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Upgrade Improves Application, Users Stunned
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MONKEY'S EYEBROW, Arizona - "We were prepared for the worst," remembered Elaine Boothby. Boothby is the assistant manager at "Runs & Hoses", a gardening supply store in Monkey's Eyebrow. "We've been using R&H's franchise software for three years and we love it. When they told us they were going to 'upgrade' the system with all new features and what-not, we were terrified," she related, "But it didn't turn out bad at all. Kinda good, actually."

The world over, nothing strikes fear in the hearts of computer users like the word "upgrade", particularly if the upgrade is touted as containing new -- or worse yet, exciting -- features. Of a recent upgrade by online bill-paying service, user David Utley said, "This is shameful. Just shameful. They added nothing, and broke some of my favorite features. I feel betrayed."

"That's a typical user reaction," said user-centric design expert Jakob Nielsen, "The user only sees his side of an application, his own path through it. He's like the citizen whose house is demolished to make room for a new highway. He can't see the thousands of man-hours saved in transportation; he only sees his own small part of the world destroyed. But," he added, "Designers and programmers are in the same myopic boat. They, too, see the world through their own tiny lens."

An R&H spokesman said of the upgrade, "We're pleased it's been well-received. We decided that we would not take away any functionality that was already there, and would only offer enhancements as additional ways to do things. This allows people to stay in their comfort zone, then venture out and try some new things."

Microsoft, the world leader in software development, doesn't agree with that philosophy. "Innovation demands change," said Mark Martin, "But people are highly resistant to change. When we first ventured into what-you-see-is-what-you-get editing of documents, our users balked. They wanted to see the bold and italic and paragraph control characters on their screen. At first we hid them, but made them viewable if you knew the right key-combination. Then we took them away altogether. Today, who would want them? People have to be forced to accept change, or they never will."

"I'd like to see what would happen if the Post Office told Paytrust they had an exciting new upgrade to their service," said Utley, "All envelopes will now come in sticky, oversize, Tyvek envelopes, that unfortunately don't fit through Paytrust's machinery. Would Paytrust just smile and say, 'Thanks for the innovation?' I'm betting not."

"I sympathize with him," said Boothby upon hearing of Utley's plight, "Maybe someday R&H will offer online bill payment."

Only as an option, of course.
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