back to article The web is past peak innovation: It's all negative returns from here

In all the years I have been using FOSS software, the most common complaint I've seen about FOSS software is that the "design" is "terrible", "laughable" or some witticism about forks and eyes. What's interesting about this criticism isn't its longevity, that's to be expected since for most of the people registering this …

Wuh?

It is hard to tell what the author objects to, since not one example is cited.

Perhaps the next one will enlighten us all.

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Re: Wuh?

I found that this article was poorly designed.

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Give me functionality any day

There are 2 extremes in the design camp -- Jony Ive and company would absolutely love a completely blank, flat, white rounded rectangle surface that only responded to finger gestures the user had to memorize...and only responds by vibrating, -maybe- speaking, and changing the color of the surface. Most software developers I've worked with prefer a text file as the only means of configuration. (I wish I could post a screenshot of one of the GUIs our dev team cooked up to test an admittedly complex system...it looks like the control panel of a fighter aircraft with over 100 buttons, checkboxes, etc. all squeezed onto one massive page.)

The big problem is that something like a phone or computer now has to be designed for the absolute lowest common denominator user. People using smartphones are, for the most part, non-technical. They just want to use Facebook, SMS and the web with absolutely no visible configuration items. The problem is that this leaves the techies out -- we're stuck with a non-functional UI that we have to guess the right finger gestures on or find the hidden "drawer knob" that's usually light-grey on white. And once we get that drawer open, the controls are dumbed down as well.

I think an ideal solution would be to skin applications to have a techie mode and a dummy mode...hide all the functionality under the covers and build two user interfaces. You have to have both - computers and phones are no longer the exclusive geek toys they were. Personally, I'd love to see simplistic terminal UIs come back where it made sense...IBM midrange and mainframe come to mind due to their ease of understanding what to do even if you've never seen the system before.

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Re: Give me functionality any day

"I think an ideal solution would be to skin applications to have a techie mode and a dummy mode...hide all the functionality under the covers and build two user interfaces. You have to have both - computers and phones are no longer the exclusive geek toys they were. Personally, I'd love to see simplistic terminal UIs come back where it made sense...IBM midrange and mainframe come to mind due to their ease of understanding what to do even if you've never seen the system before."

But remember Murphy's Law. Inevitably, a dumb user will switch the app to Expert Mode and get hopelessly lost. You just can't win, but since the stupid users outnumber the smart users, guess who wins?

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Re: Give me functionality any day

Computers/GUIs 25-35 years ago were far more functional & usable for everyone, though, even though programs rarely shared more in terms of UI elements than basic menus. I think that it was due to three basic things:

1) Resource limitations forced mainstream software to focus on the functions that would meet most people's needs, while specialty programs handled the edge cases. As a result, top-level menu items, a couple dozen icons, and a decent options dialog could usually cover most elements without overwhelming the user.

2) Insofar as there were any design trends, they were about giving users quick access to & control of program functions, whether through toolbar buttons (with easily-identified color icons) or menu items. IOW, there was no crowd pushing to cram everything in a series of nested menus — with flat monochromatic icons at best — hidden behind a small enigmatic icon.

3) Most importantly, there was enough competition between software publishers that part of the bug/alpha/beta testing teams' job was to identify aspects of a UI that might confuse or annoy users, and the company took feedback from buyers seriously. They didn't make changes just for the sake of having something new to do or have the attitude of "we know what's best, anyone that complains is clearly just afraid of change" that is prevalent today.

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Re: Give me functionality any day

That may be true, until it reached beyond the typical casual user.

The developer mode in smartphones are pretty well hidden that currently I have not seen a single casual user accidental found it or clicked a setting from it.

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Re: Give me functionality any day

"Computers/GUIs 25-35 years ago were far more functional & usable for everyone, though, even though programs rarely shared more in terms of UI elements than basic menus."

You have to consider that, 25 years ago or so, the average computer user would probably be considered a geek: a distinct minority. Now, everyone and their grandmother not only have a computer but are expected to use it in their everyday lives for things they usually did another way but can't anymore. Which means the competency level of the typical computer user fell sharply, and designers have to cater to stupid because they're in the majority.

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Re: Give me functionality any day

"finger gestures"...are the spawn of the devil! A stupid idea, especially when first touted as "mouse gestures" and, in many cases, you had to "teach" the software which gestures you personally wanted to use for each function. Fine if you only ever use one computer, but pointless when you use a different one which either has no gestures configured or, worse, another user chose different gestures.

At least on a touch screen, a few basic ones like swipe to scroll in direction x, or pinch in/out to zoom in/out, work quite well. But why would we go "back" to having to learn arcane things to get a PC to do something? At least at the command line, you have to learn actual words which can be memorable rather than some strange shape or pattern which most people find quite difficult to master.

And don't get me started on the ever changing icon designs with no text and often little in the way of information as to what said icon actually does, especially if there's no mouse over popup label.

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Mushroom

Not one "web designer"

... has a clue about interface. I estimate that the number of "web designers" who have read "Tog on Interface" is zero. I'm basing this on the fact that just about every web site that I visit that requires user input is fundamentally broken. Controls that are shotgunned into the page, buttons that are off screen unless one scrolls the page with input fields that fill the page so that there's little clue that the important thing is somewhere where the user can't see it (Yes DVLA, I mean you). And the worst sin of all, controls that are greyed out when active and offer no feedback when clicked.

All would-be "web designers" should be forced to subscribe to Ask Tog and to buy the book. They should also ignore the fact that his own website is a bit poor, to say the least.

Lets face it, "web designer" is right up there with "telephone sanitizer" and "PAT tester" in the list of jobs for people who are going to end up on the "B" Ark when the giant mutant star goat appears to eat the planet.

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Re: Not one "web designer"

The webmaster died back in the 00s. It was replaced by the "developer" and arcane scripting languages for no real reason except to provide job security to "developers" and marketing took over the control of company websites and treated it just like any other media.

In another post to another article, I told a story about how marketing made an HTML email, coded it badly and wanted to blame Outlook for the problem and did not like it one bit when I showed them the code was the problem. Because as a tech support guy, I wasn't supposed to know the holy secrets of web design. What they didn't know is that I was building websites in the last century and I didn't flying a fuck if they looked bad when they were trying to blame the IT department. I found the problem in 5 minutes.

I got out of website design for the same reason I got out of DTP, pay was dropping and morons were the bosses.

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Re: Not one "web designer"

yes, that Asktog website is 'a bit poor to say the least' . Applying some basic print desgin principles would improve it immensely.

If mr tog can't design a dirt basic website so users can quickly scan through the content to see where they want to go next (check a dead tree tabloid for how to do that) why would they consider any further exploration?

He needs a lesson in how to make text content readable and attractive. He needs a web designer.

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Linux

Question

I wonder if the color of the straw used to create your straw man argument affects it's perception? It's size? If it wears a cute hat? The type face used in it's publication?

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"Taste aside, though, the Ubuntu desktop is very functional. It works quite well."

It only works well if what you want is what it does. If you want something else then it doesn't. However one of the good things about open source OSs is that you have a choice.

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"It only works well if what you want is what it does. If you want something else then it doesn't. However one of the good things about open source OSs is that you have a choice."

It's also the BAD thing about getting simple users to use your OS. Think decision paralysis. And they outnumber you.

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"...you have a choice"

Do you now? So where's the traditional paradigm Gnome 2 desktop (like MATE) that has a notification area that DOESN'T enlarge notification icons along with the launcher ones as you increase the panel height, allowing to group them tightly in a corner? You know, as windows did for, like, forever? For the record, I didn't invent this (I just slowly go crazy using it) - there are multiple bug reports decrying exactly this issue. The last one I saw ended bitterly with "I'll be over there rewriting that @#$#$% applet" - unfortunately, the guy forgot to mention where exactly that might be.

In my experience, twenty settings or twenty pages full of settings makes exactly fuckall difference - there will still not be any settings whatsoever for the five obviously stupid things the software drives you crazy with. Oh, and "fix it yourself" is precisely as dumb as suggesting to design and operate your own 747 if you don't like the legroom of the existing ones: not an actual option for most people.

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"Taste aside, though, the Ubuntu desktop is very functional. It works quite well."

I missed that part. The Unity interface just adds a useless layer to workflow. "Works well" my ass.

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Remember how Apple "just works"?

People didn't start switching to Apple products because they were shiny. They switched because they were fed up with being bombarded with notifications: you need to reboot to install updates, you need a new mouse driver, you need to pay $39.99+tax to upgrade your free trial version of McAfee, your copy of Windows isn't genuine, you need to download the !CrashSpam!Toolbar! for Internet Explorer. Some days I felt like I was doing more work for Windows than with Windows.

On Windows, uninstalling an application means finding its custom uninstaller or digging through the Control Panel, running the uninstaller, then being told that it was unable to remove everything because there's a stray .ini file in the folder. On the Mac, uninstalling an application means dragging its icon to the trash can.

On Windows, closing the lid and re-opening it means every application pops up a warning message: network path not found (because it takes a few seconds for the network to connect), printer not found, and why haven't you rebooted for updates yet? On the Mac, closing the lid and re-opening it means finding everything just where you left it.

That's what good design means. It's not just the shiny / pretty side: it's making it all work together.

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Re: Remember how Apple "just works"?

"On Windows, closing the lid and re-opening it means every application pops up a warning message…"

Is that a newer problem? I haven't used Windows since I switched to Linux 8 years ago, but I don't remember running into that problem on my Win 98, 2k, or XP laptops...

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Ubuntu

"Taste aside, though, the Ubuntu desktop is very functional. It works quite well. So to say it's poorly designed is only true by the shallowest definition of the word "design""

I'll call BS on this one also. Of course it's difficult to say *which* Ubuntu desktop is being discussed because we're into airy-fairy arm-waving here, however the 14.04 LTS desktop that's on one of my servers should be preserved as an example of "How not to do it". Other than the slack handful of applications that are configured as part of the default installation it is near impossible to find an application and run it. A GUI that forces the user to resort to a command line isn't doing its job properly. Windows 10 is more usable and I hate that.

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Moving On with AI and IT Command and Control ...... at a Quite Phenomenal Rate

The web is past peak innovation: It's all negative returns from here

Oh, p-l-e-a-s-e, you cannot be serious. Sublime Internet Networking things and Greater IntelAIgent Games to Play are only just launched and getting started ……. Ding-a Ling-AIRing

Mass Virtually Destructive Weaponry for 21st Century Socialism and Leading Elite AI Socialites/CyberIntelAIgent Agencies? Hmmmmm, …. now there’s a grand master novelty and brilliant possibility.

To think not, is to miss heavenly opportunity and extraordinarily render oneself a powerless spectator to rapidly unfolding future events/serial zeroday situations, and that is a stealth which is mind-blowingly awesome.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction.” …. Albert Einstein

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I was recently using a slow connection to a forum I frequent and it was suddenly obvious why the forum was slow even on a faster connection. As the page loaded all the user avatar picture filled the whole screen, then resized to little one-inch piccies. All the avatar pictures next to the posts were the full-size humongous source files, img-sized to one inch square instead of supplied as one-inch square pictures.

How on earth does making a website do that even get as far as coming out of the coder's fingers?

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Anonymous Coward

"How on earth does making a website do that even get as far as coming out of the coder's fingers?"

Probably because any program that could be used to resize that thumbnail is likely to get exploited by hackers and used to pwn the server (didn't El Reg report on that a few months back)? How do you win in such a world? No program can do just one thing because hackers will just change the one thing it does. What man can make, man can break.

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Megaphone

Idiots are the root cause of security flaws

"Probably because any program that could be used to resize that thumbnail is likely to get exploited by hackers and used to pwn the server "

Only if implemented in a half-arsed way by some idiot.

Last year I encountered a CMS (name not mentioned to protect the guilty) that offered the facility to resize a thumbnail for publication. It was how it did it that was the problem. Some idiot thought a really good way to do this was to push the uploaded image to a VM where it was opened using the default application for that filetype. The software then did a screen capture and then downsized the screen capture to a thumbnail. All this was done in an account with admin privileges.

Among the many flaws with this "brilliant" idea was that if the item uploaded was an executable file opening it on the server caused the file to executed with admin privileges.

We contacted the vendor. Their response was "No one has ever complained about this before, so we don't attach any importance to fixing it."

However it is both possible and relatively easy to resize images to a given size without leaving the door wide open to an exploit. Easier in fact that the monstrous way that vendor had chosen to do the job.

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Re: Idiots are the root cause of security flaws

"No one has ever complained about this before, so we don't attach any importance to fixing it."

Aviation industry mentality. A problem even if known, even having caused near-misses before, doesn't exist until a plane crashed because of it (preferably killing everybody on board, just so we know it really is serious). Once the obligatory crash took place fixing the issue can be justified (so we can sanctimoniously claim all those people didn't die for nothing), but definitely not before - have you got any idea what it costs to ground all planes of that type for a few hours of retrofitting an improved cargo door latch or rudder drive nut?!?

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Re: Idiots are the root cause of security flaws

Methinks idiots are also the root target and market for security flaws. And it is a stellar source which keeps on giving.

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Re: Idiots are the root cause of security flaws

"Only if implemented in a half-arsed way by some idiot."

Which happens to be THE NORM.

"Do one thing" sounds nice until you realize the typical result is "Do one thing WRONG."

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Idiots are the root cause of security flaws

"have you got any idea what it costs to ground all planes of that type for a few hours of retrofitting an improved cargo door latch or rudder drive nut?!?"

Quite a bit actually since a plane that isn't in flight isn't making money, so there's a fiduciary responsibility to keep planes flying as much as possible. Plus there's the matter that delays can result in missed connections, foiled flight plans, complaints from fliers (frequently business-oriented fliers who have businesses attached to them and usually aren't flying under contracts so can change airlines--with the blessing of the business--if necessary), loss of face and money to compensate those missed connections, and so on. You have to make the cost of NOT fixing it worse than the cost of fixing it before they'll finally get down to doing it. Most times, that requires force of law (like an Airworthiness Directive, which grounds planes if they're not complied on pain of huge fines) to make it that expensive.

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LDS
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Re: Idiots are the root cause of security flaws

Screen capture to resize an image? It looks something clearly made by someone with no clue about image processing (and most of programming), and/or greed to buy a decent image processing library, if you don't like the FOSS ones. But, in some ways, he or she adopted the Unix programming model... <G>, albeit, I guess, the VM was running Windows...

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Re: Idiots are the root cause of security flaws

"so there's a fiduciary responsibility to keep planes flying as much as possible."

I'm really beginning to hate that word "fiduciary". It seems to be a lazy way of saying "profit is everything". In the example given, it the duty of the company officers to not only try to make a profit, but also to ensure said profits are not wiped out by a crash and the resulting compensation claims.

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Idiots into fiduciary responsibility are a root causal route for security flaws?!.

Quite so, John Brown (no body), and in such a remotely controlled madness are all manner of fools easily led down the artificial garden path and astray to be pwnd and effectively rendered extraordinarily powerless and practically worthless.

Think sheep in the company of wolves/swimmers in seas and the see of sharks.

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Re: Idiots are the root cause of security flaws

" In the example given, it the duty of the company officers to not only try to make a profit, but also to ensure said profits are not wiped out by a crash and the resulting compensation claims."

Not if it's cheaper to pay off the claims...

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Re: Idiots are the root cause of security flaws

Back before I was personally even aware of the concept of GUI I knew of systems designed with at least an attempt to cater for the ( hypotheteical ? ) most stupid user. The term used for such systems was 'idiot proof'.

( I was cynical enough to think there was no such thing. )

Since the term is conspicuous to me by its absence from this article I presume the 'designs' in question are made by people unaware of the very idea. And that means they design FOR THEMSELVES.

( So since 'everybody knows' what the F5 button is for we''ll redesign it to do all sorts of 'obvious' loading. )

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Re: Idiots are the root cause of security flaws

"Back before I was personally even aware of the concept of GUI I knew of systems designed with at least an attempt to cater for the ( hypotheteical ? ) most stupid user. The term used for such systems was 'idiot proof'."

I thought it's been said that you can't make something foolproof/idiotproof because the world just goes you one better. How do you account for the kind of stupid that presses a button clearly labeled "DO NOT TOUCH!" simply because it's there?

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Ads? Bad JavaScript? Where???

FlashBlock + NoScript + Ghostery on Firefox for the win!

I'd sooner use IE5 than Chrome these days, too. Google + Chrome are a large instigator of this issue.

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And no-one has mentioned Microsoft's online Sharepoint where the question one thinks to yourself when opening it is "I wonder how much crappier they've made it today". It seems that any time there's a Y in the day they'll change the UI "because they can" - and it's usually for the worst, and as pointed out above, usually to make it work on tiny screens and screw anyone trying to use a proper screen.

And as mentioned above, DVLA - the epitome of a piss poor website where the "designer" has some fetish for wasted space painted white.

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>>> Open source was simply, presumably, the best designed tool for the job.

Or, quite likely, the cheapest...

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