Monday, June 23, 2008

MSDN Downloads and the fly-out menus trauma

Raymond's just posted about the rationale behind the windows menu show delay, and goes on to point out various web properties that blatantly ignore the underlying usability requirement.

Sadly finding examples is like shooting fish in a barrel. I remember Jakob Nielsen winging about this last millennium, but as the technology moved forwards: Director, DHTML then Flash, the ease with which anyone can design their own UI and distribute it widely over the internet has lead to a flood of bad UI. Even as Vista attempts to move forwards, the new Silverlight version of MSDN Downloads re-re-implements the fly-out-menus concept, with almost unusable results.

Maybe this is a necessary pain we have to move through, but it kinda sucks that we can't explore novel and interesting UI concepts without making them totally unusable. I'm no UI designer, but at least I don't pretend to be, or work as one.

The templating within WPF is a great example of an enabling technology here, where the usability can be codified into a control by 'experts', but still delegate most of the 'funky look' to the end-designer. In this case if WPF / Silverlight had shipped with a decent fly-out menus control, maybe the MSDN Downloads team wouldn't have got it so horribly wrong, and I wouldn't have had to uninstall Silverlight in frustration.

I guess there is hope then that this isn't just another enabling technology that enables people to make a real arse of things.

PS: Check out this bizzarro comment on Raymond's blog:
"Let's not get into the "gynaecologist's interface" that is Vista's Start Menu, shall we?"



Garry said...

One of my pet peeves with the Silverlight stuff on the downloads centre is that they haven't thought about the poor folks who are connected via terminal services over less than perfect connections.

I've had the "would you like to participate in our beta?" thing from the standard Microsoft Downloads centre take 5 minutes to get to the point where I could say "no". It's like trying to watch a movie over terminal services; The refresh just kills it. Extremely frustrating, especially when you're just chasing a service pack or something similar.

Matt Ryan said...

gynaecologist's interface....

Was briefly a googlewhack... perhaps that was their intent? :)

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