How hard do you want to make this? – Tales from the Crypto

How hard do you want to make this?

So, I’m beta testing Outlook 2007, and it’s got some really pretty “ribbons” that indicate that they’ve gone to great lengths to improve the user interface.

Today, I’m creating a distribution list from a number of people that have emailed me.

This should be easy.

Here we go…

Create a new distribution list, give it a name, and then drag the messages into it – it’s smart enough to know what I’m trying to do, right?

Wrong. No drop operation gets performed.

Okay, so maybe if I open the message up, I can drag the individual sender’s address into the distribution list, yes?


What about clicking “Add Member”, and then dragging the sender’s address into the Add Member dialog? That should work, right?


Worse still, the “Add Member” dialog is application modal – I cannot even change focus to the message to read the email address that I’m typing.

Right now, I’m resorting to dragging the address from the message into wordpad, then copying and pasting portions of the address into the appropriate fields in the “Add Member” dialog.

And I have to do this for a couple of dozen messages.

The ribbons are all very pretty, but really, Microsoft, “pretty” should always take second place to “usable”. [Yes, my own interfaces aren’t exactly pretty, but I like to think that they are usable – your constructive criticism is very welcome!]

Outlook has always given me the impression that the team that writes it – or at least, the team that designs it – has not spent a good deal of time actually using it.

I may have commented before that it’s common practice within Microsoft to apologise for missing meetings by saying that “Outlook ate the meeting invite”.

[Yes, commenting on beta software is probably technically in breach of some NDA, but the useless behaviour I’m talking about here was useless before, and it looks like being useless for some time to come.]

3 Responses to How hard do you want to make this?

  • As someone for whom the last few years have been either Outlook or Notes of various flavours I can say that Outlook has won out as more usable and I think has been more of a joy to deploy than Notes although I can say that neither was a joy.

    Lotus got so much right (a) multiple servers for failover [now I think available in E2K7](b) multiple timezones on a meeting invite [although this one has finally been added in the beta 2 refresh for O2K7] and so much wrong (1) single language per install so when I worked for a global bank with staff in ~89 countries we had to have every localised version of Notes they did when we could have deployed one Outlook version and language packs (2) a scripting / automation interface a Vogon could not love.

    Given a free choice as user I will pick Outlook over Notes but as a company owner I have a feeling the choice would go the other way until Microsoft made me believe E2K7 was the preverbial dogs testicles.

  • This may be one of those cases like trying to find accounting software that is secure and doesn’t require huge investments of personal information – there is very little competition in the field that is any better, so there’s no reason to improve, except for personal pride on the part of the developer, or for the sales angle – and you can’t sell easier to use, you can only sell a new feature, or a prettier screenshot.

  • I have the same critique, but applied to Outlook 2003.

    You can create a Contacts folder and even a distribution list for those contacts, but you can’t *use* that distribution list until you add that contacts folder to your list of Address Books. That’s an extra, nuisance step. And how do you do that, by right-clicking? Nope. You have to know to bring up the properties, then go to the Outlook Address Book tab, and check the box “Show this folder as an e-mail Address Book”.

    And don’t get me started on the lame interface of iTunes. How could anyone with more than a screenful of songs like it? How could Apple not get the simplicity of dragging a song or playlist onto the iPod icon? But nooooo, you have to create the playlist in the main screen, then change the focus to your iPod, then go to the “tab” for your music, and fill in the checkbox for the newly created playlist so that it and its contents will by synched.

    (But, probably, these are things that your wife knows).

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