A site devoted to discussing techniques that promote quality and ethical practices in software development.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

No excuse for using misleading message.

There are two major share registrar companies in Australia, namely ComputerShare or LinkMarketServices. The former one is well built and its reports are comprehensive but I can't say too much of the latter, which is the theme of this topic.

If you want an example of a commercial enterprise hell-bend on misleading their customers, you need not go any further.

The Link updates its system during time when people in the Eastern Seaboard (about 11pm EST) are still up and definitely those on the Western Seaboard are just finishing off their dinner. During its updates, it has no visible sign to inform the user that it is doing an update and that the system is running with reduced capability. Perhaps the developers are too lazy to deal with error message properly. The update time is not published in their web site prominently.

Worse still as you will see, they are using totally misleading message to tell the user that he/she cannot access the data. Wouldn't a phrase like "System in Maintenance Mode. Features unavailable"? Instead this is what they throw up:

This is after they let you successfully logged into your account and when you click on one of the shares in your portfolio. This is a very dangerous messages. It could indicate system data corruption because you are being informed that the share you have selected has incorrect information. Who change this between now and several hours ago, where you could view the materials? What should the user do?

When I first encountered this message, I was about to delete the share and to re-enter.

You get the same message when you enter a new one. Hence you do not know if the details in the one that you've just entered are truly invalid or because the system developers too damn lazy to inform the users appropriately that the maintenance is in progress.

Perhaps the code in this system is in a mess and that exception handling is left to chance rather than methodologically dealt with.

Misleading users is just another form of bugs in the system. Link has updated its web site recently but apart from the sugar-lolly coating, it is still primitive and buggy underneath. The small consolation is that instead of misleading user with the session times out etc, it is now giving me a much shorter and equally misleading message.

Why software users have to put up with this kind of sloppiness and buggy rubbish. Is it trying to project a 24X7 operation but only skin deep?

As a comparison with ComputerShare, I have yet to be misled. This shows that a good share registrar web site without misleading the user is possible.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Open Office 2 - coming of age?

I have been testing Open Office on and off and I must say the Open Office 2.3 is pretty impressive.

I am not here to give free advertisement extolling its specialties or features but to flag areas that are still raw:
1) Dialog box modality is still a problem. The program fails to disable the owned window allowing user to click or access the owned window when the dialog box is supposed to be the top level window. For example try Tools | Options... and while the dialog box is up, click on the resize button on the windows behind it. In a well designed Windows program, you cannot click onto the one behind it.

This weakness is the result of Java which still has great deal of difficulties in handling this simple UI task.

2) It is great to see a portable version of OpenOffice that I can take it with me on my USB drive. It only takes about 250M.

Sadly, it does not support Tablet PC's Tablet Input Panel (TIP). Without this floating panel, the only way is to use the Input Panel from the task bar, which has the side-effect of causing every visible window to resize.

Otherwise, it is quite steady and has not experienced any crashes. However, I must admit that I have not given it a reasonably large document to chew on.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Resistance of knowledge

It is amazing some of the topics discussed in a book by Ed Deming [DEMING] book first published in 1982 talking about factory production quality issues are as relevant today in IT industry as in car production factory then.

One of his observations, which unfortunately is still plaguing the IT industry is the "Resistance of knowledge" in an 'knowledge' industry. Deming observes:
"There is a widespread resistance of knowledge. Advances of the kind in Western industry require knowledge, yet people are afraid of knowledge. Pride may play a part in resistance to knowledge. New knowledge brought into the company might disclose some of our failings. A better outlook is of course to embrace new knowledge because it might help us to do a better job."
So true and precise in his assessment done so many years ago. Imagine if this simple act of obstinacy is eliminated by swallowing one's pride, how much greatness would be accomplished with so little expenditure! So little process needs to set in place.

IT industry is more prone to this kind of resistance because of the players' characters. As a result, one has to be vigilant against this disease to prevent it from blinding oneself.

I have a collection full of examples to substantiate this observation.

[DEMING] "Out of the Crisis" by W. Edwards Deming, MIT Press 2000

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