Interface design failures – Microsoft Sharepoint

I don’t want to paint only Free Software suites as poorly designed when it comes to usability and the User Interface (UI). Proprietary software suffers from the same symptoms.

Take the example of the latest and greatest SharePoint by Microsoft. It encourages you to “just drag & drop” files to its file repositories. This should be simple enough, given that

  • WebDAV is a very mature technology (it’s been around for ages) and
  • This is a Microsoft Client (Internet Explorer 7) on a Microsoft Operating System (Windows XP) talking to a Microsoft Server (Windows Server 2008) and a Microsoft software stack (Sharepoint Services). Which means they might as well use whatever proprietary protocol they wish to suit their needs, it’s not exactly as if they’re restrained by adherence to silly little open standards…

You might think errors would be handled with more grace than this:

This response is dreadful because:

  1. It’s mislabeled as a “warning”, when it’s clearly an error. A warning is issued when you ought to be aware of something that might land you in a difficult situation. From the point of view of the I/O operation, it has already failed. This must have happened because of an error somewhere.
  2. It’s not informative. “Something broke, somewhere, I think…” is a useless message. Which files didn’t make it through? Why? At what point?
  3. It’s a dead-end. What do you mean “OK”? No, it’s not “OK”. I want a button that says “Retry”, or “Diagnose” or “Fix this” or something. Telling the user “sorry mate, didn’t work” and then offering just an “OK” button is frustrating and reinforces users’ perception that all popup messages just need to be mindlessly clicked on away. (for more on this, check out Peter Gutmann‘s Security Usability book chapters – p.73 “Security and Conditioned Users”)

So all that’s left is to retry copying the files over. If it fails again, the only thing you can do is get up from your desk and do something else (in the real world), swallowing once more your endless frustration with the stupid systems you have to work with daily.

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