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Saturday, February 12, 2005

Make unimportant things easy

I'm a longtime user of Hotmail, and have always been happy with it. Until recently, there was a free version of a great tool called Hotmal Popper which provides a POP3 interface to your Hotmail accounts, meaning I could use Hotmail with any POP3 client I wanted.

Hotmail's been my secondary email provider for a long time, and is only given out to websites. Recently, I've been depending on Hotmail's web interface, partly because I have abandoned using Microsoft Outlook for home email, but mostly because I depend on Gmail as my primary mail interface.

Hotmail does a good job filtering my junk mail. Used to be, if I wanted to empty my Junk Mail folder, I would click the Empty button. A Yes/No dialog box appeared, and pressing Y (or Space, I don't remember) could confirm my delete request. This dialog box was generated by the OS, so it was easy to identify and was placed right on top of my browser window.

Microsoft has managed to complicate the Empty Junk Mail folder process to the point of a long blog post. See, kids, Microsoft wanted to have Hotmail users take part in the Junk Mail identification game ("your friend may be a spammer! report them to the spam authorities!") So they did this by adding a checkbox to the Empty Folder confirmation window. They even made this confirmation part of the process even when you delete a single message from the Junk Mail folder summary. How was this dialog box rendered? See, as common functionality, all browsers provide some simple dialog boxes including the Yes/No dialog box that used to be the Empty Folder confirmation window. This new dialog box, however, is a Yes/No, with a checkbox. This isn't provided by default with a browser, so Microsoft wrote a new dialog box from scratched, rendered with HTML in displayed in its own mini-browser window.

Why is this a problem? A modal dialog box provided by the OS forces my input to go to that dialog. The dialog box is centered somewhere which grabs my attention, and to confrim, I could hit a single key. With an HTML form, you have less control over where the window goes (particularly on a two-monitor machine) and I have to hunt for it, usually on the other window.

Can I still press the Y key? No. The simplest set of steps I could find to confirm removal was to find the window (remember, on a two monitor machine, it could be out of easy reach of my view and mouse) and press TAB followed by SPACE. Is this really a big deal? Should I complain about such an interface?

I think so, and here are my three reasons. First, I have to hunt my monitor for the delete confirmation window, which means the act of deleting a message from my Junk Mail folder is made more complicated. Second, I believe this act of forcing me to participate in the junk mail identification proces is intrusive and presumptive. I want an interface where the default activity is passive, and only participate when I choose to be active. Finally, and this is what offends me most of all, it takes more work to delete junk mail than to delete regular mail. It just goes against my principles for good user interface design. There's nothing I can do about it, except vote with my feet which I am doing, as soon as I can.

Update 2005-05-02: This should have been called "Make unimportant things unobtrusive." Cause it's the important things which should be easy, no?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

can't believe no one has commented, i totally agree with you. i wish they had left hotmail alone! now i have to research and do the learning curve with a whole new email service i guess