Knobs and Buttons

When we first starting thinking about building Windows Home Server we knew that there would be a natural (or unnatural) tension between "technical enthusiasts" and my "mom and dad".   Enthusiasts want lots of "knobs and buttons", options for configuring everything, basic options, advanced options, hidden options, options that enable other options, drop downs, check boxes, radio buttons, etc. etc.  My mom and dad want the clock on their VCR to stop flashing 12:00 pm.   We decided to settle somewhere in the middle leaning a little closer to the "mom and dad" side of the fence from a user interface perspective, yet a little closer to the "technical enthusiasts" in developing some cool software that does some pretty complicated stuff in a pretty simple way, like the Windows Home Server Backup & Restore functionality, and Windows Home Server Drive Extender technologies.

As Charlie Kindel mentioned a while back in his post "Why Doesn't Home Server do foo?" there are a few principles that we used to guide the Windows Home Server project.  One additional principle we continue to focus on is trying to "Build an acronym free user interface."  Why should people have to know what their TCP/IP address provided by their DHCP server is, when they just want to access their files on their home server from one of their home computers?

In the Alpha builds and Beta I build of Windows Home Server there was no way to configure the Server Settings from the Windows Home Server Console.  We listened to a lot of feedback (both positive and NEGATIVE), we did a lot of usability testing, and we have done a number of surveys.   We started adding a "knob" here and a "button" there to deliver the functionality that a lot of people asked for over and over:

  • How do I set the time on my server?

  • How do I set/change the password for the Windows Home Server Console application?

  • How do I configure Windows Updates?

  • How can I shutdown/reboot a headless server?

We continue to listen to the feedback from everybody that is using Windows Home Server Beta 2.  There are some suggestions that are easy to address and there are some that are considerably harder.   My favorite - "How do I change the name of my home server?" will be a new "knob" (or is it a "button"?) available in a post Beta 2 build. 

Our goal is to make a simple yet powerful product that people can readily understand from the user interface without having to read a manual or consult the help file.  It is easy to add lots of "knobs" and "buttons" and build convuluted user interfaces with 3 or 4 different ways to accomplish the same task.  It is smart design when the VCR sets the time automatically based on a GPS (Global Positioning System) chip set inside of the box and automatically adjusts to weird changes in daylight saving time.  By the way, most people in the USA are turning their clocks forward this spring a little earlier than normal, except for those lucky people that live in states or parts of states that choose not to pay any attention to this stuff.

Anyways, it is time to hit the "Publish" button and go home.



Comments (6)

  1. Anonymous says:

    The Windows Home Server team is ecstatic about the number of add-ins that have been developed for Windows

  2. Anonymous says:

    @ sergiopereira

    When it comes to Apache and SMB, I find them ALL bit confusing.  I was referencing the simple designs of the software.  I like to point at iTunes that was so simplistic (at introduction), that many people retched.  The geeks were continually talking about everything it couldn’t do while the same demographic that the home server is targeting swallowed iTunes right up.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Being a "technical enthusiasts" that would appericate words that I see every day makes me wonder if it would not be possible to approach some of this as a translation issue, with English (Mom and Pop) and English (Technical Enthusiasts) being langue choices similar to French, Spanish, German, etc.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Any word when we are likely to see the new nobs and buttons? (Sneaky way to ask when beta 3 is slated for 🙂 )

    On a somewhat related subject, is there going to be work on more drivers? Windows 2003 as a base is good as it is mostly stable, but having built a few frankenstein machines for testing I have found a lot of issues with drivers. A simple one is no installable coolnquiet for AMD processors, one machine which is very unstable with the VGA driver being used for an ATI Radeon X1050, etc etc.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Actually, the interface is great.  Keep it simple.  That concept has made Apple very successful, and from what I can tell, you are implementing it well.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Wow, your mom’s VCR clock flashes 12pm? Most of the ones I’ve seen flash 12am 🙂

    Jokes aside, I understand the acronym-free UI but I wish it were simple for the more tech-savvy to search based on the acronyms to find confirm the friendly name of a feature is really what he/she is looking for.

    Taking mtgarden’s comment as an example, it took me more than the reasonable time to figure out networking and web-server settings in my mac OS X compared to Windows (2000/XP/Vista) and even Linux. All because I was not sure the friendly, verbose system preferences setting were supposed to mean Apache, SMB, etc. I had to hit the help system to make sure that’s what I was looking for.

    So if the geek-friendly terms are easy to spot (tooltips, details pane, whatever or even quick search) then less try-an-error for me.

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