Friday, December 7, 2007

How to learn to loathe usability reviews and stop worrying

An usability review is always about issues in the user interface of a system.
It's the contrary of raving about the web site or whatever, is pinpointing design errors.
In the programming world those unavoidable errors are called "bugs" and usually are fixed without blaming anybody.
This is fine, the whole team owning the bugs and fixing them happily.

One problem I frequently found with usability reports is that the author of the UI resists the reports sayings as if it were an attack, arguing forever.

But so are those reports ...

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Downloading the GWT Example Programs

How to download GWT Example Projects

Adhering to the currently running GWT Conference I'm blogging about a small issue in the GWT site.

It happens that, after seeing the reasonably good demos, I wants to have the code in my PC.

download sample ... or not?It looks easy: there is a prominent link button closing the page content (see image) labeled "Download Source Code."

So I clicked the button and it took me to a page titled "Google Web Toolkit Downloads" contaning the GWT download offerings, which does not include the sample code I wanted. Only a "Download Google Web Toolkit" button.

I said to myself "It must be somewhere near here" and started looking around.

A "see our complete download list." link seemed the solution, but not: it contains lots of GWT versions including release candidates for version 1.0 (1.4 is current as I write this.)

Conclusion: not a single sample download, I verified that all five example projects led to the same page.

The bottom line

It happens that the examples are included in the GWT download. So it's right to take the user to the download page, but #~@%gggg!

Instead of the notorious "Download Source Code" it would have been better to write "The source code gets installed with GWT in subfolder x."

A bit on usability

Most usability issues are small and silly, the problem is when they are so many!

Monday, December 3, 2007

The very first GWT conference has started today

The first GWT conference

I don't go to such conferences. It's not that I don't want to, I'm too far away and currency exchange is not at all convenient (by a factor of three) so I have to observe them as an outsider. I have observed many, since the first JavaOne and before.

Usually the first few conferences on each new technology convey all the excitement, the feeling of being pioneers, a sense of evangelism.

A new and promising technology captures the vested interest of thousands, usually because it promises to solve all the pending problems or because it appears to be an opportunity to make big money.

The GWT opportunity

That said, GWT is also a huge opportunity for the IT masses to solve a pesky problem that has been always endemic to computer systems. Because it is a product positioned near the User Interface and computer systems too often deny the user.

Unfortunately it seems as if the focus still were the computer ...

From the conference site ...

"Google Web Toolkit enables developers to use their favorite Java tools to build AJAX applications without having to tackle the steep learning curve and quirks of JavaScript and CSS. The Voices That Matter: Google Web Toolkit Conference will insure you understand why this is so and how you can leverage the power and functionality of GWT for your applications."

The text above is the very first paragraph from the landing page. By reading it one can not follow that this is a user-focused conference. It'sall about developers, once again.

In the last paragraph of an inner page the good news appear. Under What is Google Web Toolkit? one can read ...

"The GWT engineering team makes this abundantly clear by stating unapologetically that when there is a choice to be made between "easy for the user" versus "easy for the developer," "easy for the user" wins. That may be a surprising sentiment coming from tool builders, but, then again, their first design axiom is four words: User experience is primary."

There is that candid passage where the author says that this " ... may be a surprising sentiment ... " and yes, it is surprising, a nice surprise.

Who is the conference for?

Obviously the GWT Conference is for developers, technologists, like me and most of the featured speakers. With a couple "usability" sparks, IMO too lame.

It's also clear that one can't make a user advocate out of a hardcore IT geek in the lapse from monday thry Thursday at 1:30PM.

The fact is that GWT solves a problem to the developers, that of having to write Javascript for the UI. Besides that, it could even be harmful from the point of view of the users, leaving them at the sole mercy of the Java developers.

There is nothing wrong with Java developers, many of my friends ara Java developers ...

Seriously, it's not the developer's fault. Can't explain it now ... it's in Alan Coopers book "The Inmates Are Running the Asylum."

The technology and the solution

A technology is not a solution but a tool. Supposedly it will be easierfor a Java developer to build a UI using GWT. This is not to say that the application will be necessarily better, read on ...

Many years ago a tool was announced, one that allowed developers top build UIs with great ease, dragging and dropping controls in a canvas. It was bundled with a well known programming language.

That tool brought GUI development to the masses, literally, and thus itwas used to build both a few good and many loathed UIs.

You know, I'm talking about Microsoft's Visual Basic. VB applications were
used to "upgrade" many DOs applications, frequently with reduced usability. Yes, GUI replacements were not necessarily better for the user than their command linre counterparts, maybe Lotus 1-2-3 was the most dramatic example: the DOS version dominated the spreadsheet marked but the GUI version fumbled.

The bottom line

Althought Java in the server plus GWT for the UI plus the developer sounds like three of a perfect pair, that does not mean that any application is going to be plain better.

In fact, we'll see worse applications because GWT is doing a good job in lowering the threshold.

I revolve thinking about how to help even the most hardcore geeky
devlopers to build usable applications.


Alan Cooper, the guy who wrote the "inmates" book, is also the one who invented Visual Basic.