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Pretty, pretty good, or both?

Posted on | September 28, 2007 | 1 Comment

There is a common and festering misconception that has existed in users of computer programs ever since there were computers and programs to run on them. “If it is aesthetically pleasing, it must be a good program“. I can not tell you how much you short-change yourself if you have this mentality.

Put simply, aesthetically pleasing just means ‘pretty’. Most of us have gotten used to software that works as a service, something we use with our web browser instead of downloading and running locally. Google Apps is a perfect example of ‘pretty’ and ‘pretty good’ at the same time.

The design and ease of a program’s user interface (what you use to interact with the program) is critical, at no point can anyone dispute this. The program must make its features and functionality easy for the user to command in an intuitive fashion. This, however, is just one critical component. Many people forget, the program must also work :)

I’ve been working quite a bit on the GNUPanel project, a free software project that aims to produce a free control panel system for web hosts to offer you cheaper web hosting with more reliable features. As I’ve been approaching other developers to see if they would be interested in working on GNUPanel, I’ve been surprised to see that other developers (not just users, developers) have also succumbed to this crazy ‘pretty is always good’ mentality. Their first comments to me when viewing the program were “this looks really basic”, “wow, an angry fruit salad! neat!” or other similar remarks. Once I showed them ‘under the hood’ of GNUPanel, their attitude changed quickly and they became eager to work on the project.

You should not judge a book by the cover. You should not judge a program by its user interface. No matter how ‘pretty’ a program is, it must work and it must work predictably or it is of very little use. Otherwise, you’ve just paid for something else in your life that is pretty, costs money and drives you nuts :)

If a program is well written, especially a program designed to operate as a service, making new and improved themes or skins should be a cinch. Look at WordPress as a prime example of this. The default / classic theme is so ugly that even I can barely stand to look at it, however, the software is rather well written and works reliably.

Take the time to look at everything that might suit your needs over the course of a few days. Try stuff out, see how it works, examine all aspects of software before making a decision. Free software is made to be customized, get something that you need to customize, don’t get something that you need to fix :)


One Response to “Pretty, pretty good, or both?”

  1. tinkertim
    September 28th, 2007 @ 4:21 pm

    I should also note, while I make it a point to not antagonize anyone (if at all avoidable), there are some programs that are just, well pretty bad.

    Please don’t let ‘eye candy’ fool you into a false sense of confidence or trust :)

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