If software lived in meatspace

Posted by bryanzug - 2005/10/24

Great post on Signal vs Noise over at 37signals the other day proposing that “If software was physical you’d have to look away”.

It’s not only funny, but thought provoking as well (always a powerful combination in my book).

The idea came to mind again yesterday as I was talking with a friend who is a tech leader at a large healthcare organization in the Seattle area.

We were on the topic of content management systems (or knowledge management systems, if you prefer) and why the big expensive enterprise ones, like Microsoft’s Sharepoint products, result in so much suckage.

In reflecting on our discussion, I realized there are several ways to make the case — here are a few for instances —

For Instance 1: I can talk about how these types of systems don’t follow baseline “Don’t Make Me Think” usability principles — which works really well if the folks you are talking with are aware of Steve Krug’s work (and better still if they agree with it).

Even if they haven’t heard of “Don’t Make Me Think”, I’ve found that I usually sound smarter than I am (often the case — ha ha ha) because the title is funny and my sound bite description of Krug’s thesis often gels with folksy conventional wisdom — even if you don’t spend your free time studying human interaction and user interface design best practices.

(For the record, my soundbite synopsis of Krug’s thesis goes like this — “We think people use computers with much thoughtfulness, like many of us tech folks do — but, the research is showing they don’t — most folks actually go to a screen and just start clicking on stuff — often getting confused really fast and then giving up, or, alternately, settling into a process of smoldering frustration if they can’t accomplish the task at hand” — my colleague Christian Watson has posted this great picture of this point from the back cover of the book in his review of the second edition)

For Instance 2: I can describe how inflexible a Sharepoint system is when compared to some of the open source solutions that are quickly reshaping this business space.

For those of you that don’t know, there are a lot of free tools out there that are hands down kicking Sharepoint’s ass — examples include Xaraya (customer facing implementation of which can be seen via these sites from Sacred Heart Medical Center of Spokane, WA and The Schwab Foundation), Drupal, WordPress, Moveable Type, Mambo, Writeboard, etc.

For example — I can make most of the open source tools look like this or this or this (if it makes usability sense) but I can only make the Sharepoint site look like an ugly stepsister of this even if it is, to put it politely, not optimal for my users.

For Instance 3 (The Closer): I could take the 37signals cue and just say, “If Sharepoint existed in meatspace, you’d have to look away”.

The folks with good visualization skills would immediately feel nauseated, say “Yep — you’re right” and we’d all be moving on to the next topic.

This third method, in my book, is a noteworthy and cost effective method of rapid systems prototyping — ha ha ha

Cerner Health Conference 2005 Presentation

Posted by bryanzug - 2005/10/11

As promised, here are the files from my panel presentation “Web-Based Training: Effective & Affordable Solutions” from the Cerner Health Conference in Orlando on October 10, 2005.

The PowerPoint File:


The Flash .exe file demoing the Children’s CIS WBT structure and interaction model. (Intended for 1024×768 screen resolution):


Google showing entire first episode of Chris Rock’s “Everybody Hates Chris” on demand in flash video

Posted by bryanzug - 2005/09/27

The headline says it all. URL is —


If you don’t know why this matters, all I have to say is, “I’ve drawn the dots and numbered them. You’ve got to do the rest on your own…”

ASTD Techknowledge 2005 Presentation: Streamlining WBT Development with Macromedia Captivate and Flash

Posted by bryanzug - 2005/09/20

Here’s the .pdf handout to the ASTD Techknowledge presentation I gave in Las Vegas in February 2005 with my eLearning partner in crime, Karen Hofmann (every good eLearning technical developer needs a really great subject matter expert — and Karen is the Bees Knees).

It’s a case study of the first phase of development of our web based training (WBT) system using Macromedia’s Captivate and Flash toolset. Description from the session is below (along with a link to the ASTD file). Enjoy!

Streamlining WBT Development with Macromedia Captivate and Macromedia Flash at Children’s Hospital Seattle Presented by: Karen Hofmann, Bryan Zug, Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center In this session, participants will explore the use of Captivate and Flash in streamlining software training WBT development. Participants will examine successes and lessons learned by the presenters who are internal content experts and WBT developers at Children’s Hospital Seattle. The session will include a short introduction to Captivate, demonstrations of Captivate to Flash functionality, a look at Children’s WBT development Flash templates, and an overview of the WBT development lifecycle. Learning Objectives:
  • Apply the key strengths and weaknesses of Captivate and Flash in the full WBT development lifecycle.
  • Use Captivate to support streamlined project deliverable timelines by reducing Flash developer resources required for course production of enterprise-wide WBTs.
  • Enable novice, non-technical content experts to efficiently produce technical training content for your own learning audiences.

Sys-Con MX Developer’s Journal Article: Between a Rock and a Soft(ware) Place

Posted by bryanzug - 2005/09/20

Here’s a .pdf of the article I wrote for the March 2005 Edition of MX Developer’s Journal (a Sys-Con publications). It’s called “Between a Rock and a Soft(ware) Place: Streamlining Web-based training development with Captivate & Flash” and is the story from a technical web developer’s perspective.

MXDJ editor, Charles Brown, had some nice things to say about our work in the introduction to the issue, so I’ve included that in the .pdf as well.

I do have to say that I love the fact that they used the exact line I hoped they would use for one of the pullout quotes. It’s one of those that, as I wrote it, I thought to myself, that’ll make a nice pullout quote.

It reads —

When incorrect use of a system can kill people, you tend to be very serious about certifying that everyone using it has demonstrated correct completion of the system tasks that are a part of their job
That is so cool.

The MXDJ version of the article can be found at —


More on Sparkle: Tinic & Other OS’s (Mac, etc.)

Posted by bryanzug - 2005/09/16

Tinic Uro, one of the engineers behind the Flash Player has posted a really important reaction to Sparkle. In it, he says this —

One word summarizes my reaction: Respect.

It’s an important post because 1) Tinic is smart enough to not underestimate Microsoft as an opponent and 2) his first reaction is that the Sparkle engineers “have been doing some amazing work in the past 4 years”.

It’s a reaction much like my own, noted in previous posts.

Another interesting turn comes in this “Microsoft offers development tools for Mac, Web” article from ZDNET which begins to detail how this new effort will not be windows only —

The company introduced Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere, or WPF/E, software to build applications using Microsoft’s XAML page layout language in conjunction with JavaScript. Until this week, it was thought that Microsoft’s Windows Presentation Foundation, formerly code-named Avalon, could be used only to build graphics-rich applications on Windows. But because JavaScript runs on many operating systems, developers could, in theory, use WPF/E tooling to target several operating systems. Apple’s Mac OS will be one of the operating systems supported with WPF/E, as well as older versions of Windows and Microsoft Smartphone, according to Microsoft executives.

Not sure how much mis-information is in that quote, but even if it’s 50% true, it means that the either the dev tools or the distributable clients built with them will run on Macs and other systems.

That’s a big deal, because, well, it seems like Microsoft is finally getting the fact that monopoly asshole business behavior is bad not just for the world at large, but for the pocketbook as well.

Some more worthwhile Sparkle discussion

Posted by bryanzug - 2005/09/15

Here are a couple of worthwhile Sparkle posts that flesh out what it is likely to mean for the industry.

First up is “Microsoft Expression Sparkle finally announced” from Cybergrain.

Some good points here, particularly regarding 3D — biggest oversite is that there is no mention of Macromedia’s Flex and, correspondingly, a misunderstanding of the current state of the Flash RIA nation.

Second post is “A Good Day To Be A Designer” on ScaryNoises.

It’s a great summary of how Microsoft taking design seriously is going to change the industry.

Sparkle — Microsoft finally takes UI design seriously

Posted by bryanzug - 2005/09/14

If you are into UI design and haven’t yet seen the video that Scoble posted on Microsoft’s Channel 9, prepare to crap your pants and go watch it.

At their Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles today, Microsoft debuted Sparkle Interactive Designer as a part of their new Expression Suite. It’s a move that shows the Redmond crew seems to finally be taking UI design seriously.

Being a Flash web application developer, this is my home territory and I have to say, I’m impressed. Go watch the video and admit with me — the rich interface race is on and Redmond aims to represent.

Having been gearing up to begin some new Flex projects myself, Sparkle definitely is swinging for the same market (though we’ll have to wait to see if Sparkle UI’s play on non-Window’s systems).

The Scoble video shows a pretty well crafted design environment that can roll out rich 2D and 3D visuals and animations that are stored as XAML files (Microsoft’s XML format for describing interface controls for the new Longhorn OS coming next year – Ha, Ha, Ha). Looks pretty easy to bind these controls to underlying application code as well – a move to make UI designers a real part of the software development process.

As someone who’s been in this business a long time, this feels like a big change — Microsoft taking design seriously means that good tech design is not going to be isolated to companies like Apple or AdobeMedia any more.

While it may prove fateful for some of our favorite toolsets, at the end of the day, you have to admit it’s nice to get some business respect for a change.