Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Software companies becoming more concious of feature bloat

Interesting article about Symantec's Norton suite in the Aug 18 issue of Business Week. The article quotes Rowan Trollope, who runs (or ran) the consumer products group at Symantec - he discovered that his friends turned off most of the features in the Norton suite rather than deal with all the problems it causes. It was a wake-up call, and he set out on a mission to get the bloat out of Norton.

I've had the same experience. Friends and family ask me "Can you look at my computer? It's really slow accessing the web." Inevitably I find out they recently installed Norton and between the anti-fraud, anti-identity-theft, anti-virus, anti-adware, and anti-spyware it's grinding their system to a halt.

Kudos to Rowan to listening directly to customers, but I have to wonder - why did it take a directive from a top executive to embark on trim the fat in Norton, which for the record, is still as bad as it was two years ago? It's painfully obvious to customers, and should be painfully obvious to the support team, the product management team, and the QA team.

Thankfully, we're just at the cusp of getting beyond the GeeWhiz phase in the software industry, where everything is so revolutionary that people will buy it regardless of how painful it is to use. The software industry today is a bit like the car industry of 1920 - the sheer novelty of horseless transportation outweighed the fact that driving most cars was more complicated than brain surgery. Now that there's a computer in most homes, and "Photoshopping" is in the mainstream vernacular, we're very nearly at the point where ease of use, design, and simplicity will win over feature bloat. It can't come soon enough.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Unified Communications goes mainstream

I remember Fred once told me we dramatically overestimate the success of a given technology in the short term, and then dramatically underestimate it's impact in the long term. It's definitely been true for VoIP and Unified Communications - they hype was unbelievable, and VoIP pundits predicted the rapid death of traditional telephony, then as the promise failed to materialize overnight, and people suffered through the unreliability of early systems, they lost interest.

I remember having conversations a few years back with colleagues about how cost-reduction will drive VoIP adoption, but the true benefit of VoIP and UC will be business productivity and integration with other enterprise systems. I was happy to see an article today titled "Vertical Apps Drive UC Interest" in FierceVoIP . The article cites a report from Light Reading that finds that vertical market applications in finance and healthcare, as well as Fixed Mobile Convergence and Collaboration are driving adoption of Unified Communications.

In the next few years we'll finally start to see the true promise of VoIP - softphones for your mobile device that completely integrate with your office PBX, archiving and searching customer calls in your CRM system, and many things we can't even begin to imagine. The future is here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Want to create software your users love?

Last week Lorraine Chapman, Macadamian's UX Project Manager, delivered a webinar on the right and wrong ways to get user input on design. Many software companies still go on "gut feel" and market research when designing new features, citing time constraints, budgets, or simply "we know our product-space best" as excuses not to get user feedback . Lorraine dispels some of the common myths about involving users in design and covers some of the techniques and best practices we use in design.

Click here to view the archived webcast.