Category Archives: Usability

Online Office? or Goog Docs?

I’m sure you’ve seen that Microsoft announced it will be bringing a free version of Office to the web.  It looks like that may actually still be a year out, but nevertheless it’s got me thinking about whether I’ll be a customer.

Google Docs is great but let’s face it, the best part about it is plain and simple: It groks .docs (and xls and whatever else).  If it didn’t… I imagine I might have a few docs out there — some random things people “shared” with me and what not, but add in the ability to handle .doc files and it becomes an essential tool for anyone lacking a copy of Office.

So, Microsoft’s announcement that Office will be available FREE online is a Goog Docs killer, right?  … nah.  I really think it would be but the thing about “Free online Office” is… it’s only free if you’re already paying… and while 400M people are — YOU, my friend, are not.

So, what will it take for this to be a success amongst the 2 groups of people I care about?  Let’s label them (1) Me and (2) My Uncle Rob.


I love having things online and everything that goes along with it, but… gotta be free.  Google’s online offerings are far from having perfect interfaces, but as any good 36-signals-following kid will tell you: free + simple = winner.  I just can’t justify paying $50/yr (to make up a number) to have Word online.  I know it’s $4 a month… but sorry: I’m out.

Uncle Rob

Uncle Rob doesn’t really get the whole online thing.  That’s not to say he doesn’t use/like technology.  or that he doesn’t like his Y! Mail and playing some online Euchre.  It literally means: he doesn’t know what it means to have documents hosted online.  If you give him Office online, he’s going to wonder why he can’t go to his harddrive to copy all his files to his fancy new flash drive.

But here’s the thing: he wants Office.  He doesn’t want something that can read and write doc files via “Save As” (or even worse “Export As”.  He just wants it to work – and look like the thing he uses at work.  THIS is why this whole plan may work.

So, what will it take to make me recommend it to him?  … gotta be free.  If he has to pay $50/year — no question about it: I’m telling him to have his kid buy him the $150 Student copy for his own machine.  It’ll be easier for him to understand and it doesn’t force him to send all his Uncle-Robby-Friends “share links” or use that pesky “Export As”.  If the prices are even close (and they really are), it’s the obvious choice for him.

Maybe they’ll figure these things out?  … or maybe they won’t AND the interface will suck.  It’ll be interesting to see how things look when we actually get closer to the release.



Filed under browser, Usability

Feel better about your body, with Readability

I didn’t think much about using Readability… until I came upon this guy today (click for full size at own risk):


Much much better.

Ah, what can be prettier than a screen full of baseball stat projections!  The print is a bit small but that’s by choice: make sure to play with the settings when you grab this thing.

1 Comment

Filed under Recommended Sites, Usability

Gmail Game Changer

I’ve been a happy gmail user for 4+ years now.  The story of why I like it is incredibly simple: It allowed me to throw away my email filing cabinet and replace it with “just search”.  It really doesn’t sound like a huge deal but it’s basically given me a personal secretary for my correspondence.  I don’t care what filing cabinet you stored the memo in: just find it!  … and you have 1.25 seconds.

But while that’s the real story, the reason I’m writing is I finally dedicated 15 seconds to actually clicking on the “lab” icon to check out what kind of features they had to offer.  And there it was.  Queue the bright light and the “heavenly sound”….

Send & Archive

Every once in a while you find a feature in a product that makes you say “hey, I bet these guys actually use this product themselves”.

1 Comment

Filed under Recommended Sites, Usability

Expecting More: Writeboard

The beauty of 37signals products, including Writeboard, is keeping things simple.  But if you’re going to do just the simple stuff – you need to do it right.

It’s pretty clear where the “formatting guide” should open:

but no.  Instead my editing area is pushed off the screen and my sidebar real-estate continues to be underused.

Ok, well that’s unfortunate (and admittedly quite minor).  At least now I can figure out what syntax to use to insert a pre-formatted block…  or maybe not.  The formatting guide not only doesn’t include what I want – it doesn’t mention that there are other options even available.

It’s pretty simple to find the true formatting guide for Writeboards though.  All you have to do is traverse the internets for 20 minutes.

1. Try the formatting guide.

2. Start a blog post complaining about it appearing in a nonsensical location.

3. Search Wikipedia for “Writeboard” and find the note about Textile.

4. Go to the Textile Wikipedia page

5. Use their link to the full syntax reference.

See!  It’s nice and simple!  Hooray!

1 Comment

Filed under Usability

So, uh. Which is it?

Of course, the answer is: both, but there must be some way to restructure this thing.progress.png

Leave a comment

Filed under Usability

Orbitz usability…

Check out these directions.

When you call us, the system will first ask you for a number five times.
It is not necessary to enter a number and if you do not enter one, you
will be provided with the menu with various options. You need to say
‘Help’ from the main menu which will provide you with two options
‘Password’ or ‘Website’. You need to say ‘Website’ to speak to a
customer service representative.

Ask me for a number 5 times and it never needs to be entered?

Say “help” to get “options”?

Say “Website” to get a person?

Of course, it should come as no surprise that absolutely none of what is described above actually greets me when I call…

update: I should have mentioned yesterday that the italic text above was copied verbatim from an email I received from their support team. Also, re-reading that paragraph doesn’t it sound like a logic puzzle? Try re-reading it and adding “Do you enter a number when prompted?” as an additional sentence… I know it’s got me stumped.

Leave a comment

Filed under Usability

You make the call…

I recently opened a MySpace page so that I could rate a video and so that nobody else could take the jimhalberg username. My plan was just to put a link to there + a picture of me. So, today I finally got around to putting my picture on there. I estimate that it took me (literally) 20 minutes to figure out how to update my picture – for the thousandth time: I can’t believe how crappy that site is.

Anyway, I came across this picture while trying to update my profile and couldn’t help but laugh out loud. You make the call: Is this a joke? Or is this seriously the promotion for how awesome MySpace can be when you customize things?


Leave a comment

Filed under Usability