Developer

Why Software Sucks (book preview)

I’ve just finished reading the best computer book since I last re-read one of mine and I wanted to pass along the good word.

“Why Software Sucks, by David S. Platt, is still in beta,

that is, I have a draft manuscript so it won’t be available until September but

put this one on your must have list if you have software, love software, hate

programmers, or even ARE a programmer, because Mr. Platt (who teaches

programming) has set out to puncture the bloated egos of all those who think

that just because they can write a program, they can make it easy to use.
 

I can best sum up the essence of this funny and thought

provoking book by quoting a short piece explaining why programmers should never

design the interface.
 

“The programmer knows too much about the program and can’t conceive of anyone who doesn’t.” (quote continued below)
 

Does that ring a bell? It certainly explains why error

messages are mostly meaningless, why defaults are so hard to change, and why

dialog boxes often convey little but confusion.
 

A prime example given is what you see when you try to close

notepad: “The text in the XXXX file has changed. Do you want to save the

changes? YES, NO, CANCEL”
 

Just what the heck does that mean to your grandmother? Cancel what? What file, I wrote a note?
 

The author goes on to explain, “Because they’re laboring

under the misconception that their users are like them, programmers make two

main mistakes when they design user interfaces. They value control more than

ease of use [DUH!], concentrating on making complex things possible instead of

making simple things simple. And they expect users to learn and understand the

internal workings of their programs, instead of the other way around. I’ve done

them both and I now repent the error of my foolish younger ways.”
 

This book is funny, but it is also an important wake up call

for software companies which want to reduce the size of their customer support

bills.
 

If you were ever stuck for an answer to the question, “Why to good programmers make such awful software?” this book holds the answer.
 

“Why software Sucks…and What You Can Do About It,” by David S.

Platt, Addison-Wesley Professional, ISBN:0321466756, Publication date Sep. 29, 2006. 272 pages, List price:

$19.99.
 

This book strikes a personal note with me as I am certain it will with everyone who reads it.
 

Every day I have to fight with MS Word to do the same task

over and over for my eBay store. All I want to do is block copy addresses to

print labels.
 

But every single time I have to change the font size and

make it BOLD, either in the envelope routine or on the Word document. I ALWAYS want both Bold and 16 point but the only

way I don’t have to do this every time for myself is if I set a new default in the envelope routine which screws up

other things.
 

I’ve tried a dozen ways around this, including building a

macro but none of them work correctly. Back in the MS-DOS days I had software which would

easily let me do this and customize to my heart’s content with just one command

but I can’t do it in Office or XP Pro. Of course that old MS-DOS program didn’t

offer me a choice of 25 hundred, thousand, million fonts, but I seemed to run

my publishing company pretty well without them.
 

I’m also sick and tired of having to decline the offer to set a new default return address EVERY SINGLE F**K*** TIME.

It happens that I need to print a small code above the return

address so I know what to put in the package. It is different every time and it

isn’t a default return address but I can’t convince Word of this.

 

Why did some idiot programmer spend a week creating a way to

undock and “float” a toolbar but not a day to let me set a permanent default

for the font I want to use in printing envelopes without altering the way my

other documents are formatted?

 

Oh, and for those of you who always write and tell me to get

a Mac – Get a life! I’ve had Macs. They don’t eliminate problems. They just cost

more and offer a whole exciting new set of bad software to deal with.

 

In case you haven’t noticed, even Apple has given up on the Mac and moved on to the music business.

 

OH Yea, another thing, why does XP ALWAYS have to remind me

EVERY SINGLE time I turn on the computer that I would experience improved

performance if I connected to a 2.0 USB port? I KNOW that. If I know what a USB

port is, I would know that! I also know that I don’t have a 2.0 USB port on

this computer and can’t add one because all the expansion slots are full. Why

couldn’t the moron at Microsoft who wrote that code have written another line

or two so the software could see that I don’t HAVE a faster USB port, or, at an

absolute minimum, provide a simple way to shut off that stupid reminder which

comes up about six times in a row because of all the USB ports and devices I

have.

 

Also, note to Word, I KNOW I will loose some formatting and

macro features if I save my documents in RTF instead of DOC. THAT’S WHY I SET

RTF AS MY DEFAULT IN THE FIRST PLACE!

Nevertheless, Word still reminds me of this a dozen times each day instead of just saving my damn file to my default setting.

This sort of thing certainly isn’t limited to Microsoft and I don't intend to imply that it is, they are just the most obvious offender because they sell the most software. I can recall far worse examples from back in the ways when I worked for Wang Labs but many of my readers wouldn't be familiar with them.

Yes, this book is needed! Get a copy! It doesn’t even have a

five page User Agreement you commit to by merely opening the package it comes

in.

By

way of disclaimer, I should note that, only after writing my above review I

discovered in looking up his bio that the author happens to teach Computer

Science at the Harvard University Extension School. I need to mention that

because I have actually advised the school’s Dean Queen (I’m not kidding) on

their Web site’s design a few years ago. However, back when I took courses

there they didn’t even have a computer science curriculum so I never met Mr.

Platt and have no affiliation with the school other than as a satisfied

customer.

Editor's Picks