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Monday, February 07, 2005
Thinking about software
I know I had a commentary on software the other day, but have you ever seriously looked at the software you use to see how functional it really is? Didn't think so. Maybe you should.
I find that I have lots of software installed on my computer (at least 120, plus more files that haven't been installed or moved to my Application folder), but only a few apps I use all the time. They seem intuitive (which isn't - its more of a faster learning curve but thats another subject) they're responsive, the look good and they work well. They may have a manual included but you don't really need it, and you certainly don't need a 3rd party book to find out how to create a new document.
While good software is pretty timeless, its important to change software packages from time to time. Back in the days of old when internet meant AOL, BBSes or Compuserve long distance in the middle of the night there was Netscape, and it was good. Not because it was the only GUI browser out there, but because it worked and worked well. Fast forward to 1997 or something like that and you see Netscape communicator 4.17 something, and all of a sudden this wonderful software company had turned to crap, and reluctantly people moved to M$ Exploder.
That's sort of an unnecessary tangent, but I realize I just made one of these switches (from BBEdit Lite to TextWrangler) have been looking at another one (podcasting clients, currently sticking to iPodder Lemon Version 2 Beta) and I'm looking at another one, from Safari (Apple's browser) to another. I know Firefox is out there and I have version 1 loaded, but I don't really like the way it feels. Even if it has less fat than Exploder it still seems sluggish on my iBook and I don't need some of its extra functions (like live bookmarks) since I have those covered in other apps.
Anyways (cutting closer to the point) people don't evaluate their software. As I mentioned the other day I've been using OmniGraffle for flow charts in my Programming class, and in addition to being amazingly simple to use, it looks great, from both the production and product ends. Lines are clean, its easy to configure pretty much anything on the graph, and it automatically throws in shading. It works because there's less that the user needs to do. So I'm using OmniGraffle and everyone else is using Visio (Microsofts drawing program - its not really a competition) and there is a very noticeable difference. While Omni might be Mac only it wouldn't surprise me if there was a better windows drawing program, but most of the people in the class (and this isn't a fault of theirs) don't know there may be better software out there, so they don't look.
A similar case in point is Powerpoint and presentation software. Keynote is an Apple competitor, but there is also OpenOffice on Mac, Windows, and Linux. Powerpoint is one of these applications that is going to slip into obscurity. What it does it has done well for years. But it isn't there anymore. You can't export presentations to something web friendly and keep everything (ie you loose animations) but its competitors can. Both OpenOffice and Keynote (as of version 2) can export as Flash animations. While I can't speak on Open Office, I can speak on Keynote. In keynote it took me less time to throw together presentation on my first try than it takes me for most of the Powerpoint presentations I have had to create. Its just simpler, and where there's too much shit to do, that extra time adds up.
Still want to use Word, Exploder, and all your other default Microsoft apps? Fine, but go out and try something else, because there are better applications that do things better. They might not do everything, but look at your own work. You aren't using 90% of what your office suite offers, hell I'm sure you can ever find a better Application to play solitaire with. I know I have.
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