In Typing Trumps Pointing, I extolled the virtues of the full-text search included in Vista's new Start Menu. As many commenters pointed out, the feature itself is nothing new:
This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2007/01/the-power-of-defaults.html
Yes people like and use defaults, but in some cases people are also willing to throw it all away and replace it with something better, so long as there is some kind of continuity (e.g. import their old data with no problems etc.). Some people will hate Vista, some just won’t care and will adapt to working with it and taking advantage of it. So don’t let the power of defaults scare you away from creating something new and cool.
Similarly, I still use notepad.exe for many simple text-editing tasks
The lack of any changes whatsoever to notepad is one of the saddest things about Vista. I’m sure 99.9% of users could care less; how often does the average user open a text file? But it still sucks.
And I agree with you on desktop customization. There’s a limit to what you can manage:
Plus, we wouldn’t require all those customizations if the baseline platform was evolving forward over time. And that’s the best solution of all.
So don’t let the power of defaults scare you away from creating something new and cool.
This is what I’m saying: make your defaults new and cool! If absolute backwards compatibility was an iron-clad guarantee, how could Apple have advanced from MacOS classic to the Unix-based OSX?
Actually the first thing many people will do is figure out how to turn off the Vista style start button and go back to the XP look and feel that they are familiar with. I installed Vista RC1 on my desktop at home and the first day my girlfriend touched it I had to figure out how to get the start menu and IE to work like the previous version.
There’s no way MS will ever improve things like Notepad. They’d get sued to death. Every god damned person who wrote something better than Notepad will complain.
I can’t wait for the whining from the people who provide Start menu improvement apps. Maybe the US guvmint can give them some money for their efforts.
Thank the US guvmint, thank the EU, thank the IT pleebs that can’t understand the consequences of industry lobbying.
Interesting comments about defaults.
I once had a conversation with a network admin at my university where OS/2 was the standard OS. When Win95 came out, he boasted to me that he could get OS/2 to look and work just like Win95. When I asked him, “so why don’t you do that?”, he said “eh, it’s too much work.”
Excellent response to the comments on the last post.
Power users will always delve into configuration settings and try to tweak everything to be just how they like it. For these users, tweaking everything is a hobby.
Most users, however, don’t really find enjoyment in this process.
I couldn’t agree more. This is the same reason I have mostly given up on Emacs: nothing seems to work by default which results in more tinkering than actual working.
I agree with the commentary on defaults, for the most part (I do use the fancy customization options frequently, however, but I should point out that sometimes it’s to roll the UI back to a previous version that I got used to/liked).
However, I think you slightly overestimate the value of the Smart Searching Start Button. It’s great, really, I agree. But when I spend hundreds of dollars on a brand new operating system that’s been in development for 6 years; I really want something more solid than a UI catchup. A UI catchup like MS did in Vista (perhaps not including Aero) could’ve been done with a Service Pack. And they didn’t even do it well, as the revised Control Panel demonstrates. (And yes, I am aware there is more to Vista than the UI catchup, but my point still stands.)
But when I spend hundreds of dollars on a brand new operating system that’s been in development for 6 years; I really want something more solid than a UI catchup
At the risk of sounding like a Vista apologist, a few things.
See the full list of new features here and decide for yourself:
I completely agree that Vista is essentially a large set of small improvements. There’s no radical overhaul in the box. However, they did plant some seeds that may bear fruit down the road, such as the default inclusion of .NET 3.0 and Windows Presentation Foundation.
And Vista is not all that expensive. You can buy a new OEM license of Windows MCE 2005 on newegg right now for $109, which converts into a license for Windows Vista Home Premium.
Good post Jeff,
I think the Apple comparison is important here. Desktop search has been around for years on XP, through external apps. On Apple it’s there by default. FlyAKite OS makes Windows XP look really nice. Apple OSX looks good by default. eXpose clones exist for XP, on OSX it’s there by default.
I have a friend who constantly slags Apple users saying “They’re so impressed about $feature, I downloaded a program years ago that does that.” Much as my Linux friends say “The Windows guys are obsessed with $feature, you can download the tarball of blah, and if/when it compiles it implements a command line version of it”.
If it isn’t shit hot by default, then it isn’t shit hot. It’s shit that you’re asking the user to microwave for you.
You know, you’re absolutely right. The hardest thing in the world is picking the right defaults. There are always some who think you’ve picked the wrong ones. They’ll vilify you. There are those who think you’re trying to take over. And there are those that think you haven’t done enough. You can’t win.
But you can sure as hell give it a shot.
I think it’s important to differentiate between the convenience (and blessing) of default settings/choices, and those things which are foisted upon us as de facto “standards” which shove us into a corner on how we do our job.
There are several that come to mind:
the File/Edit/View/ etc. menu structure that has been around too long
SQL as the query language, when in fact it is grossly inferior to others that existed in the '80s but for whatever reasons didn’t make it to the mainstream
Powerpoint as a means of thinking
MS Project (and ilk) as a means of organizing and “achieving”
You get the idea. At what point does one of these become a limiting factor? When do these “default” applications become a millstone on the neck of creativity? When do we a “creative programmer types” sing the praises of something that is not what we are used to but is better, even if it is different, regardless of the OS?
Or have we been reduced to people whose best is coming up with 100+ posts regarding some feature in Vista, that while convenient it would seem that anger over why MS broke the search capability in XP, deliberately, would have yielded as much typing?
I don’t know how I could live without a default computer. Every time I buy or re-install everything (Not often, but happens a bit) I have to have certain programs, certain functions running, even certain wallpapers, otherwise everything is chaotic.
"There’s nothing to install. There’s nothing to configure. It just works.
That’s the power of defaults."
What a load of shit…
“Actually the first thing many people will do is figure out how to turn off the Vista style start button and go back to the XP look and feel that they are familiar with. I installed Vista RC1 on my desktop at home and the first day my girlfriend touched it I had to figure out how to get the start menu and IE to work like the previous version.”
This will go away. It always happens (even to us!) and always wilts as people either realize they have no choice, or accidentally realize the benefits. It’s worse as you get older, I’ve found. . Hearing about neat stuff is one thing, using it another entirely.
Sometimes it takes a long time to get there though; I know one project manager who absolutely refuses to upgrade from VC6 and refuses to support anything else, and will only grudgingly do so in the next major version of his project after constant cajoling from everyone using VC8 now. (Now that VC8 has fixed a number of VC’s standard C deficiencies.)
Same thing for some people I know on Win95/98, especially old gamers.
Good post. Spotlight is still installed by default on OSX, though, isn’t it? I don’t have a Mac so I may be wrong, but that was the impression I got.
Many good points on defaults here, especially Taylor’s. I personally have stopped tweaking my system so much so that it is difficult to function outside of my nice, cozy little environment. My computing reality includes my lovely OSX MacBook, two XP workstations and many servers that I must share with others. Plus…sorting through friend’s and family’s machines.
Being comfortable with OS defaults, and not dependent upon customizations, is really helpful.
@Des: What are you talking about? OS X defaults are notably more plentiful and powerful XP defaults. I have been stunned with how -little- software I have installed on my new MacBook. Gawds, the command-line tools alone make me drool. Pre-installed software? svn, java 5, powerful diagnostic tools, and a cornucopia of text editors.
I think one must differentiate between default values and default setting.
In some cases, I’ve found that default values can lead to erroneous data. When the user is presented with a relatively complex form, or set of forms, they will often be in a hurry and not change fields that should be changed. And since the field has a default value, there is no way to validate that the user “visited” the field.
As far as default settings, I absolutely agree with your assertions.
I like Jakob’s comment about the Country fields. I think too many managers get involved and don’t want to step on anyones toes, so they tell the programmers not to have a default. Instead of annoying 5% of their audience, they annoy 95%.