I'd like to talk for a moment about our products and their general style. I've spent some time recently using other people's software packages and fooling around with some new product ideas, and it's clear that many of the things we talked about happening three years ago have happened. The micro software business has become very professional very rapidly. The standards for user interfaces and ease of use have risen extremely rapidly. I'd like to talk a bit about some of the implications of this.
Why do we make clunky user interfaces? I think that some of our much-vaunted ``mainframe approach'' to software may be leading us into some poor decisions in the current environment. We always build software to be easily ported, machine independent, and easy to maintain and enhance. These are things much to be desired and unqualifiedly good, as long as there is no cost to the user. If ease of development or support imposes a performance, convenience, or learning cost upon the customer, this must be looked at as a tradeoff, not decided preemptively in favour of the developer.
I would invite you to spend 5 hours using a program Dan Drake turned me on to, ``Managing Your Money'' by MECA. This is a $120 program of extraordinary complexity. I would rate its connectivity and integration as approaching AutoCAD. It fills three discs. You have to read about three pages of manual to get started on it, and it contains hundreds of pages of intelligent, useful, and witty on-line assistance. All response is absolutely instantaneous. No error is fatal. You can always back up.
I think our tendency is to adhere to the reggae rule of ``all killer, no filler'' in designing our programs. We tend to eschew user interface ``fireworks'' such as instantaneous screen updates, fill-in-the-forms data entry, pop-up menus, and function keys in favour of solid, well engineered but prosaic programs.
This is one of the assumptions we should question.
How long are users going to accept a product which requires mastery of a 300 page manual? In a market which is dominated by IBM and compatibles, what is the opportunity cost of not deriving greater advantages by tailoring to these machines? Should we do a Macintosh or Atari product? I don't have the answers to these questions. But I think we have to consider them.
Editor: John Walker