Friday, September 05, 2008

Why Software Sucks... and What You Can Do About It, by David S. Platt

Why Software Sucks... and What You Can Do About It, by David S. Platt

Great book—a solid discussion about why most software is hard to use, told with enough humor to be enjoyable as well as interesting. “Computers make people feel dumb. In a society where nothing is ever the fault of person doing it, where people sue a restaurant when they spill their own coffee, getting users to blame themselves for anything is a magnificent accomplishment.” It reminded me a lot of Cooper’s excellent The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, especially when Platt was discussing UI design: “You should never see a confirmation dialog anywhere, under any circumstances.”

I did find it a bit repetitive; I suspect that this was originally a series of articles stitched together into a book. One anecdote about how Vanguard’s website is attacked 100 times per second is told multiple times, and the time frames jump around a bit with IE6 sometimes in beta and sometimes released. The overall theme of “programmers make complex things possible instead of simple things simple” remains consistent though.

Platt does an amusing job of sneaking his politics into his various stories. The quote in the opening paragraph is one example, getting snarky about the McDonald’s coffee case. He goes on a privacy rant at one point, upset about how the Patriot Act allows the FBI to look at your library records without consent. (Why people think privacy should be attached to the public library—itself a government agency—is beyond me, though.) He also seems to hold a grudge against market forces; he hates self-checkout lanes at grocery stores while at the same time being puzzled that hasn’t swept the nation. While the usability of the latter is clearly better than the former, consumers are clearly making the former more popular. He is probably upset that VHS beat out Beta, too. :)

Those nitpicks aside, this was a very good book, both entertaining and enlightening. I’d recommend it to anyone involved in the creation of software.

First Sentence:
“That’ll never sell,” I sneered at the title in the bookstore.

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