Thursday, December 23, 2004

User-Driven Software Development as Science

User-drive software development as science

I found this paragraph quite interesting as a case study (in usability rhetoric) I haven't looked at the product yet. [paragraph breaks and bolding added]

Is EasyOffice a Microsoft Office (or WordPerfect Office or StarOffice) 'clone'?

No. Although EasyOffice contains most features common to Microsoft Office, as well WordPerfect Office and StarOffice, it was designed and functions as an original, innovative product.E-Press Corp. has in place a rigorous scientific research and engineering development program. This program is partially funded by the Canadian Federal Government, and undergoes a comprehensive scientific and financial governmental audit each year.

In this research program, the 'scientific method' is followed: hypotheses are generated, data is tested, results are analyzed, and new hypotheses are then generated, and so on. What this means in the case of EasyOffice, is that a particular version of EasyOffice is created. Then experimental subjects (some with no computer experience, and others with varying amount of expertise) are asked to create a particular document, a particular spreadsheet and a particular presentation using the experimental version of EasyOffice. The steps subjects take to do so, the difficulties they have, and of course, their successes are noted. The hypotheses are then considered in light of these results, and a new set of hypotheses, essentially a new version of EasyOffice, is then generated, and the procedure repeats.

The current version of EasyOffice essentially reflects this experimental origin, rather than a 'cloning' of any particular office suite. The bimodal success rates we obtained from inexperienced versus experienced users, is reflected in the 'Easy' and the 'Advanced' modes present in most EasyOffice programs. Many features which EasyOffice has (and indeed, Microsoft Office lacks) are there because of our observations of our experimental subjects. By the same token, many features that seem to reflect a Microsoft origin, are there also, but only indirectly so, because of demand of our experimental subjects. Experienced computer users are so entrenched with the Microsoft Windows and Office paradigm, that this group will independently cause a Microsoft-like version to emerge. This group vehemently rejects new ways of doing operations, new ways of organizing functions, and so on. On the other hand, inexperienced users are more open to new ideas, and actually do much better with a non-Microsoft-like paradigm. The effect of WordPerfect Office, StarOffice, Linux, or any other operating system or office suite, is found to be negligible in our studies in influencing subjects' outcomes.

Despite the skewing of our results due to the habituation (brainwashing?) of users with the Windows and other Microsoft paradigms, we have nonetheless maintained our vision of creating an innovative, intelligent, friendly office suite. Features that look similar in Microsoft Office, and WordPerfect Office, and StarOffice, may look similar in EasyOffice, but in many cases, our features are enhanced with the properties that subjects were found to need during our experiments. For example, although our 'File Menu' has become similar to Microsoft Office (and the other office suites), our 'File Menu' is bloated into 'File1' and 'File2' menus. Our subjects, were terrified of losing data, and would perform operations that reflected this fear. The many backup systems present in our 'File' menus, for example, reflect these observations, and allow our users an easier-use experience.

As well, while like other office suites, many of our features are built upon a dumb infrastructure, we are in the process of replacing many of the dumb routines with AI routines. As our mission statement says, "...rather than being a block of iron and silicon sitting on one's desk, it will become one's friend, in every sense of the word. You will talk to it, and it will talk back to you. It will empathize with you. It will do what you ask of it", and as the AI routines become incorporated into our software, this will happen.EasyOffice is not a clone of Microsoft Office, nor is it "one more office suite on the market". We believe EasyOffice is very special because it does what you, the user, want it to do.