Yesterday I started a new job, which requires to work on a Windows 2000 workstation. The corporate environment is set up to use Outlook as email application. I confess I never had the
“luck”-ahem misfortune to actually use that bloated monster. Anyway, I don’t want to digress on why Outlook is a bloated monster, I just want to point out a design error in a very useful function for an email application: the “Find” function. Finding stuff happens at least on two levels in an email client: at the application level, to search through all your emails (or all the emails inside a folder), and at the message level, to search inside the current message. From a user point of view the concept behind the operation is the same, and the logic is almost the same. Yet the following happens in Microsoft Outlook:
- the application level “find” is located under the “Tools” menu (!?), and has a CTRL-E shortcut; moreover, there’s an “Advanced find” feature with a CTRL-SHFT-F shortcut. (By the way, why using two different letters for the same shortcuts? My head gets easily confused!)
- the message level “find” is located under the “Edit” menu and has a F4 (?!? another one?!?) shortcut. There’s no advanced find.
So, for one single concept (“finding stuff”), there are three different, distinct, non-substitutive approaches. Nicely done.
On the Mac, things are a little better. Finding stuff on the Mac is – at least – a coherent experience throughout all applications: the system provides a default search panel, usually located inside the Edit menu, with a default keyboard shortcut. That is, the find function is recognized as a common applications feature by the system native frameworks. However, even Apple’s design is flawed. The default find panel (the one you find in TextEdit for instance), has a dual function: Finding stuff, and (!) Replacing stuff. Why? To save some coding. Yet this is illogical: although the latter subsumes the former, it is not intuitive to click on “Find” to perform a “Replace” operation. I know that to actually replace something you’ve got to find it first (and so there IS a logic in clicking on “Find”), but wasn’t the Mac supposed to be for everyone? It seems like Apple just wanted to reuse the same software component (and same UI) to do two things at once. This is cool, but it makes me angry because it would have been incredibly easy to achieve the same level of code reuse, and make two separate Find / Replace panels. Or even simpler, add an explicit “Replace” menu option that actually calls the same exact panel of the “Find” option.