None of the above.

Don’t ask a question if the question precludes the correct answer !!

Unfortunately too often folk just want to hear what they want to hear, so they limit the question to a choice of the answers they have already chosen. Unfortunately Andy Pennell and Scott Nonnenberg have now fallen victim to this mind set too. They aren’t the only ones, it’s a pretty common and easy mistake to make.  The quest for efficiency drives us in ways to try to limit the feedback process, to simplify, to categorize, and in doing so, we often limit the answers to questions. 🙁

Let’s look at Andy & Scott’s question. In essence it was “Where do you expect debugger windows to be on the menu?”. Sounds simple enough right? So, why not limit the answers to a set of options, in this case menus, and limit that to a choice of one of two menus?  Well, simply because that isn’t really looking at the bigger picture, the real underlying question….

First, understand the target audience: Developers working with VS.NET, really are a special group as far as end user groups go. These are the people who just love to tweak things, to modify things. I think just about every developer there is has a certain intrinsic artistic flare, a creativeness. They are all very much unique in subtle ways. For developers, the complex task of right clicking on a toolbar, selecting customize, and dragging a menu item from one menu to another hardly seems like a huge issue.

So the issue is not really where those menu items are, because that is easy to customize. And with VS.NET 2005 you can persist your customization to file and easily take that with you too to other computers. What the real issue is, is which is more discoverable!

And that’s where we get the two different options come into play. One is about an option that is more discoverable for users of VS.NET 2002 and 2003, and the other is about discoverability for new users or users who wish to take VS.NET 2005 as all being new regardless of their previous experiences. That is, it’s now a game of politics, a vote, weighing one set of people’s preferences against another’s. That’s always a dangerous game, and rarely has stable results.

As I hinted to earlier, this phenomena is not limited to Andy and Scott. If anything, they are just the latest causalities in this process as Whidbey takes shape. There’s already plenty of folk upset over the changes to their keyboard settings for example. And to put it frankly, the early proto-types the VB.NET team has come up with for their customer’s settings are so far targeted at the “new” users, that for existing users of VS.NET, you really need to NOT select the VB settings profile.

In *all* these cases the *real* question is “how do we make this more discoverable?”

That’s the question all these people need to be asking. Not categorizing, and definitely not weighing one group of people’s preferences up against another group’s. Logic tells us that for every winner, there is a loser, and when the customer is a loser, that is a disgruntled customer!!

So are they asking the right question, or do they need to step back from the answers they want to hear, and ask a different question? I think they do.  But then again, I already have an answer for that question 😉