Maybe I R Not So Stoopid After All

A while back, I bought a copy of MS Office for my kid's computer.  The embarrassing part was, though, that I could not get the box open.  No how, no way.  I was just sure there was a simple obvious way to do so, but I never found it.  I finally got a hacksaw and cut open the hard plastic case. 

Now it seems I may not be the only one.  (via TJIC)

It's a hard plastic case, sealed in two different places by plastic
stickies. It represents a complete failure of industrial design; an
utter F in the school of Donald Norman's Design of Everyday Things.
To be technical about it, it has no true affordances and actually has
some false affordances: visual clues as to how to open it that turn out
to be wrong.

This is the same box that Vista comes in. Nick White over at Microsoft seems proud
of the novel design, but from the comments on the web it seems I'm not
the only one who couldn't figure out how to open it. It seems like even
rudimentary usability testing would have revealed the problem. A box
that many people can't figure out how to open without a Google search
is an unusually pathetic failure of design. As the line goes from Billy Madison: "I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul."

And while we are banging on the box, I am reminded how my daughter called me over last night to help her print out of Word on her Vista computer running the new Office (My many problems with Vista here).  I yelled at her first across the room just to go to File-Print.  I mean, Microsoft has worked hard to make sure that in every program known to man that runs under Windows, you print by mousing to file-print or else type alt-f-p. 

"Where is 'file' dad?" 

"In the upper left corner"

"No it's not"

"yes it is"

"No it's not"

And sure enough, upon inspection, after years of developing a standard and training users, MS has abandoned the standard.  There is indeed no file menu drop down.  Only, it turns out, a circle in the upper left with the Windows logo that has the old file commands.  ERRRRRR.   Only from installing my wife's Mac this last weekend do I realize that for some reason MS is emulating the little Apple-shaped logo in the Mac OS where they put file commands.   

What a total slap in the face to your user base  (and don't even get me started on rearranging the control panel and start menus with every succeeding OS).  It's like MacDonald's randomly switching around the numbers for their value meals every few weeks. 


  1. Adam Vandenberg:

    >> Only from installing my wife's Mac this last weekend do I realize that for some reason MS is emulating the little Apple-shaped logo in the Mac OS where they put file commands.

    The Apple menu in the far left is for system-level commands (like Shut Down); file-related commands in an OS X app are (supposed to be) in menu labeled... "File".

  2. Josh:

    "File" is a lousy title for that menu and it's only there as a legacy. I mean what does "exit" have to do with "file"? And "print"? It makes as much sense as dragging an icon of a floppy disk to the trash can to eject it.

  3. Reformed Republican:

    The packaging has been completely revised and, we hope, foreshadows the great experience that awaits you once you open it.

    Sounds like it does just that.

  4. Max Lybbert:

    > "File" is a lousy title for that menu and it's only there as a legacy. I mean what does "exit" have to do with "file"? And "print"?

    I'm not near my wife's Mac, but I believe that this has been addressed. The File menu (by convention, not enforced) should contain file items, like "Save" and "Open." There is a new menu, named after the application (in Firefox, it should be "Firefox," in Safari, it should be "Safari," etc.) that (1) tells you which application's menu you are looking at, and (2) includes the commands that used to go in File but didn't make sense there (like "Quit").

  5. Brian:

    It's like MacDonald's randomly switching around the numbers for their value meals every few weeks.

    Ha! I fixed their wagon. I close my eyes and pick a random number between 1 and 10 when I order. Take that Corporate Amerika!

  6. Matthew Brown:

    This is a constant problem with Microsoft - they set user interface guidelines for other developers, and a whole lot of time of a whole lot of people is spent learning the 'Windows way of doing things'. And then they break their own rules for their own products - and generally not for a good reason, not because they decide that the new way is so much better than the old in terms of usability that it should over-ride sticking with the old way of doing things - but because it LOOKS COOLER.

    Microsoft can uniquely get away with doing things like this because, since it also develops the operating system upon which the apps run, it can use undocumented features of the system to do things that other developers can't do - certainly can't do without risking their applications breaking the next time MS does an update.

    However, MS isn't the only one. Apple has also made a habit of unveiling new, cooler looks for its own apps at the cost of consistency with others - iTunes being the biggest offender.

  7. TCO:

    I miss 3.1.1

  8. darkbhudda:

    Unfortunately Microsoft's usability labs focus on how people unfamiliar with the software deal with tasks. The result are changes made that frustrate existing users.

    "File" is a lousy title for that menu and it's only there as a legacy. I mean what does "exit" have to do with "file"? And "print"?
    Well, you are exiting or printing the file. A lot more logical grouping than I've seen in other programs. One Windows program, which wasn't even a draughting package, made you go to "Edit -> Plot" to print.

  9. Michael Stone:

    I had to shatter my Vista case with a hammer to get at the disk. I tried to figure it out for 15 minutes before getting highly irritated and teaching it a lesson. I kept thinking, "surely I'm just missing something simple".

    And don't even get me started on Vista itself. I've been a Microsoft cheerleader for 17 years but I'm very annoyed at them trying to out-cool Apple. If I wanted cool over function I'd buy a Mac.


  10. Charles D. Quarles:


    It took me thrity seconds to find the plastic stickers on the Vista box. Slit those and the box will open like a book. Opening a CD or DVD's cellophane wrapper is much harder unless it has a rip tab.

  11. Mesa Econoguy:

    Here’s a neat new (I think it’s new, I’ve never had it happen before) glitch Bill Gates and his stellar developers have brought you:

    During certain installs (automatic web updates), Windows automatically switches your XP firewall setting to “On” regardless of previous setting. This means you can’t print remotely on your network, if you’re running one.

    It took me 4 hours of screwing with the router, resetting the LAN, and checking connections before I figured that out.

    Great user friendly feature. Microsoft products are crap.

  12. dave:

    Just in case anyone didn't figure it out, the menu bar, with the 'file' 'edit' and so on is there in explorer and IE7...some tips:

    1. press left alt and it pops up
    2. in windows explorer, press left alt->tools->folder options-->view tab...under the 'advanced settings' the second thing down is 'show menus' do this and then be sure to press the button above it 'apply to all folders' and press ok at bottom (which is the same as apply if you're closing the window)
    3. right click in the menu area, and one of the check boxes is for the menu to stay on the screen, I think this is for IE 7 in Vista, not sure but it works somewhere......

    so, I like everyone else, find Vista very very annoying...I'm a system engineer so I need to know how to use it, but even with the 'vista hp driver' for my all in one, I can't get my hp printer to print in Vista...have to have my XP notebook do it :-)

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