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Nov 13, 2022

Terrible software. Let us name some names.

How do you know you are stuck with a terrible piece of software? When you are offered a user guide. The longer is the guide,  the worse is the user interface. I am not a software engineer and cannot appreciate the elegance of the code and the creativity of its internal design. But I can definitely tell a bad interface from a good one.

For example, someone called Iiaisonedu sold the CSU system Cal State Apply. Not only the System itself has to maintain detailed instructions, and pay tech support, but every campus is forced to develop its own set of instructions. Ours for one program only has 18 slides. The first couple of steps are easy, but then applicants get lost in whatever terminology the developer things is commonly understood.

As I mentioned before I have a couple of dozen different platforms I use for work only. Here is the picture of my bookmark folder called “Accounts.” Let’s give them some reviews.

OnBase is terrible program, written by space aliens for space aliens. None its terminology is used by normal human beings in their office. Somehow, it opens not with your inbox, where people want you to sign something, but on its very obscure back office page (with reporting, archives, queries, etc.), from which you have to find your way into the inbox that you need 95% of the time. It has little annoying bugs like you need to sign something, but then also find a different button, and say the form is completed. Really? Three clicks instead of one? The program was initially designed in 1991, by Hyland Software, and I don’t think anyone attempted to redesign its user interface since then. And yet governments and hospitals use it, because of the legacy issues.

Concur has another thoroughly confusing interface. It was designed for business executives whose assistants have no choice but figure out what all these buttons mean. It is absolutely unsuitable for the university environment, where most people travel 1-2 times a year and completely forget all its conventions between trips. Tell me again, how do "requests", "authorizations", and "approvals" relate to each other, and how do you "allocate"? Faculty members have no assistants, so we are forced to have a staff person to help them with travel; it is probably 75% of her workload. Some automation, right? You know you got screwed when a software costs you more labor than it saves.  Again, the program is almost 30 years old, and it shows. And yet, because they have a near monopoly on business travel, they seem to be able to sell their terrible product to the likes of us.

Course leaf is actually not bad on the interface part, but it has some weirdly basic gaps in its functionality. It goes back to Leapfrog Technologies, another company from early 90-s. For example, the thing does not let you know when your curriculum proposal is stuck at some level for weeks. The company also has the audacity to charge for every little change in forms we want to make. The idea that only the high priests of soft can have access to the configuration of the software is just so out of touch with this century’s computing practices.

We use a version of PeopleSoft, now the property of Oracle for some 12 years. It is another example of a very old monster that fell behind the times. At least they have an excuse: the databases must be very secure, and security kills agility and user customization. Still, they could figure out a better, more sleek and contemporary user interfaces. You know, something that look more like Instagram and Tok-tok, and less like your grandfather’s bank account.

Our Auxiliary organization that handles all grants and many other things, uses something designed by Ultimate Chronos, another elderly giant, founded in 1977, to keep their timesheets and other HR stuff. The system is not only completely incomprehensible, but is so buggy that I cannot approve my people’s timesheets for five years now.

Microsoft’s SharePoint and Office 365 is a mixed bag. It took them a decade to catch up with Google with respect to functionality, in some aspects it is a more advanced functionality. However, they somehow cannot overcome their curse of perpetual clunkinnes. Everything MS touches will look good and work fine, but… always takes three extra steps to figure out. They really have great engineers, but mediocre user experience specialists. What they think is cool, is actually kinda nerdy, and not in a cute way.

Let’s be fair, some of these are good. Zoom is great, which is why they killed Skype without much of an effort. I am thankful to them for helping us all to survive the pandemic, and for their drive to constantly improve. Qualtrics is a very decent survey software, mainly because the field of surveys is so competitive, and they need to improve to survive. I would call to question several of their choices, but it is something one can learn and use. Adobe Sign is actually a good program to use; kudos to Adobe for coming up with it not long before the pandemic. It worked great to transition our paperwork online. However, its more advanced functions, like branching of signature routes depending on the first user choice – is very-very difficult to use. This is a problem that has been solved a decade ago in various survey platforms. Why is Adobe with all its software engineering might cannot figure it out, is beyond my comprehension. It is simple – if the user chooses College A, it goes to one dean, if they choose College B, it goes to another. I know of workflow feature; it is not there yet and too complicated.

Anyway, I can keep going and going. However, the good news is for kids who want to learn to code and try a start-up. Business software is populated mostly by dinosaurs who don’t know what they are doing. They are also responsible for computer phobia that affects millions of people conditioned to blame themselves for being unable to figure out some terrible programs. Most of these dinosaurs are hopelessly behind times. Hire a very cool user interface designer, and you can beat them all. There is no reason submitting a timesheet should be harder than playing a Tik-tok clip or sending a message. There is no reason signing a document should be harder than liking a Fb post.

The industry is ripe for disruption. It is so behind, because of corporate model of purchasing. If Facebook is hard to use, millions of people make that decision, and Fb would be dead by now. When it is a corporation that buys a platform, the micro-signals from the user-driven market do not make it upstream. Neither the purchasers, not the vendors actually know enough about how end-users work, what they like and they hate about your platform.

Here is my actual list of bookmarked platforms

1 comment:

  1. I am so glad I am not the only one experiencing this. Thanks for your insightful take on terrible software.