Software for Idiots

Tonight, I tried to install an HP Photosmart C4700 printer at home.

Now, I’m a fan of HP. They’ve brought me a lot of business over the last 8 years. I have HP PCs and laptops. I’m one of the few people in the world, apparently, with an HP TV.

So, I want this HP printer to replace the worn-out Lexmark. It’s a nice printer, an all-in-one copy/scan/print machine. But the key (besides the low price) is that it’s wireless. I need a network printer, and this little baby fits the bill.

Until, that is, I tried to install it. Everything works — except the wireless. Hmmmm. I click on the "configure wireless connection" in the HP Solution Center, and my PC spins for a bit and then — nothing.

Nothing. No light flashing. No message box. Nothing. It just starts up like it’s going to do an install and then it quits.

Eventually, I figure out that, although I’ve installed all the software already, I need to have the original CD in the drive to configure the wireless. Huh? Try again.

This is better, but not by much. It starts the program and begins to scan looking for my Wi-Fi.

Okay, here’s where I tell you that I am paranoid about my network. I take lots of Wi-Fi security measures. But the first Wi-Fi security measure is — don’t broadcast your Wi-Fi. So I don’t.

HP seems to think that you would — and should. So they search, and search, then show me some networks from the neighbors’ houses.

I’ll stop there, because here’s my point — every software package I get seems to have adopted the most obnoxious behaviors of AOL, Microsoft and others. And that is to assume that you (the consumer) are too ignorant to know whether you need help or not.

So software will scan every hard drive attached to your machine — no matter how many terabytes — looking for some software or configuration file. And it will make you wait until it’s done. Sure, they could have just asked: What program do you want to use? or What is the name of your network? But that would assume an intelligent user. Software doesn’t assume that. On the contrary, they assume you are ignorant, too ignorant to even allow you the option of taking a shortcut.

When you write software like this — and more and more vendors do — you are making an architectural choice. You are choosing to treat your customer like he/she is an idiot.

The significance of that choice is profound. It seeps into all of your design decisions, all of your marketing decisions, all of your support decisions. And it certainly seeps into the friendliness or hostility of your product.

It is a simple thing to ask, when installing or configuring software — do you know how to install this? do you know where your programs/files are? do you know where your network is? Maybe 90% of the customers will say "No, please help me". But some of your customers will say "Yes, thank you, my time is valuable. I’m installing this software because I’m trying to get something done. My goal is to get back to real work, so let me speed this process up. Please."

Part of Software Metaphysics’ mission is to examine some principles that form the basis of how we think about software — principles that we don’t even realize we hold.

How we envision our users defines how we build our software.

Do yourself a favor — think about users as pretty smart folks.


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