Thursday, September 16, 2010

Change is hard


Whenever I embark on a new journey or try something I didn't think I could do, something I learned years ago fills me with hope and inspiration: "Human beings have the unique trait of being infinitely adaptable." Sometime later whilst experimenting and experiencing, I realize that the truth is far from that ideal. In no part of my job is that realization brought to bear more often than in User Interface Design.

Firefox was the first mainstream browser to introduce Tabs in its interface. The innovation is credited to Opera, but with its infinitesimal market share... The Internet Explorer 9 team posits that the average number of tabs used by a customer is 8; they get this number by crunching a lot of user information. Hmm, I wonder if I signed up for my information to be relayed back to Microsoft! Back to the User Interface - IE9's new interface is beautiful and minimal. Microsoft has taken a page out of Apple's playbook and removed UI features while adding tons of under the covers functionality that makes IE a viable browser again.

At the other end of the spectrum, Firefox is in a quagmire of its own creation. It's no longer seen as the browser at the cutting edge, but rather viewed as an example of what bureaucracy can do to innovation. I think Firefox 4 is the company's last chance at redemption, but they might have bitten off more than they can chew with 4. For example, a lot of basic user interactions have changed. One that bites me to the day - and I've been using the beta release for a month - is the *new* position of the "Open in New Tab" entry in the right-click context-menu. The Firefox team has prioritized all Tab activities over Window activities. Ergo, Tabs are front and centre in this release; existential question - can a Tab exist without a Window? But I digress. Here is why this is a problem. Over four years, I've grown accustomed to the following flow:

1. Find a link on a page that piques my interest
2. Right-Click
3. Scroll to the 2nd entry in the list, Left-Click
4. Link opens in a new tab.

Today, the 2nd entry is - "Open in New Window". Muscle memory is a bad thing - I don't even read the contents of the menu any more. But now that the Firefox team has changed the ordering of the menu, I have to teach my programmed muscles something new. What's even more annoying is that all the other browsers order the entries like the old Firefox did, adding yet another inconsistency between browsers. Geez!

Away from User Interface complaints, I am proud to say that after trying to change my sleep schedule for a few years now, I finally succeeded this past week. By making an effort to get into bed a few minutes earlier every night, I finally got my conscious brain to switch off around 11:30 last night. Getting out of bed at 7am this morning wasn't hard any more, and staying awake didn't require an infusion of caffeine. We'll see how long this lasts, but as the adage goes, I have adapted. Eventually, I'll adapt to the browsers as well. Or, I'll switch to IE9 on my Mac. Wait...

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