Ive 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 wont 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 cant
conceive of anyone who doesnt. (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 theyre 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. Ive 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
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
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
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 dont have to do this every time for myself is if I set a new default in the envelope routine which screws up
Ive 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 hearts content with just one command
but I cant do it in Office or XP Pro. Of course that old MS-DOS program didnt
offer me a choice of 25 hundred, thousand, million fonts, but I seemed to run
my publishing company pretty well without them.
Im 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
isnt a default return address but I cant 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! Ive had Macs. They dont eliminate problems. They just cost
more and offer a whole exciting new set of bad software to deal with.
In case you havent 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 dont have a 2.0 USB port on
this computer and cant add one because all the expansion slots are full. Why
couldnt the moron at Microsoft who wrote that code have written another line
or two so the software could see that I dont 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
Also, note to Word, I KNOW I will loose some formatting and
macro features if I save my documents in RTF instead of DOC. THATS 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 isnt 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 doesnt even have a
five page User Agreement you commit to by merely opening the package it comes
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
because I have actually advised the schools Dean Queen (Im not kidding) on
their Web sites design a few years ago. However, back when I took courses
there they didnt even have a computer science curriculum so I never met Mr.
Platt and have no affiliation with the school other than as a satisfied