To my mild dismay, the concept of user-centric design seems as elusive as ever. Based on feedback to a recent column on the subject, this notion appears to be as difficult for users to digest as it is for technology vendors to engineer.
In the column in question, I offered Apples iPod as an example of a storage device offering true usability, a product that has transcended its product category to become a solution.
To some Mac fans, I was just another cheerleader for all of Apples product lines; for these readers, my initial point seemed to be obscured by their enthusiasm for the Mac platform and Apple brand. (At the same time, I appreciated their many clicks to the story, and I sheepishly admit that I may have considered this effect when selecting the iPod as a case-in-point for my thesis.)
For example, one reader suggested that Apples Xserve also deserves the "solution" appellation, adding that the rack-mounted server has been unfairly ignored by consultants. "Xserve isnt for everyone, but I know a lot of sites that could save money (time) by deploying the Xserve instead of some of the stuff they stick with. Apples new laptops and bundled software make a lot of sense, too. Auto-sensing Wi-Fi and other network and peripheral connections are a Help Desks dream."
Good points all. In my opinion, though, saying that a notebooks features can cut down on support costs is a great recommendation—for a product—but a big step from being crowned a solution.
Let me provide further examples, again in the storage arena, without the Apple dissonance.
Regular backup is a task that almost all computer users put on their New Years resolution lists but rarely accomplish. While most CPUs ship with some kind of backup software, users find the programs cumbersome to configure, understand and integrate into their everyday work habits.
"Users dont want to dink around with backup," said Steve McBride, CMS vice president of marketing. He added that host-based software requires users to answer three questions before a backup: what, where and when. "The problem is you lose 30 percent of your audience for each question."
CMS ABS drives automatically run an incremental backup routine immediately after theyre connected to a host. For many users, thats how a backup should work—without having to think about it. A recently introduced model offers one-button restoration of a corrupted file and scheduling.
Taking a different tack, but still fitting the expectations of users, is Maxtors 5000LE. It features a button on the front that triggers an incremental backup each time its pressed.
Now, some folks will prefer the real-world physical action of Maxtors interface, since they are comforted by pushing a button. Others will prefer the transparency offered by CMS connection-forced backup. In either case, the integrated design inherent in each drive that encourages—or mandates—an incremental backup.
Whats more, its tough for customers to differentiate the integrated products from their competition, which are still worthy albeit less-sophisticated. And most come with bundled backup software that meet the requirements of most checklists. Sorry to say, from a certain distance, all SKUs look alike.
David Morgenstern is a longtime reporter of the storage industry as well as a veteran of the dotcom boom in the storage-rich fields of professional content creation and digital video.