Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Obligatory Windows Vista Post (™), Part 1

Ok, what's to say about Vista RTM amid the flood of coverage...

I installed Vista on my wife's laptop to do some usability testing. She is a relatively strong "typical Windows user", but not a "power user." Uses Office, the file system, corrects redeye in photos, knows what not to click on on the web; has no idea how to add user accounts, update a driver, or monkey with the control panel; doesn't know why anyone would want to do it.

As a geek, the parts of Vista I love are the parts not immediately visible. Mainly, the out-of-the-box support for .net 3.0, especially WPF and XPS. I'm always asking, "Have you seen the New York Times Reader?" I'm still mourning the loss of WinFS, and the Vista shell experience struck me as just-another-graphical-shell, with a couple of new things to see/find/learn/adjust to. My wife, on the other hand, had no problem with any of the changes (e.g. in the filesystem Explorer windows). She loves Vista. She said she found it way easier to use than XP: more intuitive and more productive (not to mention more visually attractive).

My point here is not to make a commercial for Windows Vista; this experiment compares Vista only to XP, and says nothing of how, say, OS X would stack up. Instead, what I really learned was how differently usability design / engineering / testing in Vista comes across to a "normal" user than to a geek. Every time I "discover" this usability fact, I am surprised anew, even though I shouldn't be.

I'll never stop being amazed by (1) how completely wrong we geeks can get it when we try to talk about what is usable and appealing to average tech consumer personae; (2) how brilliant the great usability engineers and designers are who can get some of this stuff right up front; and (3) how much of a mistake it is, when developing technology products, perpetually to defer serious usability study.

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