April 06, 2015
The Peter Principle of interface design
The Peter Principle--that in any organizational hierarchy, every employee eventually gets promoted to the level of his incompetence--isn't only a management problem. In a world that expects "new and improved" on a yearly basis, the temptation is to keep tweaking a design until it fails.
The 1995 Taurus was the epitome of a conservative family sedan, that still doesn't look out of place 20 years later. But then came 1996 and Ford turned it into a squashed jellybean. "All the aesthetics of a beanbag chair," says Cars.com.
|A car and a half-melted gumdrop.|
This is an increasing problem with consumer PC products because there are fewer and fewer reasons to upgrade software or hardware.
Loaded with 96 MB of RAM, my old Windows 95 machine was a snappy and reliable platform for most routine Microsoft Office 95 chores. But the Pentium 100 could barely run Winamp (it couldn't run Media Player without stuttering), and I'd maxed out the 4 GB hard drive (in two partitions because of FAT16).
My 10-year-old Windows XP Thinkpad is mostly fast enough, the 2 GB of RAM an only occasionally bottleneck. Though the on-board video card can't handle streaming HD video, SD is fine on a 1024 × 768 screen. I've got a tad more free space than the capacity of old hard drive. Still, 4 GB isn't much these days.
But I can wait until Windows 10 comes out.
The only reason to upgrade from Office 2003 is buying a new computer, and Microsoft OSes since Windows 8 don't support 2003. I appreciate that Office 2013 can edit and save PDF files, though I can do that now with my ancient version of Acrobat 6.
Upgrading will be nice but not necessary. And it'll be a big pain in the neck because I'll have to upgrade most of my software.
Microsoft is betting its future on customers like me, and designed Windows 10 to appeal to us XP and 7 diehards. Even with Windows 8.1, Microsoft was quick to assure its user base that, "No, no, we haven't killed the desktop! It's still there! Promise!"
Windows 8 "improved" the interface in ways that nobody had asked for, hardly anybody wanted, and the tech press scorned. And yet now every other tech website sports big blocky boxes in bright primary colors surrounded by acres of wasted screen space, while giving barely a thought to actual usability.
At least the Google News page can be customized in a utilitarian, information-rich format. And Craigslist gives you lots of useful text in a few rudimentary columns. No fancy-dancy anything. Good for them.
The genesis of this rant was that Netflix has again "improved" its interface to the point of being useless. In the past, you could switch from the "video store" display, with its slow, space-hogging images, to a "spreadsheet" master list that was fast, flexible, and sortable.
Not only is the spreadsheet gone but so is the master list. Now to scan through the anime titles (the only category I'm really interested in), you have to sort the ten sub-genre lists separately. Netflix couldn't have made itself less user-friendly if it tried.
Or maybe they are trying. Netflix tried to get out of the physical media business before (turning the DVD business into a wholly-owned subsidiary), and I don't think they ever gave up on the effort. I can take a hint.
Netflix used to have the best anime selection anywhere. Its DVD backlist is still very good. When it comes to the new stuff, though, Netflix doesn't try to compete with Hulu and Crunchyroll. (This may change with its upcoming entry into the Japanese market.)
Given the first-sale doctrine, once the infrastructure costs had been sunk, each additional DVD could be warehoused for pennies. Mailing them cost the bucks. With physical media going extinct, long-tail streaming video aggregators had to allocate their licensing and broadband budgets more strategically.
Netflix has clearly focused on capturing cable and network offerings in the fat part of the Pareto curve (this graphic published 3/14). Except I'm not interested in subscribing to a glorified cable channel.
|Cable TV for people who already have cable TV.|
For the time being, Netflix is my Redbox substitute, good for the occasional Hollywood flick and TV series and the rare new anime DVD title from GKids. Otherwise, when the DVDs run out (though at two/month, it'll be a while), I can see a Roku in my future but not a Netflix subscription.