Why do users put up with bad software?

Why do users put up with bad software?

Summary: Software sucks, but what can be done about it? More to the point why do users put up with it?

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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Reuters carried a story yesterday about David Platt's book, Why Software Sucks. Coincidentally, I'd just finished interviewing David for my Technometria podcast on IT Conversations. (The show with David won't appear until next week.)

The book is aimed at computer users and is a humorous look at a serious topic: usability. The problem, according to David, is that programmers design programs for themselves, not for users. He cites the fact that when he talks to programmers and asks them if they have a stick-shift car, a much larger proportion do when compared with the general population: programmers will trade off convenience for control any day.

When I talked to David, he offered five things programmers could do to design better software interfaces:

  1. Put a virgin on the design team
  2. Break with convention when needed
  3. Don't let edge cases complicate the mainstream
  4. Instrument your application and use the data -- avoid guessing
  5. When something can't "just work" pick the alternative that's closest.

An example of number three that David highlights on his Suckbusters blog is UPS. When you go to their site, you can't do anything (not even look at their annual report) until you tell them what country you're from. If you're from Sweden, it can take as many as 31 clicks to select you're country, for example. Google, on the other hand, just figures out where you're coming from and most of the time, they're right.

I've always been amazed what people are willing to put up with in software. That do you think?

[poll id=32]

Topic: Tech Industry

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29 comments
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  • Cost

    The majority of Americans will choose paying less over getting better quality much of the time.
    mhanratty
    • Users are not that numb

      Users pay for software to obtain some kind of benefit. That fits the classic marketing example of a vendor selling a power drill and a user buying holes.

      If they only need a few holes or small holes or whatever, they can buy an inexpensive drill. If they only need minor word processing or simple accounting, they can buy something appropriate that is less expensive than the "pro" version. Microsoft understands that they are in a consumer goods market more than a technicians market and their customers mostly have no problem with that. That opens them to the snipes and jeers of the tech crowd who see costs in terms of bytes of memory rather than dollars and cents.
      StorageGuru
  • comment on the other vote

    it's much simpler than all the choices. The majority of users don't know what they are doing in the first place, so how can they tell if software is truly good or bad.
    hpbear149
  • Rule 1

    You obviously don't know the /. demography.

    The worst offenses are committed by the ones who don't have room in their lives for a sex life that doesn't involve a computer.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
  • Microsoft

    Microsoft has set the standard so low with all their poor Win9x releases, among other things, so people are accustomed to mediocre performance and reliability. I'm not an MS basher, but its difficult to argue that Windows lacked quality for a very long time. I do believe that the current MS offerings have finally begun to some substantial improvement.
    Tiggster
    • How quickly we forget ... IBM

      Microsoft was to IBM what Google et al is to Microsoft today, and tomorrow Google will be evil. Don't believe me? It's already happening. It must be something in the water when a company reaches a certain size.
      Oknarf
      • Try going public

        Going public is what probably does it. You get shareholders who care nothing for the company vision and are just there because your price skyrocketed, and they want more of it. Then the company vision becomes clouded by concerns that you're not growing fast enough. So the company starts thinking of ways to "feed the beast", or else face the prospect of losing shareholders, and thereby their money. Fear sets in that if that happens, you could have a full scale "run on the bank", and more investors might bail. I don't expect that what happened to internet stocks in 2000 will happen to Google, because from what I hear there's real value there. The problem that could develop is Google becomes addicted to its perceived value in the marketplace and values that above the loyalty of its users.
        Mark Miller
        • Capitalism

          Basically, you need to always do better than you did, infintesmal. Fire workers and increase revenue and cut costs and complaints and get more customers.

          The investors only actually care about how your company is performing if its big enough that they use it themselves and then screws them...
          ljuvefreya
    • Microsoft substantial Improvement?

      Have you counted the number of hot fixes, cold fixes and just plain fixes that take up much room on your hard drive just for Windows XP?
      dirtroadsport
  • Users put up with bad software because...

    ...there's very little good software to choose from.

    <p>Good software is hard to write. I've been coding professionally for a third of a century, and I'm good at it (or so the organisations I've worked for tell me), and it's <i>still</i> hard to write. And it's not just a simple matter of geeks-coding-for-geeks. You can't write good code for <i>anyone</i> unless you understand the objective you're trying to achieve, and that objective is always changing, usually as a result of growing/changing understanding of the objective. Too many programmers, I think, just start pounding in code before they really understand the objective. A lot of programmers, I think, just lose sight of the objective and start coding in cool stuff or neat features or in other ways stretching the objective just because it's fun. Another huge contributor to bad code is lack of communication between coders in programming groups. Or unresolved disagreements about the objectives.

    <p>But anyway, users can't use what coders don't code.
    Henry Miller
    • ....development is broken

      I also am a developer. The organization I work for follows what I gather is a fairly standard paradigm: a sales droid talks to the customer, comes back and sits down with a product manager to build a set of requirements. Those requirements are then used to build a set of use cases. Those use cases are then handed to the development staff (the coders) to build a product. Once the product is created, it gets 'thrown over the wall' to testing, which tests against the use cases. Once the testers and coders are satisfied that the product performs according to the use cases, the customer gets the product.

      And promptly has to suppress the almost overwhelming desire to hurl all over it.

      Why? Because the people WRITING the product and the people USING the product NEVER TALK!

      This is not the coder's fault, per se. Companies tend not to like having engineers talk to customers because engineers tend to do embarassing things like say "Yeah, we can do that, no sweat" for a feature that the sales droid thinks he can charge money for.

      Yes, it's true that coders build products for themselves, in many cases. What else are they going to do? They can't talk to the customer, so they only have their own experience to go by!
      gizmo@...
  • A real programmer doesn't use stick-shifts

    See my small cartoon:
    http://geekandpoke.typepad.com/geekandpoke/2007/01/programmers_thi.html

    Bye,
    Oliver
    owidder
  • Why can't good software be written?

    That should be the question.

    If I tell you why I put up with it I'm just the sucker the software world blames.

    I I tell you why I don't put up with it I'm just the whiner the software world belittles.
    SteveTheWirePuller
    • There is plenty of good software

      You just have to look for it. There's a lot of better software than anything you can get from Microsoft, and here's where to find some of it:

      www.opensuse.org -- a better OS (Linux), FREE or $60

      www.getfirefox.com -- a better browser (and get Thunderbird while you're there, for a better mail client), Windows and Linux versions, FREE

      www.openoffice.org -- a better office suite, Windows or Linux versions, FREE

      www.zonelabs.com -- better security for Windows, FREE or advanced versions for a few bux

      www.delorme.com -- better mapping software for Windows, $60 or so
      critic-at-arms
  • Why do users put up with bad software?

    First the corporate world has the power to stop software creators from selling bad software. They do not want to sue the software creators, especially Microsoft, for false advertizing since the software only delivers part of what the advertizing promises.

    Second, sane people would not sign a contract without reading it. So why do the federal governments in every country allow the software developers to package software with the contractual agreement hidden, and not viewable, in the packaging.

    After opening the packaging to install the software and reading the electronic one-sided agreement in which the software creator guarantees NOTHING but forces you to abide by their one-sided terms that often involve giving the software creator unlimited permission to invade the user's privacy (as a layman read and try to understand Microsoft's legalese), click that you refuse and then try to return the software to the place where you purchased it. They will refuse to accept the software since the package was opened. Talk about a catch-22.

    The software developers claim they want to stop software piracy, but they do not make the request for unlimited permission to invade the user's privacy when the user is a corporation who has purchased a corporate licence. Now we all know and believe every member of the corporate world is always law abiding. Right - have you never heard of Enron, etc?

    The federal governments in every country should force the software developers to:
    1. Guarantee their software.
    2. Make the contractual agreement viewable at the place of sale - no more hidden contract.
    3. Not request by any means or pretext whatsoever permission to invade the user's privacy.

    The individual or small business does not have the power to fight the software giants. I bet you the federal governments in every country will not force the software developers as just recommended due to the lobbying and financial support politicians receive from the software developers.
    hy@...
  • Even critics miss this

    Here's a systemic issue that even good coders miss.

    An organization (a large one) is developing version X of some application. The coders finish their part of a well-designed product and most of them move on to version X+1, leaving the testers and a few coders to clean up the major bugs. Then the product is packaged, shipped, and finally purchased. When tech support starts getting calls about issues that turn out to be major usability problems for large segments of the market, a second tier of coders (probably considered the B team) move in to straighten things out. Usually this is in the form of kludges to make the software work. This system more or less makes the software usable for most people, but it's not likely to be effective, compared to if the usability issues had been designed in.

    Meanwhile, the first-tier coders are past the design phase of version X+1 and aren't interested in any new problems that are showing up in the last version -- even if there was a mechanism to communicate these problems to these coders, which there probably isn't. The only way one of these problems will be addressed in version X+1 is by a fiat from the CEO, which is likely to happen only rarely.

    The upshot is that usability problems that are not obvious to the design/development team or are accounted for when they hire and train their testers will persist through the lifetime of a product.
    daveklein
  • Other reasons

    Because the big guys MSN and Oracle, SAP, AOL, Symantec, McAfee just shove it down our throats and don't care they say its the other guys. Then they spend years not answering your question. Like msn with MSN9 and its mailhost problem. "It is not our problem reload MSN9" again for the 27th time. Still have the problem.
    JosephDParent@...
  • No returns, then no recourse

    correct me if I am wrong, but it is impossible to return bad software, so what is a consumer to do?
    geomeo@...
  • Learning curve

    Most people don't want to learn how to do things differently; even if doing so would make their lives easier. So they put up with whatever crap they're used to dealing with.
    e2001@...
  • Other Reasons

    Bang on, in my profession, it's called designing elegant solutions for which there is no known problem. Users typically take what they are given since the vast majority are not aware that there is a vast array of other solutions available to them or that among those many solutions are a ton of freebies, or very low cost alternatives to the big name programs. Does anyone remember the time when you could put Lotus 123 on a floppy as a 78k file?. I do and you know what, there was very little missing from that small program. Excel takes up Hectares and for most users, delivers little more than 123...

    It's End User Function we're after folks, not Gee, look what I can do.

    James
    jamestbaines@...