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Ease of Use

As a software company I believe that we have a
responsibility to our users to make our products easy to use. A significant amount of time should be (and is) spent every year evaluating how our software can be more user-friendly.

If you browse
around the web and look at various software packages, you will almost always
find product descriptions that claim the product is, “easy to use”. 

But what exactly does this mean? 

What makes a software product easy to use?

I absolutely think that a software package should be
intuitive, and that it should be easy to understand out of the box. 

The reviews I hear regarding ACD/Labs software are generally positive. I have heard from most users that our software is very intuitive and easy to use. But of course I have heard the other side as well and in many cases, the comments were justified. No software package is perfect.

Many of our users over the years have told me that the ideal
software product is one where they don’t need to read the manual or watch a
movie before using. They should be able to hit the ground running with it.

I
would most definitely agree, but the long tail of software has made
this more and more difficult and has somewhat changed the game. Software has of
course exploded over the years, so the challenge now is how to develop the easy to use, one
size fits all software package. 

I have to be honest; I think it is near impossible. Why?
Because ease of use is subjective. Quite simply, users have been exposed to too
much software. There are so many options, so much variety, so many different
ways to do things in a software package. I’m not saying this is a bad thing,
but it certainly introduces a bigger challenge for product managers and software developers who are
trying to develop the “easiest to use” package. 

As a result what tends to happen is that with many options, people end up using
the software they have access to. It might not be the best software for what
they are trying to do, but it’s the software installed on the computer in the
NMR laboratory or the freeware that can be downloaded from the web. They get so
used to the intricacies within this particular package, that when something new
comes along that may be more suitable for their work they don’t bother
committing to it because they are used to the same routine. Old habits die
hard.

People are busy and learning a new piece of software that may or may not be useful is not necessarily their job.

However, in my opinion, individuals who do this are committing an awful disservice to themselves.

The first impression on a new package is often that it is
hard to use. But is it hard to use? Or is it just unfamiliar? 

I am not suggesting that there is no such thing as
hard-to-use software. It’s out there, in every industry. But I think that it
goes both ways. While it is the responsibility of the product manager and software developer to
work as hard as they can to make their packages intuitive and easy to use, users also owe
themselves the responsibility to understand the benefits that a specific
software package provides and make a conscious attempt to familiarize
themselves with the new workflows, interfaces, etc.

If a company is going to charge for their software, my hope is that significant attempts have been made during development to make it easy-to-use. But that term is hard to define and not an
easy task. 

I hope that over the last 7 months and 54 blog posts I have
helped current users keep up to date on ACD/Labs NMR software, but have also given
new users reasons to evaluate our software and commit to reaping the benefits
that it can provide. 

Note: This unfamiliarity issue of course isn’t anything new
and it’s not just a software issue. It’s an issue for the developers of mp3
players, cell phones, remote controls, computers, and cameras. Don’t believe
me? Next time you are on vacation ask a fellow tourist to take a picture for
you and hand them your camera. I guarantee that they respond with, “What do I
do?” 

Hint: It’s the button on the top right hand corner 😉