Tuesday, April 08, 2008

More Software Frustrations

Here's a few software things that have bugged me lately:

I'm currently reading Why Software Sucks by David Platt. He praises how Google senses the country you are connecting from and uses the language of that country e.g. Spanish in Mexico. The problem is, it does this even if I am logged in to my account. Just because I am in another country doesn't mean I've changed my language. It's possible to get back to English but it's annoying nonetheless.

Next, I'm on my bank web site paying some bills (a feature I do appreciate). A message shows up telling me I can now receive one of my bills electronically, rather than having it mailed to me. Great! I click on the link and get presented with a blank form, without the name of the company filled in, forcing me to pick it from a huge list. (Most of the list is not applicable, e.g. for other provinces.) Next there is a "Name" field - who's name? mine? but surely it knows my name? or the company name? but I just picked it from a list? I leave it blank and continue - it doesn't complain so I'm still not sure what it wanted. Next it tells me I have to sign up for an ePost account. It's free, but it's annoying to have to sign up for yet another on-line account and come up with yet another password. Can't the company send bills to my bank without every account holder having to sign up for ePost?

But the best is yet to come. I get through the ePost signup, only to be told that I have to contact the company personally, by phone, before I can complete the process. Yeah, right. I pay bills on the evenings and weekends, so I have to wait till business hours to phone. Then I can look forward to the "pleasure" of an automated phone system and being on hold forever. Then I'll likely talk to some poor customer service person who has never heard of sending bills electronically. No thanks. And they wonder why so many on line transactions are abandoned part way through.

The next incident was minor, but it's a good example of a GUI blooper. I was ordering books through Lulu (copies of Getting Real for my programmers). I'm entering my address and I get to the field for "State/Province". Except there are no provinces. That wouldn't surprise me except that for the prompt. I skip it and move to the next field, "Country", and enter Canada. The screen jumps around a little bit. Hmmm... sure enough, State/Province now lists provinces. This is a good trick, some programmer obviously applied some Javascript. But they didn't consider that people generally enter fields in order, pretty much guaranteeing that Canadian customers will be frustrated. And most people wouldn't notice the slight screen jump and figure out that they could go back to a previous field and it would now magically let them do what it wouldn't just a minute ago.

We run into this issue in our own software. The rule of thumb is that if a field "depends" on another field it should be "after" it in the normal entry order. Usually this can be handled simply by changing the order of the fields. But in this case, it seems "wrong" to put Country before State/Province. My suggestion would be to remove the fancy Javascript - just have a combined list. The programmer can apply their Javascript by filling in the country based on the State/Province choice.

We use Snagit for our screenshots. It's a good program. But it has one really annoying "feature". Quite frequently, when I start it up, it pops up a dialog saying "You have the most recent version of Snagit". I always have to read this a couple of times because the normal expectation is that it would pop up to tell you there's a newer version.

I haven't quite figured out the logic behind this one. Why do I need to be told I have the latest version? I don't think it comes up every time, so maybe it only comes up after it does a periodic check for a new version. (Of course, I only use it periodically, so it happens more often than not.) It may just be that the programmer thought that since they'd gone to all the work of checking for a new version there should be some recognition of this. Programmers are often strangely reluctant to just have the program quietly do it's stuff. Maybe we need pop up blockers for more than just our web browsers.

There is a link on the dialog to the release notes. So perhaps the purpose of the pop up is to give you a chance to read the release notes. But surely if that was the purpose it would only pop up once after installing a new version. How many times (if any) do I want to read the release notes?

Enough being critical, I'd better go and try to do better myself. It's always easier to criticize. (Why Software Sucks does actually suggest solutions or at least, better alternatives, to most of the things it complains about.)


mouseman said...

Hi Andrew,

Tony Dunckel here from TechSmith, makers of SnagIt. Just wanted to take a second and explain the prompt you keep receiving in SnagIt.

By default, SnagIt is set to check for a new version every 14 days. When it does so, it will respond with the results. As the user, you can easily change these settings to check less frequently or not at all [automatically].

To do so, click on the "Tools" menu and choose the "Preferences" option. In the resulting dialog, choose the "Update Options" tab and you can specify your desired settings there.

Hope this helps take away that one and only irritating issue with using SnagIt :-)

Best Regards,
Tony Dunckel
Product Manager, SnagIt
TechSmith Corporation

andrew said...

Thanks for the reply, but I think you missed my whole point.

If I understand you correctly, you're telling me that the solution to the annoying pop up is to disable the automated update checking?

Isn't that a little like cutting off your arm to fix a hangnail?

I want the automated update checking - I just don't need to be told every time it doesn't find anything. I don't see any setting for that. And please don't add another setting - too many settings is bad too. Just don't bug me with useless pop ups!

David S Platt said...

Andrew, this is David Platt, author of Why Software Sucks. Correct me if I'm wrong, but if you click the "Google.com in English" link, at the lower right corner of the screen, doesn't it automatically switch to English and stay there forever no matter where in the world you go? Because that's what it does for me.

Because you and I are computer geeks, we are trained in mathematics. To us, a theorem that is true in 99 cases and false in the 100th case is a false theorem. We need to throw it away and figure out one that is true. But when you start dealing with human users, pleasing 99 people out of 100 means that you are having a pretty good day. It is almost always much more important to please those 99 people again tomorrow than it is to figure out what to do with that hundredth guy.

Almost all Google users physically present in Mexico prefer Spanish to English. The world is a better place when we please that majority automatically, even at the cost of annoying you and hyour international traveler cohorts. It's much better to do that than to annoy everyone equally by making everyone select his own language, especially when it takes the annoyed minority only one click to fix it permanently.

andrew said...

You're right, I didn't mean to imply that Google should remove the automatic language choice. I agree this is an excellent feature.

What I meant to suggest is that if you log in to an English (or whatever language) account, that it should switch to that language.

I agree that if you have to choose you should satisfy 99% of users rather than 1%. But in this case it seems like it would be relatively easy to satisfy the 1% as well.

Larry Reid said...

And now, the .01% :-) When I'm in Canada, I want Google in English. When I'm in Guatemala I'm happy with Google in Spanish. If I'm in France, I'd be amused to see Google in French. Anywhere else in the world I'll click on the "Google in English" link, but I'll want it to allow me to go back to the default languages.

And what happens when you're in Quebec? Does Google default to English or French? Does it give you English if you're west of St. Laurent Boulevard on the island of Montreal (except in Verdun), and French east of St. Laurent?

But that's un peu fou, n'est-ce pas?