The funeral home can’t play MP3′s

Funny, when we got to the funeral home Alberta (my mom's best friend and minister at today's events) was playing music through a boom box at the front of the room. Later she explained to me why she wasn't using the much more sophisticated sound system built into the funeral home: they couldn't play MP3s.

Turns out she had a bunch of my mom's church music on various CDs that were made on computers. Another reason she didn't use it? It was too complex. Later I went back and looked at it. It indeed was far more complex than the boom box.

That reminded me again of two principles software engineers should ask ourselves. 1) Can it do what we need it to do? 2) Is it simple to use? I understand how those two can sometimes be in conflict. It's why a professional camera has a lot more complexity than point-and-shoot cameras. Lately inside Microsoft we've been arguing out some of our decisions on how complex to make interfaces. These aren't easy things to solve. Make something easy and it might not be useful. The problem is that you have to decide what market to go after. If you aim a camera design at the mass market it better be simple, because that's what nine out of 10 photographers want. But, there's 10% that need more features. Leave those features out (like manual shutter speeds and exposure overrides) and you'll lose the pros. Not every product can be as simple as an iPod. Sometimes we forget that, which is why I ask product designers "what's your philosophy?"

I just saw this article over on TechDirt about how complex our cell phones are becoming. Yeah, I've seen people walk into stores and say "I just want a cell phone, no email or Web or anything like that." But, then, I look at my own phone and how much I've come to love its ability to do other things. I would never give that up. It has changed my world and I think that over the next 18 months will provide more technological change than any other device (the Xbox is cool, but if you gave me a choice between a new Xbox or a new cell phone, I would take the cell phone in a second).

The experience at the funeral home reminded me too of just how much our lives had changed due to technology. Would Alberta know what an MP3 file is just a few years ago? I doubt it.

Regarding the services, the day was beautiful and the services were interesting and moving. I found myself thinking that I love living in America where you can practice any religion you want. And my mom and her community sure practices a form of religion I doubt many of you would recognize. Heck, I don't recognize it.

Another funny moment? A cell phone started playing a song in the middle of the ceremonies. If my mom were there that would have earned a dirty look. Instead Maryam gave me a dirty look for giggling (after biting her own lip for starting to giggle herself).

Later she told me how in Iran giggling at a funeral is a big sin. A no-no. I told her that my mom didn't want us to be sad at her funeral, so I found it helpful when that cell phone went off.

When I got back to my mom's house I found I wanted to get back on my computer to get back in touch with the world. There the harsh reality reminded me of what awaits when I get home. 469 emails. Yikes. I haven't been answering email much for two weeks.

One of the first things I did was check in with Dave Winer's blog. He's writing about the O'Reilly Web 2.0 service mark controversy. That led me to Tim O'Reilly, who groused about bloggers' lack of professionalism. I've been thinking about similar things a lot. What are my responsibilities as a blogger? Did I sign up to do the equivilent of the New York Times here? How do I keep true to myself in a world that values (and uses) those who have audiences.

It's why I was depressed a month ago, though. The idea that my blog had become a media property or something I had to do. Or something I had to do a specific way.

I'm glad I went through this personal time after my mom's stroke. It helped me refocus on what's important and what my blog means to me. This blog is mine. It is what I'm thinking about, and what I'm seeing in my life. It isn't a news article. I am not vetted. It isn't done by a committee. I am not being held to any standards.

On the other hand, I don't like the lynch mob. It's going to take a strong blogger to stand up against hundreds of blogs who are urging action one way. But, we need that kind of diversity of ideas if we are going to make this a truly strong media.

It's important for me to say that when the lynch mob isn't aimed at me, either. I might end up at the focus point of such a mob in the future, so hope that someone would stand up for me in such a time.

One last thing before I sign off for the night and start driving with Maryam back to Washington: thank you for putting up with me for the past two weeks. Sorry for not answering my email. Sorry to my coworkers for increasing your workloads as I focused more on my family.

I'm looking forward to getting back and thinking more about the technology business again. My experiences these two weeks demonstrate that what we do is important. Even in a funeral home.

Comments

  1. Robert, it doesn’t have to be either or. You don’t have to try to make one perfect interface. For one, you can’t, it’s a chimera. For anotheer, when you serve two masters, neither is terribly happy with you.

    There’s nothing wrong with an uber-phone for those who want or need one. I’m certainly not going to say that a complex phone is bad. Hell, *your* phone is too simple for my needs or uses. But, there are people who have simple needs and want a simple UI. Now, you could try to create some monster thing with checkboxes for “advanced” , “simple”, “get me a pizza”, etc.

    Or, you can just make multiple models of phone. That works real well too.

    Same thing with UI. I’m still working to properly articulate what bugs me about Office 2007, but it boils down to: you cannot be all things to all people.

    When you try to have one UI that does everything for everyone, you’re going to fail. Not may, not could, but will. Of course everything can’t be an iPod. But it also can’t be a hasselblad. This is one area where Microsoft’s retreat from a solid command line has hurt it. A command line UI is inherently an “expert” UI. That allows the GUI to be simpler, and very heavily targeted at that 90%. The other 10 have an option…the command line.

    That’s something that Microsoft still hasn’t learned how to do well yet, and the need for a “Quick Access Toolbar” due to the lack of easy Ribbon customization in the prefs shows this.

  2. Robert, it doesn’t have to be either or. You don’t have to try to make one perfect interface. For one, you can’t, it’s a chimera. For anotheer, when you serve two masters, neither is terribly happy with you.

    There’s nothing wrong with an uber-phone for those who want or need one. I’m certainly not going to say that a complex phone is bad. Hell, *your* phone is too simple for my needs or uses. But, there are people who have simple needs and want a simple UI. Now, you could try to create some monster thing with checkboxes for “advanced” , “simple”, “get me a pizza”, etc.

    Or, you can just make multiple models of phone. That works real well too.

    Same thing with UI. I’m still working to properly articulate what bugs me about Office 2007, but it boils down to: you cannot be all things to all people.

    When you try to have one UI that does everything for everyone, you’re going to fail. Not may, not could, but will. Of course everything can’t be an iPod. But it also can’t be a hasselblad. This is one area where Microsoft’s retreat from a solid command line has hurt it. A command line UI is inherently an “expert” UI. That allows the GUI to be simpler, and very heavily targeted at that 90%. The other 10 have an option…the command line.

    That’s something that Microsoft still hasn’t learned how to do well yet, and the need for a “Quick Access Toolbar” due to the lack of easy Ribbon customization in the prefs shows this.

  3. I have been talking about this for the last few years. It is the interface and how we access the application, hardware or service that makes something worth owning.

    This was one of the things that attracted me to blogging in the first place. Most of the mainstream tools out there are really simliar(Nucleus, Bloglines..). I found that back in the day programming a website to post some simple html took too long and really wasn’t an efficient use of my time. Now good heavens, post something, upload a picture, provide a link it is all much more straight forward and make sense.

    I am currently using Vista as my main PC. I think they have buried a couple of items that for me need to be right up front. Network Center has only added layers of “&*^(” that I don’t care about and picture writing howto manuals for changing settings just got more complicated. Normal Clients will be totally confused, heck they will probally never find where to enable/disable network settings.

    As for your comments of giggling at a funeral. I lost a good friend (father figure) several years ago. He was in his late 40′s, too soon to die. Any ways, we are at the service and I was sitting next to my brother-in-law when we both looked at each other and started laughing.

    My friend was for the most part one of this people who was happy a majority of the time and in someway (not to be weird) we felt his presents and it was like he wanted us to be happy and laugh.

    It was really tough, I would bite my lip, then look over at my bro and he was crying, then he would start laughing and it was really hard to control ourselves but in the end we layed to rest someone who was a good person and wanted people to be happy.

  4. I have been talking about this for the last few years. It is the interface and how we access the application, hardware or service that makes something worth owning.

    This was one of the things that attracted me to blogging in the first place. Most of the mainstream tools out there are really simliar(Nucleus, Bloglines..). I found that back in the day programming a website to post some simple html took too long and really wasn’t an efficient use of my time. Now good heavens, post something, upload a picture, provide a link it is all much more straight forward and make sense.

    I am currently using Vista as my main PC. I think they have buried a couple of items that for me need to be right up front. Network Center has only added layers of “&*^(” that I don’t care about and picture writing howto manuals for changing settings just got more complicated. Normal Clients will be totally confused, heck they will probally never find where to enable/disable network settings.

    As for your comments of giggling at a funeral. I lost a good friend (father figure) several years ago. He was in his late 40′s, too soon to die. Any ways, we are at the service and I was sitting next to my brother-in-law when we both looked at each other and started laughing.

    My friend was for the most part one of this people who was happy a majority of the time and in someway (not to be weird) we felt his presents and it was like he wanted us to be happy and laugh.

    It was really tough, I would bite my lip, then look over at my bro and he was crying, then he would start laughing and it was really hard to control ourselves but in the end we layed to rest someone who was a good person and wanted people to be happy.

  5. 9 out of 10 Photographers don’t want simple, they want a camera that allows them the flexibility to do what they want, when they want, be it simple or complex. It’s “people that want to take pictures” that want simple. And that’s likely 10 out of 10. There is a difference between “people that want to take pictures” and “photographers”. John is right, you can’t be all things to all people, which is why there are different form factors for cameras.

    I’m not sure it’s necessarily either/or. Take the cell phone, for example. Factoring out cost, even your cell phone can fill the needs of the person that “just wants to make a phone call”. The user doesn’t have to use all the features of the phone. The key thing is to make sure making a phone call is a simple process. The buttons and interface are intuitive for doing the simplest things. There’s a green button for
    “call” and a red button for “hang up”. Simple. For someone like you that wants to do more, you can do that with your phone. It is funny.. surveys show the most compelling application used on a cell phone is making and receiving calls. Go figure. We’re a LONG WAY from the cell phone being more than..well, a cell phone. So, focus on the radio stack first and foremost. If people can depend on their cell phone to do what it was primarily designed to do, then it will be much easier for users to think about using the phone for other things.

    The iPod, too, can be complex. How many iPod users know how to use their iPod to store files? Use the calendar and contacts features? Store photos? Delete photos? Probably not many, but the features are there for those that want to. At the same time is it SIMPLE for iPod owners to do the primary thing the iPod was designed to do… play music. And because it does that with virtually no thinking on the part of the user, the user can think about how to use the iPod for other things.

    Now, is it simple for users of Windows to do the 3-5 most common things the average PC user wants to do with their computer? Is the functionality easily discoverable? If not, then the user will be less apt to want to do anything else with their OS or PC. Like I said before, my wife found it impossible to use Media Center to do what was very easy to do with TiVo. So, back came the Tivo. MC tries to be all things to all people. What is the 1 or 2 things WMC should do “without thinking”? What are the 3-5 things Vista should allow the user to do without thinking or searching or trying to figure out? Solve that and you will have better user adoption. Steve Jobs gets this. Microsoft still doesn’t in a lot of way. It seems they think they are still selling to developers, which is what they were doing 30 years ago.

  6. 9 out of 10 Photographers don’t want simple, they want a camera that allows them the flexibility to do what they want, when they want, be it simple or complex. It’s “people that want to take pictures” that want simple. And that’s likely 10 out of 10. There is a difference between “people that want to take pictures” and “photographers”. John is right, you can’t be all things to all people, which is why there are different form factors for cameras.

    I’m not sure it’s necessarily either/or. Take the cell phone, for example. Factoring out cost, even your cell phone can fill the needs of the person that “just wants to make a phone call”. The user doesn’t have to use all the features of the phone. The key thing is to make sure making a phone call is a simple process. The buttons and interface are intuitive for doing the simplest things. There’s a green button for
    “call” and a red button for “hang up”. Simple. For someone like you that wants to do more, you can do that with your phone. It is funny.. surveys show the most compelling application used on a cell phone is making and receiving calls. Go figure. We’re a LONG WAY from the cell phone being more than..well, a cell phone. So, focus on the radio stack first and foremost. If people can depend on their cell phone to do what it was primarily designed to do, then it will be much easier for users to think about using the phone for other things.

    The iPod, too, can be complex. How many iPod users know how to use their iPod to store files? Use the calendar and contacts features? Store photos? Delete photos? Probably not many, but the features are there for those that want to. At the same time is it SIMPLE for iPod owners to do the primary thing the iPod was designed to do… play music. And because it does that with virtually no thinking on the part of the user, the user can think about how to use the iPod for other things.

    Now, is it simple for users of Windows to do the 3-5 most common things the average PC user wants to do with their computer? Is the functionality easily discoverable? If not, then the user will be less apt to want to do anything else with their OS or PC. Like I said before, my wife found it impossible to use Media Center to do what was very easy to do with TiVo. So, back came the Tivo. MC tries to be all things to all people. What is the 1 or 2 things WMC should do “without thinking”? What are the 3-5 things Vista should allow the user to do without thinking or searching or trying to figure out? Solve that and you will have better user adoption. Steve Jobs gets this. Microsoft still doesn’t in a lot of way. It seems they think they are still selling to developers, which is what they were doing 30 years ago.

  7. Technology is not useful if it is not usable. I am convinced that Microsoft will never escape from the fallacy of catering to the tech elite subculture. It is not easy to create software that is easy to use. With all the difficulties that MS is currently dealing with, I doubt that usability is seen as the solution to continued domination so it’s just not going to happen.

    You are fooling yourself if you think that you are not being held to any standards. However, these standards need to be set by you and not Microsoft or the blogosphere. If you cave into being pidgeon-holed by standards set by others that you do not believe in, I’d think it would become obvious to your readers and a sign that it is time to move on.

  8. Technology is not useful if it is not usable. I am convinced that Microsoft will never escape from the fallacy of catering to the tech elite subculture. It is not easy to create software that is easy to use. With all the difficulties that MS is currently dealing with, I doubt that usability is seen as the solution to continued domination so it’s just not going to happen.

    You are fooling yourself if you think that you are not being held to any standards. However, these standards need to be set by you and not Microsoft or the blogosphere. If you cave into being pidgeon-holed by standards set by others that you do not believe in, I’d think it would become obvious to your readers and a sign that it is time to move on.

  9. Excellent post Robert. Others I see are griping about your take on stuff like phones, cameras etc. But do they represent the buying public or are you closer to the ‘man in the street?’

    Glad you cleared up the Xbox thing. I was thinking of adding that into my new dream office setup (no BMWs here :) ). Now I’ll stick to a phone upgrade!

    As to the simple v complex thing. Consider Excel. You’ve banged on about the simplicity of Pivot Tables in the next version. Most of my readers are into the deep tech of PTs a la Office 2000 – if you’re lucky. Do they talk about other functions? Occasionally, but in dribs and drabs.

    What does that imply to you about ‘versions’ given Excel is arguably the most popular (by number) accounts preparation tool on the planet and remains the most popular add-in that professional accountants expect to see in packaged accounting applications? Including those that play in the enterprise?

    Given your admitted past view of projected slow uptake, doesn’t the relatively low cost of acquisition of the forthcoming technology compared to the benefits of NOT having to undergo continuing training with the Office 2000 version imply there are significant cost savings for an influential community of interest?

    Assuming you agree what is MSFT marketing doing about that? I’m hearing a deafening silence.

  10. Excellent post Robert. Others I see are griping about your take on stuff like phones, cameras etc. But do they represent the buying public or are you closer to the ‘man in the street?’

    Glad you cleared up the Xbox thing. I was thinking of adding that into my new dream office setup (no BMWs here :) ). Now I’ll stick to a phone upgrade!

    As to the simple v complex thing. Consider Excel. You’ve banged on about the simplicity of Pivot Tables in the next version. Most of my readers are into the deep tech of PTs a la Office 2000 – if you’re lucky. Do they talk about other functions? Occasionally, but in dribs and drabs.

    What does that imply to you about ‘versions’ given Excel is arguably the most popular (by number) accounts preparation tool on the planet and remains the most popular add-in that professional accountants expect to see in packaged accounting applications? Including those that play in the enterprise?

    Given your admitted past view of projected slow uptake, doesn’t the relatively low cost of acquisition of the forthcoming technology compared to the benefits of NOT having to undergo continuing training with the Office 2000 version imply there are significant cost savings for an influential community of interest?

    Assuming you agree what is MSFT marketing doing about that? I’m hearing a deafening silence.

  11. “One last thing before I sign off for the night and start driving with Maryam back to Washington: thank you for putting up with me for the past two weeks.”

    Putting up with you? Thank you for putting up with us! Robert, the way you conduct yourself on this blog is a revelation. Going through such a tough period, you have managed to innovate in the way bloggers deal with grief. You don’t have anything to apologize for; in fact, you’ve done great by your readers. I just hope that, when you needed it, enough of the blogosphere was there for you. You earned our support, and our caring, and it shows.

  12. “One last thing before I sign off for the night and start driving with Maryam back to Washington: thank you for putting up with me for the past two weeks.”

    Putting up with you? Thank you for putting up with us! Robert, the way you conduct yourself on this blog is a revelation. Going through such a tough period, you have managed to innovate in the way bloggers deal with grief. You don’t have anything to apologize for; in fact, you’ve done great by your readers. I just hope that, when you needed it, enough of the blogosphere was there for you. You earned our support, and our caring, and it shows.

  13. O’Reilly/CMP run a conference called ‘Web 2.0 Conference’ they were trying to stop IT@Cork from passing off with their ‘Web 2.0 Half Day Conference’ The two are too close to be an accident. It’s passing off, it’s against international copyright law and CMP/O’Reilly were right to send in the lawyers.

  14. O’Reilly/CMP run a conference called ‘Web 2.0 Conference’ they were trying to stop IT@Cork from passing off with their ‘Web 2.0 Half Day Conference’ The two are too close to be an accident. It’s passing off, it’s against international copyright law and CMP/O’Reilly were right to send in the lawyers.

  15. You should have been able to jack an iPod or a Discman that played MP3 files directly into the funeral home system. I carry a 1/4″ jack and cable for this purpose in my Binh bag and it’s worked in several public venues before.

  16. You should have been able to jack an iPod or a Discman that played MP3 files directly into the funeral home system. I carry a 1/4″ jack and cable for this purpose in my Binh bag and it’s worked in several public venues before.

  17. There is a trade-off between ease-of-use and power.

    But there is also a trade-off between being useful, and being sold: On a good day, I might spent 30 minutes actually trying something before I decide. In actual use, I may accept spending days learning to use a tool. But if I can’t figure out anything in 30 minutes, I’ll not buy.

    Take Word. Using ‘Typografier’ (whatever that is called in English) gives cleaner documents that are easy to maintain. But if direct WYSIWYG formatting were turned off, who would ever get started?

  18. There is a trade-off between ease-of-use and power.

    But there is also a trade-off between being useful, and being sold: On a good day, I might spent 30 minutes actually trying something before I decide. In actual use, I may accept spending days learning to use a tool. But if I can’t figure out anything in 30 minutes, I’ll not buy.

    Take Word. Using ‘Typografier’ (whatever that is called in English) gives cleaner documents that are easy to maintain. But if direct WYSIWYG formatting were turned off, who would ever get started?

  19. Regarding the simple mobile phone. 15 years ago we wanted computers that were as simple to use as a phone, which we now have. Unfortunately it the computers were supposed to become simpler, not the other way around.

  20. Regarding the simple mobile phone. 15 years ago we wanted computers that were as simple to use as a phone, which we now have. Unfortunately it the computers were supposed to become simpler, not the other way around.

  21. Regarding YOUR blog, I am really touched by the fact that you want to keep doing your own thing. That is my motto in life, and knowing you won’t let yourself be affected by commercial/media trends is another strong reason why I’ll keep being loyal to your blog.
    Have a safe trip, and don’t worry: we’ll be here when you come back :)

  22. Regarding YOUR blog, I am really touched by the fact that you want to keep doing your own thing. That is my motto in life, and knowing you won’t let yourself be affected by commercial/media trends is another strong reason why I’ll keep being loyal to your blog.
    Have a safe trip, and don’t worry: we’ll be here when you come back :)

  23. Wonderful thoughts. And the phone ringing in the funeral home was a wonderful reminder that life continues at all times. Sounds as if you’ve refocused and are stronger for the journey.

  24. Wonderful thoughts. And the phone ringing in the funeral home was a wonderful reminder that life continues at all times. Sounds as if you’ve refocused and are stronger for the journey.

  25. It’s YOUR blog. Do with it what you want – we aren’t going anywhere.

    I struggle with the same issue in my own blog. It’s a technical blog but I find myself wanting to blog personal stuff too. I may end up starting another blog to keep things separate.

  26. It’s YOUR blog. Do with it what you want – we aren’t going anywhere.

    I struggle with the same issue in my own blog. It’s a technical blog but I find myself wanting to blog personal stuff too. I may end up starting another blog to keep things separate.

  27. No apologies necessary! Your posts have been so personal and packed with substance as you go through this journey, Robert. You have shared so much with us all, I only hope it has helped you in some way. As many have said, it is your blog; write when you feel like it about what you feel like writing about. Safe travels to you and Maryam.

  28. No apologies necessary! Your posts have been so personal and packed with substance as you go through this journey, Robert. You have shared so much with us all, I only hope it has helped you in some way. As many have said, it is your blog; write when you feel like it about what you feel like writing about. Safe travels to you and Maryam.

  29. I think the really important question is whether or not cell phones are going to become the ubiquitous ‘converged device’ of the future. This very thoughtful blog- http://www.amusis.com has a very thoughtful commentary on this. Will Sony really dominate?

  30. I think the really important question is whether or not cell phones are going to become the ubiquitous ‘converged device’ of the future. This very thoughtful blog- http://www.amusis.com has a very thoughtful commentary on this. Will Sony really dominate?

  31. It isn’t either/or and it just amazes me that Microsoft employees don’t get it. Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Instead of spending time creating focus groups to prove what you already believe (in the 90′s I was part of several of those Microsoft abortions) why not actually listen to what customers are saying.

    And to be fair – it obviously isn’t just Microsoft. UberGeeks can be found everywhere and they are needed. They just should never be permitted near a user interface.

  32. It isn’t either/or and it just amazes me that Microsoft employees don’t get it. Then again, maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Instead of spending time creating focus groups to prove what you already believe (in the 90′s I was part of several of those Microsoft abortions) why not actually listen to what customers are saying.

    And to be fair – it obviously isn’t just Microsoft. UberGeeks can be found everywhere and they are needed. They just should never be permitted near a user interface.

  33. Scott: but what is usable? I can’t fly a plane, so for me, its controls are unusable. But in the hands of a trained pilot? Those controls are VERY useful.

    I think that sometimes we forget that planes are designed for pilots to use, not for average citizens.

    Same for a whole raft of technology.

    I can’t use AutoCAD, for instance, but in the hands of a car designer that software is VERY useful.

  34. Scott: but what is usable? I can’t fly a plane, so for me, its controls are unusable. But in the hands of a trained pilot? Those controls are VERY useful.

    I think that sometimes we forget that planes are designed for pilots to use, not for average citizens.

    Same for a whole raft of technology.

    I can’t use AutoCAD, for instance, but in the hands of a car designer that software is VERY useful.

  35. Robert, AutoCAD is a a highly specialized program with a specific target audience, and is perfectly designed for that audience.

    Your plane analogy is off targe by a long shot. For one, you *can* fly a plane, you’re physically able. You just don’t know *how* to. There’s a difference in that.

    The basic controls of a plane are, by design, pretty much identical anywhere you see them. They are built to allow for easy training of pilots. They’re designed to be simple to use, and to provide a common base of knowlege as your experience and skills grow, so that if you move from a Cessna 152 to say a Dassault Falcon, while you’d need training specific to the Falcon so you could be checked out on it, the basic controls would be instantly familiar.

    Bringing up specialty/vertical market instances as a justification for too much complexity in things that have to be usable by a wide range of skills across the spectrum of uses is a bit of a straw man.

    AutoCAD is not a design goal for an MP3 player, or a networking control panel. it’s not a design goal for a home movie software package. Microsoft UI design is simply too dominated by geeks and often *for* geeks, and it’s why you have 3-4 ways to do anything, none of them terribly well, instead of one excellent way.

  36. Robert, AutoCAD is a a highly specialized program with a specific target audience, and is perfectly designed for that audience.

    Your plane analogy is off targe by a long shot. For one, you *can* fly a plane, you’re physically able. You just don’t know *how* to. There’s a difference in that.

    The basic controls of a plane are, by design, pretty much identical anywhere you see them. They are built to allow for easy training of pilots. They’re designed to be simple to use, and to provide a common base of knowlege as your experience and skills grow, so that if you move from a Cessna 152 to say a Dassault Falcon, while you’d need training specific to the Falcon so you could be checked out on it, the basic controls would be instantly familiar.

    Bringing up specialty/vertical market instances as a justification for too much complexity in things that have to be usable by a wide range of skills across the spectrum of uses is a bit of a straw man.

    AutoCAD is not a design goal for an MP3 player, or a networking control panel. it’s not a design goal for a home movie software package. Microsoft UI design is simply too dominated by geeks and often *for* geeks, and it’s why you have 3-4 ways to do anything, none of them terribly well, instead of one excellent way.

  37. John: we don’t disagree. It’s just that a lot of people assume usability means that everyone can use it. A plane explicitly is NOT usable for everyone. It was designed for a specific audience in mind. So was AutoCAD. Consumer Electronics, though, need to be usable by most people. Different audience, different design goals.

  38. John: we don’t disagree. It’s just that a lot of people assume usability means that everyone can use it. A plane explicitly is NOT usable for everyone. It was designed for a specific audience in mind. So was AutoCAD. Consumer Electronics, though, need to be usable by most people. Different audience, different design goals.

  39. Quit your floggin’ keep your bloggin’ and I’ll keep fillin’ my lil’ ol’ noggin’. What you share is a chunk of the heart of who you are from what I’ve read so far. The world, here, is your world…to do with what you want. I admire the fact that you question yourself…a very good sign that there is more to come from the personal side of life. As it is I can use as much tech info as possible. To find something that is a combination is a real blessing…now…to make things easy for the layman…how do I fix my page so i can upload sound files and video? This ia an artist trying to learn things…albeit the hard way. Thanks.

  40. Quit your floggin’ keep your bloggin’ and I’ll keep fillin’ my lil’ ol’ noggin’. What you share is a chunk of the heart of who you are from what I’ve read so far. The world, here, is your world…to do with what you want. I admire the fact that you question yourself…a very good sign that there is more to come from the personal side of life. As it is I can use as much tech info as possible. To find something that is a combination is a real blessing…now…to make things easy for the layman…how do I fix my page so i can upload sound files and video? This ia an artist trying to learn things…albeit the hard way. Thanks.

  41. Robert: Back before Henry Ford came a long most people were not able to operate automobiles because of the technical requirements involved in just starting one. Technology evolves and becomes more usable when you apply market forces to the equation. I suspect that Microsoft has been able to short circuit this trend when it came to the usability of their OS and Office applications because of their dominant market position.

    It is true that you may not be able to use AutoCAD or other software tools that are designed for experts without reading any manuals. That said, Microsoft is not in the business of providing expert systems. MS software development tools are a kin to something like AutoCAD but I expect that we will soon be seeing end users functioning as software developers and building applications that include the exact functionality that they require.

    I expect that one day you will be able to effortlessly design (or at least customize) your next car within an environment like Second Life. If and when that happens I should think that the auto industry will be able to learn a lot from their customers about usability. Microsoft doesn’t appear to want to learn from their customers…they don’t seem to respect their opinions.

  42. Robert: Back before Henry Ford came a long most people were not able to operate automobiles because of the technical requirements involved in just starting one. Technology evolves and becomes more usable when you apply market forces to the equation. I suspect that Microsoft has been able to short circuit this trend when it came to the usability of their OS and Office applications because of their dominant market position.

    It is true that you may not be able to use AutoCAD or other software tools that are designed for experts without reading any manuals. That said, Microsoft is not in the business of providing expert systems. MS software development tools are a kin to something like AutoCAD but I expect that we will soon be seeing end users functioning as software developers and building applications that include the exact functionality that they require.

    I expect that one day you will be able to effortlessly design (or at least customize) your next car within an environment like Second Life. If and when that happens I should think that the auto industry will be able to learn a lot from their customers about usability. Microsoft doesn’t appear to want to learn from their customers…they don’t seem to respect their opinions.

  43. The lynch mob. Maybe it’s because I’m an antiwar organizer and more used to such things, but they’re just part of the background. You don’t have to focus on them. Don’t take it personally either.

    There’s something about posting comments on blogs and boards that’s brings out the worst in people. They say things they’d never say in person to you.

    You can, of course, delete comments. Recently on my political blog, I had to delete a multitude of them. There’s no need to respond to major attacks either, unless you want to, of course, or have a particularly witty putdown for them.

    At antiwar protests, some will go up to counter-demontrators and try to convince them to change their mind. Why bother? If they’re hardcore enough to be there, you won’t change them. Work the middle instead.

    This can also be applied to tech blog controversies too.

    Best advice: “Talk to those who want to listen.” Forget the rest.

  44. The lynch mob. Maybe it’s because I’m an antiwar organizer and more used to such things, but they’re just part of the background. You don’t have to focus on them. Don’t take it personally either.

    There’s something about posting comments on blogs and boards that’s brings out the worst in people. They say things they’d never say in person to you.

    You can, of course, delete comments. Recently on my political blog, I had to delete a multitude of them. There’s no need to respond to major attacks either, unless you want to, of course, or have a particularly witty putdown for them.

    At antiwar protests, some will go up to counter-demontrators and try to convince them to change their mind. Why bother? If they’re hardcore enough to be there, you won’t change them. Work the middle instead.

    This can also be applied to tech blog controversies too.

    Best advice: “Talk to those who want to listen.” Forget the rest.

  45. The Spread of Technology

    Scoble’s recent blogging about technology making it into funeral homes led me to this great quote, attributed to William Gibson – As I’ve said many times, the future is already here. It’s just not very evenly distributed. Truer words …

  46. [...] Lessons to be learned: (1) We, Bloggers ought to have a set of standards by which they blog. I agree with Scoble when he thinks out loud on "How do I keep true to myself in a world that values (and uses) those who have audiences"? (2) Let's apply the laws of journalism. Let's verify the authenticity of our statements before we blog. Apparently, somebody's listening! How does it relate to marketers: (1) Marketers who blog, create wikis, etc… must understand the serious implications that copyright law has extended into this unchartered terrain. This will hold good especially for bloggers from Fortune 500 companies who have a lot more at stake through their web 2.0 actions. For those of you who are more interested in learning more about copyright law, check out the weblog of Lawrence Lessig – Professor of Law, Stanford Law School. Add his blog to your blogroll so others can benefit from it as well. (2) From a brand perspective, I think we're all clear on the damage that all this has had on the "O'Reilly" brand as enunciated by the man himself. "This controversy is also bad for my most important brand, my own name, especially since O'Reilly and not CMP is taking all the heat!" [...]

  47. Rob,

    First, our thoughts are with you and yours during this difficult time.

    As someone in the public sector, I am becoming more and more concerned with the tenor of Mr. Ballmer’s comments re: MSFT stock price. Rule number one of business on Wall Street is that you listen to the street. If they are telling you that you should be more concerned with the stock price, listen up.

    Here is the crux of the issue: Does Ballmer want to be right or does he want to solve the problem? Given his response this week, it looks like he wants to be right. If that is the case, the firms on the Street will continue to reduce their MS holding and the ongoing sell off with drive the stock price down lower. The trip to NYC should not have been one to defend his current strategy but to listen to learning from those who have misgivings and seeing how these learning might be employed in a strategic way.

    On the horizon is a potentially bigger issue: Ballmer’s credibility on the Street. If his desire to be right continues (and the best predictor of past behavior is future behavior) then he may be writing his own ticket out of a CEO job. His credibility is already seriously damaged with the r&d billions that took everyone by surprise on the earnings call. A strong argument could be made that there is a need for a new face on the MSFT stock in the near future.

    For five years Ballmer has played the “this is our way” card with the Street. And after five years, the stock price is nowhere, the Street is unhappy and employees are holding shares that are underwater. The next 6-12 months are going to be critical to the future of the company. It may be time for a new direction.

  48. Rob,

    First, our thoughts are with you and yours during this difficult time.

    As someone in the public sector, I am becoming more and more concerned with the tenor of Mr. Ballmer’s comments re: MSFT stock price. Rule number one of business on Wall Street is that you listen to the street. If they are telling you that you should be more concerned with the stock price, listen up.

    Here is the crux of the issue: Does Ballmer want to be right or does he want to solve the problem? Given his response this week, it looks like he wants to be right. If that is the case, the firms on the Street will continue to reduce their MS holding and the ongoing sell off with drive the stock price down lower. The trip to NYC should not have been one to defend his current strategy but to listen to learning from those who have misgivings and seeing how these learning might be employed in a strategic way.

    On the horizon is a potentially bigger issue: Ballmer’s credibility on the Street. If his desire to be right continues (and the best predictor of past behavior is future behavior) then he may be writing his own ticket out of a CEO job. His credibility is already seriously damaged with the r&d billions that took everyone by surprise on the earnings call. A strong argument could be made that there is a need for a new face on the MSFT stock in the near future.

    For five years Ballmer has played the “this is our way” card with the Street. And after five years, the stock price is nowhere, the Street is unhappy and employees are holding shares that are underwater. The next 6-12 months are going to be critical to the future of the company. It may be time for a new direction.

  49. Considering my siblings wanted to play “Stairway to Heaven” and “Dust in the Wind” sounds like you came through fine. I had the same issue with my mom’s funeral getting the music together, as they did not have a mp3 player and it was midnight and I didn’t want to be the sound engineer reworking their PA system. What we did do was get cd’s and a montage of mp3′s together and burned a cd. We also added some amplification and echo effect to make the music sound more “heavenly”. We got quite a few compliments and was asked by the owner of the Funeral Home how we did it.. So it gave a good feeling of providing a professional sound to the service.

  50. Considering my siblings wanted to play “Stairway to Heaven” and “Dust in the Wind” sounds like you came through fine. I had the same issue with my mom’s funeral getting the music together, as they did not have a mp3 player and it was midnight and I didn’t want to be the sound engineer reworking their PA system. What we did do was get cd’s and a montage of mp3′s together and burned a cd. We also added some amplification and echo effect to make the music sound more “heavenly”. We got quite a few compliments and was asked by the owner of the Funeral Home how we did it.. So it gave a good feeling of providing a professional sound to the service.

  51. [...] Robert Scoble, who blogs for Microsoft, has been blogging about his mother recently dying from a stroke, and how that’s changed him. In addition to being a superb post, he touches on the unfortunate amount of hostility sometimes found in blog comments. I’m glad I went through this personal time after my mom’s stroke. It helped me refocus on what’s important and what my blog means to me. This blog is mine. It is what I’m thinking about, and what I’m seeing in my life. It isn’t a news article. I am not vetted. It isn’t done by a committee. I am not being held to any standards. On the other hand, I don’t like the lynch mob. It’s going to take a strong blogger to stand up against hundreds of blogs who are urging action one way. But, we need that kind of diversity of ideas if we are going to make this a truly strong media. [...]

  52. @18. Airplane manufacturers don’t sell to the masses, they sell to pilots. Correct me if I’m wrong but MS still wants more people using computers with MS software installed, right? So, they want to sell to more than the expert computer user or geek. I don’t think airplane manufacturers want everyone to be a pilot. They’ll do just fine targeting pilots.

    Same with AutoCad. It’s a cottage industry. They’ll do just fine selling to engineers, designers and the like.

    MS however will not grow or make more money simply selling to geeks. The software has to be easy to user and thought of as almost transparent as far as being a tool to get things done, not software in and of itself. Again, the iPod works because it does want people want it to do, very easily. After a while people don’t even really think about HOW is does it or worry if it will continue to do it the next time. That can’t be said for Windows.

    I just finished setting a friend’s laptop and wireless network. She’s uses her laptop as a tool in her real estate business. She really doesn’t care that it runs Windows as long as she can use it to get the infomation she needs. After 30 minutes of getting it set up (amazing, it took only 10 minutes to do the same with my MAC) and I was getting ready to leave, she asked if she could call me tomorrow if she had any problems connecting. Why would she even have to CONSIDER that? Shouldn’t she be able to forget HOW the connections work and simply EXPECT it to work? I don’t worry if I’m going to have a dial tone when I pick up my telephone (notice I didn’t say my cell phone). I don’t worry if the lights are going to turn on when I go into a room. Why should I have to worry if my computer running Windows is going to get a wireless connection today?

  53. @18. Airplane manufacturers don’t sell to the masses, they sell to pilots. Correct me if I’m wrong but MS still wants more people using computers with MS software installed, right? So, they want to sell to more than the expert computer user or geek. I don’t think airplane manufacturers want everyone to be a pilot. They’ll do just fine targeting pilots.

    Same with AutoCad. It’s a cottage industry. They’ll do just fine selling to engineers, designers and the like.

    MS however will not grow or make more money simply selling to geeks. The software has to be easy to user and thought of as almost transparent as far as being a tool to get things done, not software in and of itself. Again, the iPod works because it does want people want it to do, very easily. After a while people don’t even really think about HOW is does it or worry if it will continue to do it the next time. That can’t be said for Windows.

    I just finished setting a friend’s laptop and wireless network. She’s uses her laptop as a tool in her real estate business. She really doesn’t care that it runs Windows as long as she can use it to get the infomation she needs. After 30 minutes of getting it set up (amazing, it took only 10 minutes to do the same with my MAC) and I was getting ready to leave, she asked if she could call me tomorrow if she had any problems connecting. Why would she even have to CONSIDER that? Shouldn’t she be able to forget HOW the connections work and simply EXPECT it to work? I don’t worry if I’m going to have a dial tone when I pick up my telephone (notice I didn’t say my cell phone). I don’t worry if the lights are going to turn on when I go into a room. Why should I have to worry if my computer running Windows is going to get a wireless connection today?

  54. The question is: Did they answer the cell phone? Where I live people answer cell phones during funeral services and chat away. Church services, first communion, baptisms, you name it. People here just don’t get it. I am really thinking of getting my own cell phone jammer.

  55. The question is: Did they answer the cell phone? Where I live people answer cell phones during funeral services and chat away. Church services, first communion, baptisms, you name it. People here just don’t get it. I am really thinking of getting my own cell phone jammer.

  56. But, an iPod would have been just what was needed at the funeral home in this kind of scenario. It would have allowed the music to be played, or a photographic slideshow of the decedent’s life and interests or even a video about the decedent. All that would have been required is an iPod, speakers and a monitor. Simple, but thorough.

  57. But, an iPod would have been just what was needed at the funeral home in this kind of scenario. It would have allowed the music to be played, or a photographic slideshow of the decedent’s life and interests or even a video about the decedent. All that would have been required is an iPod, speakers and a monitor. Simple, but thorough.

  58. [...] There were two reasons I decided to move from Blogger to WordPress. The first was that I wanted greater power and flexibility than Blogger provides. Blogger is truly push-button publishing. It is so easy to use that anyone who can write an email can start a blog. But, as Scoble was recently talking about, it is hard to get the balance right between making something easy to use and making it powerful enough. An example was the Blogger feed. I use Feedburner, and wanted to replace the Atom feed automatically generated for me with the Feedburner feed that provided an associated style sheet and stats in the metadata. In this instance, Blogger was not very usable, because there was no simple way to do this. I had to search hard on the internet to find the solution, and even then I was unable to remove the Atom feed from the choice of feeds. Here Blogger had gone overboard on usability. It had made the product too easy to use, in the process removing functionality. [...]