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From the author of Rich Internet Applications and User Experience

Rich Internet Applications and User Experience

Now that we've talked about optimizing code with functional programming and optimizing the datacenter with cloud computing, we need to consider the most important optimization that technology can offer—optimizing how humans interact with your systems.

When considering rich Internet applications, you probably think of games written using Adobe Flash—helping employees to waste time when they should be filing TPS reports. But if you want to engage users of all skill levels with a piece of software, games almost always offer vastly superior usability, versus systems written using legacy technology such as HTML. Making systems intuitive and easy to use is not only nice for the users—it makes the software more efficient and the users more likely to work with it. In turn, that increases productivity and saves the company money!

Consider the following fictional conversation between a consultant and an airline executive:

Airline Executive: Is there really any business value in making applications pretty? I'm an important executive, and I don't want to waste money on fluffy crap.

Consultant: Well, think of it this way: Do you fly on a private jet, or are you still flying on your own airline?

Airline Executive: Sadly, in this environment, we're flying commercial, so I settle for first class.

Consultant: Have you ever had to change a flight?

Airline Executive: Sure. Once I was on the way to Washington, D.C., to get another bailout, and I had to change the flight. Man, what a nightmare!

Consultant: Do you ever wonder if the ticket agent behind the counter is really changing your ticket? Doesn't it seem as if she's doing enough typing to write a master's thesis?

Airline Executive: Well, a lot of work is required to change from the 6 a.m. to the 8 a.m. flight to Reagan National.

Consultant: Okay, now think about this: You can go online—or, for that matter, to the kiosk six feet away from the agent—and accomplish the same thing, with just four clicks and two keystrokes.

Airline Executive: Wow! You're right!

Consultant: Think of all the money you could save if your ticketing software didn't suck, and your agents didn't have to type so much.

Airline Executive: No wonder we're constantly going bankrupt! Can I have your card?

Major platform vendors—notably Microsoft with Silverlight and Adobe with Flash—are aiming at making it easier for ordinary developers to leverage languages they already know (such as C#, F#, and others) to write these kinds of applications. Forward-thinking consulting firms are adding user experience practices—bringing together designers and developers to make rich Internet applications that have great user experience a reality. Perhaps a conversation like the fictional one above is something you should consider as well.

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