As I sit here writing my first entry, the operating system of my computer has decided that it needs to update itself. It’s been going at it for a while…certainly a lot longer than I had hoped, and as usual has made using my PC almost impossible: the process brings everything to a crawl. I really hate having my time wasted.
Which brings me to my current topic – performance and responsiveness.
I think personal computers were supposed to perform repetitious tasks quickly and to make our lives more wonderful because they were going to save time. There have been many generations of improvements in the PC since I bought my first IBM in 1983, but I feel like I am still waiting. Waiting for the machine to boot up, waiting for the machine to start, waiting for something to update, waiting for technology to be more amazing. When I turn on my PC, it’s a short eternity until the desktop shows up. And once the desktop shows up, it’s just a tease. A dozen other programs and processes then need to load and it’s another yawn of impatience until I can actually do anything.
And after the machine is actually ready, still nothing happens quickly. Simple tasks such as opening a document, or opening a new browser window, or viewing some photographs are a chore. I’m staring at the hourglass, or the screen is simply frozen indefinitely. I click on something, and nothing happens. The hard drive churns away. I am known to ask the obvious question aloud: what is it doing?
Ok, on some level I know what it’s doing: I can look at the list of low-level processes and get a pretty good idea of who is doing what.
But what’s missing is a good reason for all the waiting. With the equivalent of a supercomputer on my desk or laptop, I shouldn’t have to wait to accomplish the simplest chores. I can understand needing some time to compute tomorrow’s weather forecast. But checking my email?
Of course, some delays are inevitable–particularly operations that rely on the network or other slower peripheral devices. The fact is that performance and responsiveness are afterthoughts in the design of technology products where the almighty feature list rules the day. That’s unfortunate because performance and responsiveness are the cornerstones of user experience: how fast something works defines how well it seems to work. The effectiveness of even the most advanced user interface of features is lost if responsiveness is compromised.
Remember how windowing in the operating system was supposed to improve usability by being able to perform tasks in other windows while the one that was busy finished doing its thing? Right?
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve lost the bet “I can look up the number/address in the phone book faster than you can on your laptop”. It would be refreshing to see performance and responsiveness trumping long feature lists. Do less, but do it better. And faster.
We have a long way to go! And I’m still updating…