Is Windows Too Complex for Structured Task Workers?

A number of my customers have recently presented me with an interesting question.  Some CIOs and architects I have been talking to have latched onto the web part capabilities in SPS and are envisioning a solution for structured task workers that makes it easier for them to do their job. 


The basic premise is that these people need to perform a number of tasks based on the role that they perform.  The Windows UI is application-centric and they contend that this is confusing for these users.  Instead they need a UI that is role- and task-centric.  These organisations want to see the whole Windows UI (desktop, Start menu, taskbar etc.) removed and replaced with a task-oriented UI and see SharePoint Portal Server as a way to deliver that.  They want to get rid of the windowing metaphor altogether arguing that more than one window being open at the same time confuses users.  They want to enable users to have access to Word, Excel, Email etc. where appropriate, but want those apps to appear in-place within the portal UI.  They want to disable the personalisation features of SharePoint.


My initial gut reaction is to say no way!  People are more computer savvy these days.  People I know such as teachers, local government workers, bank workers all have PCs at home as well as work these days.  If they can cope with multiple windows and applications at home then why not the workplace too?

SharePoint is great for providing aggregation of data from various back-end systems at the UI level,  but I firmly believe that shouldn't be the only UI you present to users.  One of the problems I find is that end-user requirements aren't being captured, or if they are they aren't being given as high a priority as business requirements.  I am seeing frustrated and dissatisfied users.  Frustrated at how slow web-based solutions are.  Dissatisfied at how limiting the system is.  Keep web solutions doing what they do best: browsing, reading, aggregating and linking information plus simple forms.  Do more than that and you are risking trouble.


Now, having said that, maybe these people do have a point.  Despite them trying to fit a round peg into a square hole by using portals to do this, could the underlying concept be correct?  Could it be that all the windowing GUIs out there have only been catering for the high-end users for all this time?  I know how difficult it is for my parents to program the VCR.  Maybe we do need a better way of customising the Windows UI to tailor it for Structured Task Workers.  Maybe we need a personalizable framework for smart client apps akin to the Web Part Infrastructure with a common set of interfaces to link the 'parts' together.


Maybe we need to go further than that and we need a whole new UI metaphor for task-based work that is supported by Windows right in the desktop?  I was hoping that the Longhorn sidebar would help here, but with the report that it has been pulled…what next?


I'd be interested in hearing about your experiences.

Comments (3)
  1. lynn says:

    We need Windows Longhorn L. (Where L stands for ‘lacky’).

  2. Jeff Parker says:

    I got one word in response to that Blackberry.

    Ok a few more words to explain that one. Blackberry has a very small marketshare. I can not stand a blackberry either. I have a real nice Pocket PC phone etc. However, our CEO wants blackberry put in everywhere and is insisting all leadership members use a blackberry. Why, well your CEO is tech Savy, however I have never ever met a CEO, let alone a CIO that could read, let alone write, a line of code. Heck our CIO can’t even set his outlook up to connect to our exchange server.

    So while the people at those levels do not see the advantages of the Pocket PC, they I think are overwhelmed by the amount of stuff in it. Blackberry is very simple and easy to use. While me as a techy and a programmer see the blackberry as the PDA for the morons.

    So could the windows desktop be simplified for some people. By all means yes. I would actually say 80% of the United states could take the PC dumbed down. Do I want it dumbed down for me though Heck no.

    Oh yeah another CEO of another fortune 500 company I know had me help him pick out a Laptop. I found him a really nice HP large screen light and easy to use massive hard drive, cd/dvd burner lots of Ram and a 3d card to boot. Even wireless internet. Now his wife is a little more tech savy than him but anyway a few months later I went over and I happened to glance at the screen of his laptop, everything was gone except for a big blue E icon in the center of his screen. and a folder Unused Icon. I asked him why he removed all the shortcuts and stuff I set up for him. He really said to me that he apreciated all the work I did but really all he wanted to do was go to Ebay and that E was IE shortcut that went directly to Ebay his wife set up for him. and it was the only thing he ever used in the entire laptop. The only thing he knew how to do.

    You might be thinking Ok well what about the email. He simply set the email on auction to his work email which went to his blackberry. So he would surf Ebay with this laptop a gamer would give their right arm for. Then got his email through his blackberry. Keep in mind this is a CEO of a fortune 500 company we are talking about.

    So now these people that you know that all have PC’s at home and stuff. Are they like you and me and go home write code, read and write blogs. Watch things like Channel 9. Or do they go home and surf the web a bit type in a chat room and maybe once a year do turbo tax and so on.

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