The Microsoft Way

by on September 24, 2009

I’ve had an unusually frustrating day with Microsoft office, so I’m venting. Coincidentally, here’s a little titbit trawled from the oceans of Slashdot this evening – some anecdotal evidence of the way Microsoft do usability “research”:

I’ve participated in usability testing at MSFT (Score:5, Interesting)

… as a developer.

They basically have labs with one-way mirror. User is left alone in a sound-proof room and given a set of tasks to perform. Everything is recorded (including facial expressions and sound), and any developer can take a look at the test either from the adjacent room or from his/her workstation (using Windows Media Player). The only input the user gets is when he gets so confused he can’t accomplish the task from the list. In which case the person conducting the test just says “next task” and that’s it.

So, remember that next time you open an attachment in Outlook (as I did today), edit it, save the changes, then try to work out where’s it’s been saved. Remember that when something you are writing in Word suddenly decides to turn into a bulleted list. Remember that when the format of the text you copy from one document is preserved in the target document and you have to do it again using “paste special.” Above all, remember that these problems have been around in MS’s products for over 20 years in some cases.

The truth is that Microsoft don’t care about usability, because they don’t have to. I’m convinced that in hundreds of years time historians will document MSFT as the single most corrosive influence on the development of mankind after global warming.


IMHO in hundreds of years MSFT will be less than a footnote, and Google will be credited with the destruction of the world.

Or it won’t be, because what little is left of human intelligence will be too weak to formulate such an argument.

Assuming the use of word processors and spreadsheets is seen as significant to the information age (which I think it would be hard to argue they’re not), then the damage that MSFT have and are doing is plain. For example, we will probably never know whether there is a better way of writing a book on a computer, or organising a file system, or connecting desktop computers together, because the alternatives never got any opportunity to prove otherwise. Some of us can imagine alternatives, but we’re no better off in that regard to Russians in the 1960s imagining alternatives to buying food from state-run shops, or running farms for profit.

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