I wasn't sure if the company had a sense of humour, but apparently we do. Our internal website got an April Fool's makeover. The main story on the page is about someone getting an award for scheduling their 20,000th meeting. The calendar of events shows the next time when sunshine is due in Redmond (thank goodness I live in California!), the new corporate strategy, and the upcoming products that are shipping soon (including X-ray goggles, which I assume comes from the hardware guys). Corporate services include a sherpa -- they could've told me about that a month ago, before I traipsed across the country visiting a half-dozen users with a video camera, tripod, tapes, batteries, and my laptop in tow. :P
The various Apple pundits out there seem to want to make sure that I keep my resume up-to-the-millisecond. The latest pundit is Todd Russell. To get around that pesky five-year commitment that we publicly made at Macworld, Todd's conspiracy theory is that we're gonna disband MacBU and just port WinOffice.
This, of course, isn't the first time in my six months with the MacBU that I've been that I should have a good relationship with a headhunter. Just before MWSF 2006, Jason O'Grady told me to update my resume. (Of course, he didn't have anything to say after it turned out that I wasn't unemployed after MWSF.) I doubt it'll be the last time that I hear it. I just find it amusing.
Anyway, I'm confident that my job isn't going to disappear. We're hard at work on the next version of Office, not to mention the work we're already doing on the subsequent versions. If you want to join us, we've got some open positions listed over at Microsoft Careers -- just select 'Mac Office' from the products list and you'll find open positions for development, test, program management, and planning/marketing.
The folks over at Dell are releasing a new gaming computer, the limited edition XPS 600 Renegade. Sporting what is quite possibly the ugliest case I've ever seen, it also has the most egregious price tag I've seen for a personal computer off-the-shelf. The case is red with flames, and with several Dell-related logos all over it. I'd be willing to overlook the ugly case if the price tag weren't quite so jaw-dropping. It's $9930.
Now, you get a lot of power for your ten grand. It comes overclocked from the factory, at 4.26 GHz. It has four (four!) NVidia GeForce 7900 cards. That paint job that I whinged about is custom -- it's hand-painted using some kind of trademarked technique. The rest of the specs aren't really anything out-of-the-ordinary, at least for a gaming computer: a pair of hard drives (one of which is 160GB and 10,000 RPM, a couple of gig of RAM, a SoundBlaster sound card.
I'm just really curious to know who's gonna shell out ten grand to Dell to send them a gaming computer. I don't doubt that there are people out there who sink that much into their gaming computer, I just think that they're more likely to build their own instead of buying a pre-made one from Dell.
Just in case you hadn't guessed, it won't be me. If I had an extra ten grand earmarked for a computer, there would be one hell of a powerful PowerMac (or the next generation, whenever that gets transitioned to a MacTel) in my future.
I've spent a fair amount of time in the past few weeks travelling to talk to customers, Mac user groups, and usability classes. I received many questions during these presentations. They were great questions, and answering them helps me think about what I do and how I can improve upon it, as well as thinking about what the Macintosh Business Unit does and how we can improve upon it.
One of the questions that I've been asked frequently comes down to, 'so what is it that you do?'. My title is 'user experience researcher', which probably don't mean anything unless you're already working in software development. The short answer that I give is that it's my job to make our software easier for you to use. My previous post reviews an article that discusses some of the methods that are used in my field. This doesn't give you a full answer about what I do, but it's a pretty good start. If you'd like to see what I do from the point of view of a user, you can sign up to be a participant in our usability studies; most studies are conducted in Redmond, WA, or Mountain View, CA, but (as I mentioned above) I travel to meet users in their home environment.
Article title: Usability Engineering Methods for Software Developers
Author: Andreas Holzinger
Publication: Communications of the ACM
Year of publication: 2005
This article gives a short overview of many usability engineering methods, and also discusses their advantages and disadvantages. Although the article claims to be directed at software engineers, its audience is potentially much more broad than that. Others who might encounter usability engineering and need a basic understanding of the methods employed include information developers, visual designers, and quality assurance testers.
The author groups usability engineering methods into two categories: inspection methods and test methods. Inspection methods do not require end users, whereas test methods do. The inspection methods that the author details are as follows:
As the article notes, heuristic evaluation is the most common informal method used by user experience engineers. In it, UX engineers evaluate each interactive element and determine whether they follow established usability professionals. The article says that this is often completed by 3-5 UX engineers, but I think that it is more likely to be completed by a single person. The advantages of heuristic evaluations include its rapidity and easy application early in the process; disadvantages include the separation from end users and the potential to not evaluate the entire design.
A cognitive walkthrough differs from a heuristic evaluation in that it is more task-oriented and emphasizes cognitive issues (such as learnability). Its advantages include putting the evaluator in the user's mindset and helping define the users' goals and assumptions. Its disadvantages include the separation from the end user and a potential bias if appropriate tasks are not selected.
In action analysis, the UX engineer closely inspects the individual actions that a user performs when completing a task. This is at a very granular level, and is often called a keystroke-level analysis. Although it gives a precise prediction for how long a task will take, it is very time-consuming and requires a high level of expertise.
The first test method, and the one that I think is used the most, is thinking aloud. In this method, the user continuously thinks out loud while they are using the system. It allows the UX engineer to learn what is going through the user's mind when they are trying to do a task. (A variant of thinking aloud is called constructive interaction, and has two users use the system together. In this way, they have someone else to talk to, and their talking is more natural.) The advantages of thinking aloud are numerous: learning why users do something, seeing how the user uses the system in practise, lots of data from a relatively small sample size. However, there are disadvantages to the method: thinking aloud is not natural for many users, and users who are nonanalytical might feel inhibited.
In field observation, the UX engineer visits the user in the setting in which they will do the task. For most software projects, this means that the UX engineer goes to the user's workplace. The UX engineer attempts to blend into the woodwork and only observe the user. Although this overcomes some of the disadvantages of thinking aloud, it is expensive, and often shows only the biggest usability issues.
The final test method is querying the user, either by interviewing the user or providing a questionnaire. Questionnaires are inexpensive. Interviews are also less expensive than most other methods, and allow the UX engineer to adjust the questions to encourage elaboration. But there are sizeable disadvantages: indrect methods only opinions are collected, many responses are required for a valid result set to be obtained, and fewer problems are identified.
In all, this article is a great (and quick) overview of usability methods. If you'd like to learn more about usability, the reference list is an excellent starting point.
ACM Digital Library page for this paper
Andreas Holzinger's webpage
We've released the latest update to Office:Mac, 11.2.3. You can download it from Mactopia. There's performance enhancements across the suite, plus some new functionality for Entourage.
The two major pieces of new functionality for Entourage are Sync Services and Spotlight support. With Sync Services, you can now synchronise Entourage with anything that you can sync with iSync. Brian Johnson created a demo movie to show you how to go through it. With Spotlight support, you can now search your Entourage database via Tiger's Spotlight.
There's more details about this update in the Entourage blog.
David Weiss, another MacBU blogger, has posted a couple of thoughtful items about being in the MacBU: Thinking Differently and I work at Microsoft.
I think this is still on, although it's not listed on their website. I'm in Rochester, NY, this week , and the folks at MacRIT asked me to come over and chat with them during their usual meeting. I don't have anything in particular in mind, so I'll give them the option of learning about Office:Mac 2004 or Virtual PC 7, or just asking questions about whatever's of interest to them.
 And sorry, guys, I looked but couldn't find anything as interesting as the Storrs story. You're just going to have to fill in your own details about interesting but maybe-not-well-known stuff about Rochester. Leave a comment here if you've got a good one!
Travelling got me a bit behind on my podcasts, so maybe the rest of y'all know this already, but I just stumbled across the MyMac.com interview with MacBU. They didn't interview all of us, of course. They chatted with Amanda, one of our marketers. Wondering where we're going or what we're up to? Listen in.