This article about reluctance among users to give up Outlook as their mail client of choice underscores an issue that everyone in product design/development faces.
People hate change, especially at work.
When it comes to computers, most people have a very low tolerance threshold for failure, even if the service or web app is free. Remember the many Facebook revolts each time the UI changed or they opened up the community to new members?
People tend to freak out when apps change, even if it’s for the better.
This problem is worse when you talk about apps that they use for work.
During my time in consulting, every project I worked on built in time for user training, natch. That was always a fun time because it never went off without at least a few people voicing their understandable annoyance and frustration at having to learn how to do their jobs all over again on a new system.I worked on the technical side, customizing and extending EBS R11 apps.
My entire job revolved around accommodating these requests, i.e. making EBS work like the old apps did. In most cases, this meant replicating mainframe apps in the R11, client-server framework.
I spent lots of hours sitting with the people who actually did the work, listening to them vent about how the change would affect them. I did a lot of Forms and Reports work, moving fields around the canvas, changing the tab order, tweaking the default queries, all so they could replicate the keyboard entry they had used for years or the reports they were accustomed to using.
This is a serious concern when you factor in the loss of efficiency across an entire company. So, we did everything we could to make the transition smooth and easy.
Microsoft’s years of domination have deeply entrenched Windows, IE and Office as the de facto ways to get stuff done at work. So, it’s not surprising that user revolt frequently drives purchase decisions, even when change could benefit the bottom line of the organization as a whole.
It also puts a heavy load on the product team supporting the software, as can be seen from Microsoft’s experiences with Windows and IE. Thanks to Gary for sending along this fascinating look into the Windows development process that led into what became Vista.
These product teams struggled with the older, but still very popular, versions of their software, and because of the absolute necessity for backward compatibility, had to build in tolerances for software that was out-dated by modern standards and practices.
Have I mentioned lately that software is hard?
The article in PCWorld also has an interesting tie to our old friend email. I don’t know if there are any reliable usage stats on mail clients, but I think it’s safe to say that Outlook is the mostly used installed client, i.e. not a webmail client.
I have a personal distaste for Outlook dating back to the late 90s. I used our internal mail clients (Oracle Office and Oracle Interoffice) for several years, until we switched to IMAP, allowing me to move to Netscape Mail.
Then I left Oracle and was forced to use Outlook, which I immediately disliked, mainly because it was different. So, even for a very tolerant user, changing my primary work tool got me cranky. Plus, there’s the whole issue of an Outlook mailbox being proprietary, thereby making an export impossible and making recovery challenging.
That may have changed, but I swore to avoid it like the Plague if I could.
Luckily, I’ve been able to do that and happily use Thunderbird and OS X Mail (for reading, not portability) instead.
I guess it all comes down to getting stuff done, which is they pay us in the first place. Change makes that tougher, so naturally, people are resistant.
What do you think? Find the comments.