From the utopia department

“Basically a small company has a flavor to it, whereas a big company is sort of like checking into the Bellagio in Las Vegas. It’s a nice hotel but it has 5,000 rooms, so don’t expect anybody to remember your name. A small company is more like a bed and breakfast. You’re going to have a great time because you get along with people and it’s a much friendlier experience. You don’t really mind that the bathroom is down the hall because the people made a special vegetarian meal for you and then showed you around town. On the other hand, you might be at a bed and breakfast where they have weird leather implements and lots of cats.”

— From A Conversation with Joel Spolsky in ACM Queue.

Even the Office 2007 box has a learning curve

I bought a retail copy of Office 2007 today (I’m loading up the new laptop I got for the world tour, which is a Thinkpad X61s), and I must be a complete spaz, but I simply could not figure out how to open the bizarre new packaging.

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.”

Wasting five minutes trying to get the goddamned box open is just the first of many ways that Office 2007 and Vista’s gratuitous redesign of things that worked perfectly well shows utter disregard for all the time you spent learning the previous versions.

I’ve tested Office 2007 extensively, and find it a tolerable replacement for the previous version, although it’s extremely frustrating every time I have to spend several minutes finding something that I knew exactly how to find in the previous version. Even though there’s no reason to upgrade to Office 2007, if you’re setting up a new system, it’s just as good as the previous version, even a little better in some places. But Vista is another story.

I’ve been using Vista on my home laptop since it shipped, and can say with some conviction that nobody should be using it as their primary operating system — it simply has no redeeming merits to overcome the compatibility headaches it causes. Whenever anyone asks, my advice is to stay with Windows XP (and to purchase new systems with XP preinstalled).

PS The FogBugz 6.0 World Tour is filling up fast. Austin is already full. Vancouver, Seattle, Kitchener, and Irvine have just a few seats left. Sign up now!

World tour: North America

What’s the point, exactly, of physically going to 21 different cities to demo FogBugz 6.0 in person? Why not just put a video up on the web and be done with it?

A long long time ago when Windows 3.0 first came out, Microsoft organized a huge, permanent “Windows Seminar” team of intelligent, charismatic young people who went from city to city giving demos of Windows, Word, and Excel. Back then, showing someone cut and paste from one GUI window to another was astonishing.

Since then, I haven’t seen a lot of demo tours like the one we’re planning. Travel just costs too much. Business hotels all charge ridiculous amounts for catering ($15 per person for coffee), audio visual equipment ($500 to rent a projector), and as many additional gougy-charges as they can think of. $50 for sneezing. $120 to have the window shut. And $92 to have the lights on.

When we did up our budget, including hotel rooms, meeting space, rental cars, airfare, food, a projector, coffee and tea for attendees, and a printed brochure to hand out, our estimate is that it’s going to cost us somewhere between $60 and $70 per person.

So, OK, maybe I don’t know what I’m doing.

The reason we finally decided to pull the trigger is that we don’t have a sales force. None. We have inside sales people who handle incoming phone calls (very rare) and incoming email (we get a lot of it), but our software is just priced too cheaply for the traditional enterprise software sales system, where you have a bunch of commission-based suits flying around the country, staying in nice hotels, and taking clients out to lunch. That kind of sales force costs $50,000 to make one sale. With prices in the $21/month range, that model just doesn’t work for us.

When you think about it this way, $60 to reach one person is cheap!

Here’s what you can expect if you show up. There will be some really, really expensive coffee and maybe a muffin or something if the hotel in particularly cheap. If you come a bit early, it’ll be a great chance to meet some interesting software people in your city.

I’ll show off some of my favorite features in FogBugz 6.0, but mostly, I’ll talk about the software development process in general. I’ll leave a lot of time for Q&A. There will be a member of the FogBugz development team with me and we’ll also leave plenty of time afterwards for one-on-one questions if you have something to ask us that isn’t of general interest. Then we’ll pack our projector and rush off to the airport and on to the next city.

So far, we’ve planned 21 cities in North America. If you’re in the US or Canada, you can register right now, in fact, you should, because we expect to fill up really quickly. If you register and can’t make it, please cancel (you’ll get a cancellation link in the confirmation email) so we can take someone else from the waiting list.

We are planning to visit international cities, but we haven’t figured that bit out yet. We’ll probably hit Europe, Australia, and New Zealand in November. If you’re outside the US and want to attend, make sure you’ve filled out the survey with your correct email address so we can figure out where to go next and let you know when we’re coming.

If you can’t make it, we’ll have a video of the New York City world launch of FogBugz 6.0 on our website sometime in September.

So. Click on the cute kiwi to register: