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The importance of the Quick Start

When designing software, it is very important to think about how a user who never seen your software will start to use it.

For example, I am now looking for a source version control system for use with Borland Delphi 6.

I have tried Team Coherence and StarTeam.

After installing Team Coherence (server and client), I tried to connect to the server from the IDE. It yields error messages such as "can not find DLL", and such things.

I have uninstalled it immediately, as I don't have time to waste.

After that, I installed StarTeam.

Everything went ok, but.. I don't have a clue how to make it work.

There is no quick-start tutorial. There is nothing that can get somebody up and running quickly.

I don't even know the default password needed to connect to the server.

:-(

In my opinion, Microsoft is the only company that understands the need to get people up and running quickly with your product.

For example, for C# and .NET, there are a lot of "quick start" tutorials.

Also, Delphi contains a few tutorials which were very useful to me when I started programming with it (back in the Delphi 1.0 days, that is, 1995).

Why don't most software designers get this?

When I start using a new program, it is very important for them to make it as easy as possible for me to start using their software.

Otherwise, especially if I don't have time to waste, I shall try out a competitor which has got that part right!

Thunderstone
Monday, September 01, 2003

Now I found that StarTeam has a Start.pdf document, containing quick start information.

But - why do I have to hunt this down inside the C:\Program Files\StarTeamXXX folders?

Why didn't they put a shortcut to it in the windows Start menu?

:-( These developers neglected the need to get their users up and running as fast as possible!

Thunderstone
Monday, September 01, 2003

Well ok, I can see why a quick start document is useful for an office application but I'd have thought a source control tool would have required lots of thought on the part of the administrator so as to make a quick start document pointless.

Simon Lucy
Monday, September 01, 2003

Check out FreeVCS (no, not CVS -- VCS). It integrates into Delphi nicely.

Mickey Petersen
Monday, September 01, 2003

This kind of thinking is what makes Microsoft win a lot of times.


Other software companies think:

Why should we make things easy? The user should spend a lot of time and effort to install, configure, administer and use our software.

But there is no problem with that!

In fact, thinking this way makes us soooo elite, so cool!


Microsoft, on the other hand, thinks:

We have written a program to do X.

Now we shall make it as easy as possible to install, configure, administer and use.


And this is why Microsoft wins, and a bunch of companies and CEOs lose, and then start to whine and whine and whine, without thinking that in fact, it was their fault.

For example: what do you think would have happened lots of years ago, if Novell had provided a very easy to use and very powerful GUI administration tool?

They could have done this - they had the dominant position in the networking world, and Microsoft was light years behind, then.

But, no.

Like the version control system vendors today, they thought that it's normal for Netware to be hard to configure, and to require an expert in the field.

And this is why they lost.

People prefered to configure their own peer to peer networks, and not spend a lot of time studying, or spend a lot of money hiring an expensive network admin.

Thunderstone
Monday, September 01, 2003

Thunderstone,

You are quite right. The archaic belief that software should be hard is very wrong indeed.
I do not have time to dedicate hours of my life to make a program do what I want it to do -- I want it to work here and now.

Mickey Petersen
Monday, September 01, 2003

I think many developers/companies that produce software make the mistake that people _want_ to use their software.  This, IMO, is a mistake (excluding games/entertainment stuff).  I don't want to use anyone's software - I want to solve problem X, and I'm using software as a means to do this.

I believe it was someone on JOS who said:  Remember, no one wants a drill - what a person wants is a hole.

Thinking that people want to use their software leads to a lack of the basic "how do I get the damn thing to work" document(s) required.  Like mentioned above, NO ONE should have any problem finding the default password for a server-based product - totally unacceptable.

Jeff MacDonald
Monday, September 01, 2003

Thunderstone

OK I'm a software developer who agrees 100% with your comments. I'm developing a new computer language and developer environment and I want to make it easy to get people up and running. Help me here...

Imagine you've just installed the Product and you start it for the first time. It comes up with the usual developer environment menu (File, Edit, View, Run, Help etc) and a blank edit window. If you wanted to get started quickly, what would you then expect to do? What should 'just work'? What would you most like to happen?

And what would you 'least' like to happen?

Bill Rayer
Monday, September 01, 2003

Bill,

I hope you'll allow me to answer your questions aswell.


If I was a first time user I wanted to be greeted with a "Getting started" guide in HTML or similar. No, not Compressed HTML help or anything of the sort, but something "to the point" that shows me the lean and mean features of how to get the ball rolling. Make it possible for this window to be used side-by-side with the rest of your program.

Also, I'd like to see a few quick demos of what it's capable of - and by this I mean more than the typical "Hello, World" application.

Be creative, write a small game in it to display its graphics features(if any?), or something that shows off "just how fun coding can be" for the newbies or "how advanced this stuff is" for the experienced coders.

Mickey Petersen
Monday, September 01, 2003

> Imagine you've just installed the Product
> and you start it for the first time. It comes
> up with the usual developer environment
> menu (File, Edit, View, Run, Help etc) and
> a blank edit window. If you wanted to get
> started quickly, what would you then expect
> to do? What should 'just work'? What would
> you most like to happen?

I belive this depends on your target audience.

First - in your help menu, there should be several items:

- overview (or introduction)

- tutorials

- examples (all the examples should be described in help - using 2-3 lines of text for each example)

There should be several tutorials, which cover several tasks needed for your development system.

For example:

- basic language structures: if, loops, functions, objects, etc.

- how to access a database (read, write, append records)

- how to draw on the screen

- how to get a remote file using HTTP

- how to open a file on the disk

When starting for the first time, the environment should show a dialog stating that tutorials, an overview and some examples are available directly on the help menu.

Also, maybe a wizard to generate common app types, like MFC. I actually don't like this very much, but it may be helpful for some people.

Also, for tutorials, there are a lot of .NET "quick start" tutorials on the Internet.

They are excellent because one tutorial = one task.

When I want (for example) to draw a sprite on the screen, I need a tutorial just about that, and not about 15 other things.

It is better to have 20 simple tutorials, each teaching one thing clearly, than to have 2 large and hairy tutorials, each teaching about 10 things.

Thunderstone
Monday, September 01, 2003

Use perforce.  Installs in hours on just about anything.  Licensing is $600/user 1st year, $150/yr afterward.  First 2 users are free. 

I cannot imagine how often people habitually use something less capable than CVS, and then get frustrated.

cowardly lion
Monday, September 01, 2003

Mickey and Thunderstone:

Many thanks for the comments - they are appreciated. It's interesting you came up with similar things. One of the usability gurus said you only needed to test with a small number of people to cover most of the potential problems.

Bill Rayer
Tuesday, September 02, 2003

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