andy Middleditch

Mike said...

I haven't used Mac Mail, but from what few screenshots I've seen the interface is nicely simplified. Hopefully one day I'll be able to buy a Mac!