Modern Software Experience

2011-07-06

misfeatures

1. Unauthorised Internet Connections

It is common nowadays for applications to get news and updates from the Internet, and that is a good thing. However, quite a few applications connect to the Internet as soon as they start up, every time the application is started. The problem is that many applications do so without even showing a dialog box to inform you about what they are doing. Some applications even try to connect to the Internet before displaying their splash dialog.

This aggressive application behaviour can actually prevent you from using the application; Ancestry.com's New Family Tree Maker actually crashes if it cannot connect to the Internet.
This application behaviour is also a privacy issue; MyHeritage Family Tree Builder sends a unique identifier every time you start it, which enables the company to track and profile your usage of the application.
Quite a few applications allow you to set a schedule for their update check, for example just once a day or once week, regardless of how often you start the application. However, many of these applications still default to performing it every time. This is wrong.

Applications should respect users and their choices.

Applications should respect users and their choices. Desktop genealogy applications should work fine without an Internet connection. Desktop applications should not try to grab the Internet privilege, but ask the user for permission. When they have permission, applications still should not sneakily connect to the Internet, but always clearly show that they are doing so, with a progress dialog box or some status bar messages. Applications should allow the user to set an update frequency and respect that setting. Applications should allow the user to choose to never automatically connect, and have a menu item to perform a manual update check. Application may show reminders to check for updates once in while, but should be reticent about doing so.

2. Automatically Opening the Last Project

Some genealogy applications automatically open the last project you worked on. Some do so even if you explicitly closed the project before closing the application the last time you used it.
Automatically opening the last project you worked on sounds like a nice feature - until you take a few moments to think about it. I've experienced that the application crashes, and that when you restart it, it opened the same file again, only to crash again… the simplest way out of that hopeless loop was to rename the file.
A more common problem is that the software is slow to open files, and makes you wait many minutes while it opens the last file you worked on, while you are getting frustrated, because you do not fancy waiting on a file you did not want to open at all.

Best practice is to simply add a short list of Most Recently Used (MRU) files to the file menu. That does not force users to experience the same crash over and over again, nor sit through a slow open of a file they do not want, but does allow users to quickly pick a recently used file.

3. Antilogical Date Formats

Date formats should be logical; the date components should either be ordered from small to large (day, month, year) or from large to small (year, month, day). Any deliberately different format is an antilogical misfeature that is certain to create confusion.

All software, but genealogy software in particular, should avoid any possible date confusion by supporting logical date formats exclusively. The GEDCOM Date format - small to large, and the month represented by an abbreviation instead of a number, to remove all possible doubt - is a good one.

4. Configurable First Day of the Week

Some software allows you to choose what you consider to be the first day of the week. That is ludicrous. Genealogists should know and respect the calendars they use, an no genealogy software should encourage them to do otherwise.
The first day of the week isn't a matter of personal taste or opinion, but of international standardisation; ISO 8601 makes it plain that Monday is the first day of the week. That is why calendars and agendas start the week on Monday. Allowing unnecessary deviations from a well-established standard is a misfeature that is certain to create confusion; what's the second day of the week?

Genealogy software should respect and encourage date standards, not encourage unnecessary deviation.

5. ALL-CAPS FAMILY NAMES

A major misfeature of quite a few genealogy applications is the ability to change family names to ALL-UPPERCASE. That is wrong, period.

Quite a few applications allow uppercase names in reports. That is a misfeature. A report style that specifies upper-case family names is wrong and needs to be amended. Family names can be highlighted without modifying the family name or making the reader guess what the proper capitalisation is. Both electronically and on paper, family names be highlighted by using a different font, font size or font style, perhaps even a different colour.
Still, merely using all-caps in reports does not affect your genealogy database. A few applications have a misfeature that is much worse; they allow you to actually uppercase all the names in your database. When you choose to do so, you rob yourself of the ability to print any report using proper casing - and there is no easy way back to proper casing either; it is not a matter of uppercasing the first character.

The fundamental issue is a genealogical one; names should be spelled and cased correctly.

That all-caps text has lower readability than normally cased text is a fact, but a side issue. The real issue is simply that uppercasing a name is wrong. The fundamental issue is a genealogical one; names should be spelled and cased correctly. Neither the spelling nor the casing should be changed on a whim, not by the user, and certainly not by the application.
Some sources may use an ALL-CAPS name, and that should be respected in transcriptions, but in the genealogy itself, an individual's name should still be entered using proper capitalisation.

Incidentally, some of vendors that produce software with this misfeature compound it another misfeature that purports to change all-uppercase name back to properly cased names.
This is an even bigger blunder for two reasons. The most obvious reason is that the existence of this feature makes the existence of the ALL-CAPS feature seem innocuous, which it is not. The more fundamental reason is that they literary do not know how to properly case a name. Such a misfeature is likely to turn VAN DER BILT into Van Der Bilt instead of the correct van der Bilt - and that is a relatively simply case. Correctly casing a name is a surprisingly complex issue that requires much more than a short list of prefixes. The practical solution is to let the user enter names correctly and refrain from messing it up.

Genealogy software should respect correct casing. It should not offer features for messing it up. On the contrary, genealogy software should encourage correct casing, by alerting the user to casing that is likely to be wrong, such as all-lowercase and all-uppercase names.

remove

If you are a vendor and have any of these misfeatures in your product, remove them ASAP.
Your product and documentation will become simpler, smaller, faster and above all, better.

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