Peter Marklund's Home
I have sometimes been in discussions with colleagues over the merits of using a web interface versus using Java applets or desktop applications. Recently I have been strengthened in my belief that eventhough (or possibly because) the web UI is rather limited in its set of features it is in most cases still preferable. Let me give you two examples of where web applications with minimalistic and conventional UIs have been superior compared to desktop apps:
- Lotus Notes versus FastMail. I had no problems gettings started using FastMail and their smart choice of buttons and links makes the web service very efficient to use (this is probably the best web interface I have seen so far). In fact, the web interface is so good that I have kept using it eventhough it is possible to use an email client (such as Outlook) instead. Lotus notes on the other hand has a multitude of buttons scattered all over their email interface and, even worse, violates many UI and terminology conventions. It even took me a while to figure out how to send an email (don't bother looking for the Compose button, Lotus Notes uses the original button label "New Memo"). I have wasted colleagues time with questions about Notes and courses are held in Notes at my company.
- Time reporting system Parlando (desktop app) versus the web-based simple time reporting system in the ACS TCL intranet module that we used at ArsDigita. The time reporting system we used at ArsDigita was homegrown and extremely simple and there was never any doubt about how to use it and it got the job done. The Parlando app on the other hand, just like Lotus Notes, has a proprietary and unconventional UI with (I suppose) a lot of features. Unfortunately, I don't need those fancy features and I've had to ask my colleagues a number of times how to use it.
By now it should be obvious which point I am trying to make: UIs should be simple and follow conventions. Also, FastMail shows that it is possible to design quite powerful and efficient web interfaces with plain HTML. There are two ubiquitous UI conventions in place today, that of the web and that of Microsoft Windows. Usability would benefit greatly if application developers would stick to either of these two UI paradigms and keep their UIs simple and focused.