Control Placement & Vocabulary as Factors in Software Brand Loyalty

It seems like I'm driving a completely different car almost every week... since Avis can't seem to stock the same makes and models consistently nationwide. I wonder if they're a franchisor – that might explain it. Nonetheless, it establishes my self-deprecating, ironic tone. See if you can figure out what makes it ironic before the end. Although it will take me a minute to back out of my cars metaphor and into software, trust me when I tell you that the firearms analogy that I might use on one of my other blogs is a little less ubiquitous and not quite as appropriate here, so bear with me.


This week, rather than just being unconsciously irritated about the windshield wiper lever operating upside down, I noticed specifically that Chrysler puts the various controls in all the wrong places (as most American car manufacturers seem wont to do). I stopped myself before I began muttering aloud about it... I'm not that gray yet! Since I'd noticed, I figured it would be interesting to observe how long it takes for daily repetition to override my battle-hardened Toyota reflexes... I've survived driving lots and lots of miles in every major U.S. metro and most of the minor ones so, yes, they're battle-hardened reflexes. Plus back of the envelope mathematics estimates that I'll be hitting the half a million miles driven mark just before I hit my 20-year anniversary in the proverbial driver's seat next year... I really can't be as old as that sounds! I've only been married for fourteen years and have three kids under the age of... Oh. Never mind. In case it matters to the accountants in the audience who are already computing my age against average annual U.S. driver travel, during a few misspent years of my not so distant youth I was alternately an interstate hotshot driver and a police officer, professions which each contributed a couple of ~150,000-mile years to my time behind the wheel. By happenstance they are jobs on diametrically opposite ends of the traffic law. Both were fun while they lasted!


Needless to say, that since I've owned Toyotas for at least the last third of those ~500,000 miles driven, I expected it to take a bit longer than Day 3 this week for me to be parking while simultaneously closing the windows, turning off the radio, putting my cell phone away and operating the convertible roof controls... without consciously thinking about any of it. (The addition of the convertible top control is probably what first caught my attention on Monday. It doesn't belong on the middle console between the seats, Chrysler!) Of course, Heisenberg has probably reared his ugly, indeterminate head – because for once I'm actually paying specific attention to how (un)consciously I operate this week's random vehicle (an otherwise nice little Sebring)... but instead of wondering if Heisenberg ever wished that American car makers would put a compass indicator on the rear view mirror, too, I'll deviate to what I was actively thinking about while I was parking and doing all of those other things when I arrived back at the hotel this evening.


While doing my impression of a heavily caffeinated monkey parking an Alfa Romeo convertible (without the wonderful benefit of an actual Spider), my higher brain functions were analyzing an experience from earlier in the afternoon: Listening to a developer complain about having to type all three letters of "dir" instead of the shorter "ls" in the Windows™ command prompt to get a list of files... among many other grievances.


The differences between Windows™ and other software interfaces aren't all that dissimilar from the differences between vehicle control placement between manufacturers. The natural human aversion to change is what contributes (IMNSHO) most of the flames to 'the holy wars' between technology aficionados (a.k.a. geeks) anyway. Brand loyalty, however it's generated, is just marketing taking specific advantage of the change aversion endemic in the Human Condition™. Unfortunately, they only seem to teach this money making little secret in college to marketing majors and MBAs – not to developers who like to "upgrade" their software with new features and "refactor" or "rearchitect" their software, even *gasp* the UI when a better idea occurs to them… For example, I personally believe that semicolons and curly braces were invented specifically for the purpose of writing good software and any language that doesn't properly require them to end lines of code and/or encapsulate class definitions is unnatural! But surprisingly enough, I digress...


All the way into VB-land where an enormously vocal group of developers don't want to move out of the '90s era coding caverns that they're comfortable in. Weird. To me. Like VB, many, but not all, Microsoft™ products have grown to the point where previous versions of our products are our biggest competitors, and the biggest inhibitors to innovation and change in the software. Be honest, how many of your servers are still running Year 2000-vintage software? I'll bet you know more than one person who's still using Office 2000. (Mainstream support for BizTalk 2000 just ended. Hooray! Long live Pathfinder!!) Seriously, are you still hiding in Classic Mode on your XP workstation? Think that the 64-bit craze won't affect you and eventually just blow over? How many people who used to hate the Start button would now hesitate to upgrade to Vista if somebody decided to take it out?!


Fade back to the jaded, former *nix developer from today... Because I have more than my fair share of testosterone, I naturally tried to suggest "fixes" for what ailed said unhappy developer (who strangely enough makes a very good living writing SQL Server 2005-based software) such as batch files named ls.cmd and the Windows™ Resource Kit tools for various tasks at issue (or *shudder* Cygwin, GNUWin32 or UnxTools when it appeared that I wasn't really getting through). But inevitably I realized that this wasn't really a person seeking solutions and enlightenment, this was a complainer who wanted to reminisce in the general direction of the Man from Microsoft™. *sigh* I should've recognized the symptoms earlier. Yet another developer who's not too change averse to work where to smart money is, but definitely too change averse to enjoy it!


Qué será, será. At least it gave me something more interesting to ponder while enjoying the beautiful top-down Florida weather than how strange it's going to feel over the weekend when I get back to rainy Houston to find myself trying to put the top down on my Camry (that doesn't even have a sunroof).

Comments (7)

  1. Dean Harding says:

    You know, sometimes I think that software companies like to change their software with each new release just to generate more training revenue.

    Visual Studio is, in my opinion, this biggest culprit. They change the keyboard shortcuts with every single release and I have to re-learn them all over again.

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