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2003-07-13-lessFlexVisualize Context (requires Java Plug-in)
CREATED BY chris • LAST EDITED BY chris 6932 days AGO
Tim Bray: "I think Ive told this story before here, but its a good one; at a content management conference, a woman from the Tandem-that-was saying It was so wonderful when the browser interfaces came on; the vendors had to discard all those stupid sliders and cascaded menus and eight-way toggles, and only leave the stuff that mattered. Which is to say, WinForms is not the way forward."

By limiting user interface elements ("moving parts" to keep under mental control) to a reasonable minimum, the Web provided users with a cognitive interaction model consisting essentially of the elements page/location, link/button, text field and a small variety of option selectors — with the result that the average badly designed web site or application is still much easier to use than the average somewhat well-designed "rich" client, which requires users to understand a byzantine wealth of concepts such as windows, a variety of menu types, keyboard shortcuts, files (locating, opening, saving those), folders, drives,* tree views, documents, double clicks, toolbars, myriads of option dialogs with dozens of possible navigational paths, all entered through different doors, software installation and maintenance chores, extremely inconsistent available action sets (in the browser, you can practically always go back/escape, print a page, bookmark a location, copy a link and send it to a friend, whereas in desktop applications the availability and applicability of those truly basic actions differs from application to application) &c.

On the other hand, quite a few of those things were devised not to make things necessarily easy for the first-time/casual user, but efficient for the (application-)competent and trained. The masses usually are neither (because of time constraints, lack of interest &c.), so if you want to design for mass appeal, it's probably a much smarter proposition to go the web route - and will remain so for at least the next few years. If you have to design for efficiency (i.e. people use your system daily and/or the interaction is complex enough to absolutely require more powerful elements than the commonly used browsers provide willingly without extended beating), go the rich client route.

* Quite a few regular and rather competent computer users in my circle of friends used to store everything on diskettes, simply because it provided a physical, concrete, intuitive and last but not least non-cluttered representation of storage area — which the extremely weirdly organized file systems of Windows, the Mac and, behold, UNIX fail to do.


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