Friday, May 27, 2016 [Tweets] [Favorites]

Google : 2010s :: Microsoft : 1990s

Jason Snell:

So when I look at Google and see a latter-day version of 1990s Microsoft, I don’t mean to portray it as a monster. Truth be told, just as I used Word 5.1 back in the day, I use many Google services today. My email is served by Gmail, and my comings and goings are arranged with Google Calendar. Most of my podcast and website collaboration happens in Google Sheets and Google Docs. (I also thought the Google I/O keynote last week was the best one I’ve seen–disciplined and focused in a way previous I/O keynotes weren’t.)

But some of the stuff Microsoft pulled in the 1990s was awful, and made users angry. And Google seems to still be making decisions that are more about promoting the greatness of Google than showing respect for users.

[…]

As someone in Google’s ecosystem as well as Apple’s, I’m happy that they continue to develop apps for iOS. Unfortunately, every time I open one of them, I’m brought back to the mid-’90s and Word 6.

John Gruber (tweet):

Jason specifically calls out iTunes on Windows as being in the same boat. I’d add the late Safari for Windows, too.

Don Melton:

We simply couldn’t compete with Google when they were paying everybody to bundle [Chrome] and blitzing TV.

People don’t realize the Safari for Windows team, the platform engineers, was only three people. That’s it.

And if I could have gotten marketing support dollars, …

… I could have gotten the engineering budget to support the effort to address those issues.

5 Comments

Are most people really concerned about the fact that Google's iPhone apps don't follow Apple's style guides? I think it's fair to say that a lot of Mac users were upset with Mac Word 6.0, but that was not just because it looked out of place on a Mac, but also because 5.1 was pretty good, and 6 was slow and buggy.

Nowadays, a lot of iOS apps look out of place on iOS. Facebook's app follows Facebook's UI guidelines, not Apple's; I don't think most people care about that anymore.

"Are most people really concerned about the fact that Google's iPhone apps don't follow Apple's style guides? I think it's fair to say that a lot of Mac users were upset with Mac Word 6.0, but that was not just because it looked out of place on a Mac..."

Well, the "out of place" really was a massively big deal at the time. We'd all grown quite accustomed to almost universal conformity with the UI guidelines.

But as you correctly note, this is most definitely not the case today.

So, I half agree with you on your on-topic point. Doesn't matter now, but really, really did matter back then. Now I shall go wild on your short tangent, given this is a 4 day old thread with no other comments

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"because 5.1 was pretty good"

Understatement. 5.1 was great. An as-close-to-perfect highly complex but still basic Mac app as we've ever seen.

"6 was slow and buggy."

As a very heavy user of 6, I actually grew quite fond of it pretty quickly. And I didn't find it buggy at all. Didn't crash. Never lost work.

Yes, it was very, very slow to launch, and a few obscure features were very, very slow. But once launched, used with most common operations, it really wasn't slow on modern hardware, though it did lack a bit of the instant snappiness of 5.1.

And once I got over the UI shock, and spent a couple of weeks learning the quite easy WordBasic, I actually grew to love the monstrosity of 6. I could customize my template, and thus my productivity workflow in ways utterly unimaginable in 5.1, In short order, I was Getting Things Done in 6 far better than I had in 5.1, and was able to do things with it I'd never imagined accomplishing in 5.1, or in any general use word processor. It allowed to replace a couple of specialized word processors and outlining apps I'd been using along with 5.1. Create your own app with a couple weeks of scripting!

Plus, even at the time, I was aware of the forward compatibility advantages. I knew Apple was imperiled, and I knew Microsoft had great incentive in maintaining forward compatibility for Word docs. In 2016, I'm still using the same Word 6 Template and workflow I did 20 years ago, which is an utterly absurd productively and time saving thing. I'm still using docs I created 20 years ago.

But merits aside, I most certainly was in a tiny, tiny minority at the time in my feelings about 6...

The issue with Google apps isn't the Material UI. It's that the UI is just bad. I constantly see people confused as how to do something in Google Maps. It's gotten particularly worse the last year. I honestly don't care what the share button looks like. I do care with how it functions and how discoverable features are. Not that Apple Maps is without flaws in this regard either. But all the Google apps seem to have been getting worse after getting quite good there for a while.

I think it's true that a lot of people *were* concerned with visual consistency across different apps in the 90s - on the other hand, people loved Kai Krause's stuff. Maybe it's always just been a vocal minority (that has become less and less vocal over time).

"on the other hand, people loved Kai Krause's stuff"

Good on you, Lukas! In my lengthy rant, I deleted a Kai section at the last moment, cuz it was already too long. In short, Kai was such a brilliant designer that he made breaking the rules fun, in a sophisticated toy way for a sophisticated toy. But Kai is sui generisis.

"I think it's true that a lot of people *were* concerned with visual consistency across different apps in the 90s ... Maybe it's always just been a vocal minority"

Well, defining "a vocal majority": dunno if we mean all users, or just all users who care about UX. It was certainly part of Mac's competitive differentiation in the mid-90's. But notice I used UX and not UI. Why? Cuz:

There was a reason folks loved visual consistency across different apps. It made them all easier to use. This was a functional, fundamental user experience advantage.

And this wasn't just a '90's thing. Visual consistency across different apps persisted for close to a decade in OS X in the new millennium.