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Menus: Ease
How easy is it to use the menus?

By:David K. Every
©Copyright 1999

The opposite of "power" is "ease of use". Of course this is as subjective as "power" is. But the point is not what 5% of the users (or less) can do -- but what anyone walking up to a machine can do. (Or what the average user will do, even after a year of use).

In general, I find global menubars (Mac or NeXT) are far easier and less confusing -- both visually, and in basic usage. You just tell a user, "the Menus will be at the top, and they give you a way to issue commands". For Windows or Be, it is much more common to have to explain a lot more about menus. The more details and complications and variances, then less "easy" it is to use. Also the more consistent, the easier it is as well. Some functions are scalable -- like tear-off menus on NeXT, the fact that you can tear it off, doesn't do too much to confuse new users, in that you just explain a menu (what it looks like and how it works) and don't even have to address that issue until much later (and they have mastered the basics). Others, can be more intrusive -- like the 5 different ways to issue shortcuts in MS-Windows' menus.

Mac - The Mac is as easy as it gets -- one behavior, basically works everywhere. The menu is always at the top. Many keys are used everywhere for the same thing (not most or some places like Windows). The devil is in the details, and Apple tried to get all the details out. If Apple had done just a little more with Keyboard shortcut standardization, and tried done some "UI certification", then I'd give them a 5 in ease of use -- SCORE: 4.5

NeXT - They are ALMOST as easy as a Mac. But don't quite make it. Some power functions (like tear-offs) require a little extra explanation -- there are always trade-offs between power and ease of use. Other than that, the menus are easy to explain, ease to understand, and easy to use -- SCORE: 4

Windows -- Microsoft is the eternal compromiser (and thief). They stole a lot, but sadly, I don't think they knew why some things were done (in UI). Worse, they didn't enforce standards, or do much to make it easier for users. Microsoft's UI can be summed up as designed by a committee of geeks (written for geeks), marketeers and compromisers, and meant to please the same -- SCORE: 2

BeOS - BeOS pretty much modeled its Menus after Windows, but they did a little better (in that they got to learn from the others mistakes). Of course, Be is still trying to attract the hacker market (the older "good" connotation of hacker, which just meant programmer extrordinaire). The problem is that hackers don't often value UI, they value cool code, and wizzy features more. The interface is going to reflect that unless BeOS does a lot to combat it -- so far they have fallen short. For now, they have a slightly better implementation, because there aren't enough Apps and developers to really screw it up. Let's hope they can enforce some standards before things get worse -- SCORE: 3

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Created: 12/21/97
Updated: 11/09/02

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