Updated March 6, 1997

And Now the Envelope...

The Worst Windows Software Designer Is...

QUICK! What company consistently produces the worst software designs in the Windows world?

That's easy; it's Apple.

Despite over half a decade's labor in the Windows arena, which would seem to favor its mousy approach, Apple's Claris brand remains only a very minor software player.

And from the fundamental design blunders in Claris's new flagship FileMaker Pro 3 for Windows 95, it's easy to see why.

Let's talk basic stuff. The Windows convention of placing recently opened files at the bottom of the File menu in a numbered list for quick access has not yet penetrated the minds of the heavy thinkers at Claris, despite the fact that it has been almost de riguer for three years.

In fact, the File open routine for FileMaker Pro 3 is so convoluted that it's almost comic. Here's how Apple/Claris wants you to open a file:

  1. Open FileMaker
  2. Go to the File Menu and select Open
  3. Shift-Tab to get to the list of available files in the Open File Menu
  4. Hit the up arrow and then the down arrow once each to activate the cursor within the file list and select the first file
  5. Hit Enter or double-click the file

What an amazing waste of time as a result of poor design! (Of course, I could create a Windows 95 shortcut to get me around FileMaker's File Open limitations, but I wonder how Apple would feel about Windows saving its bacon?)

And the design blunders in FileMaker Pro 3 just keep coming. In FileMaker Pro 2, you could search on an e-mail address like bugnet@bugnet.com. This is a useful and basic task for a program that is often used as a pumped up address book.

Unfortunately, in FileMaker Pro 3 you can't do this. A search for bugnet@bugnet.com will find nothing, even when there is an entry like that in the field you're searching. Claris has acknowledged this problem to BugNet (see this month's Bug/Fix List for more info), but the company has not explained why it made the change. It apparently does not intend to fix the problem either.

AND THIS IS just what's laying on the surface. The more time you spend with FileMaker Pro 3 for Windows 95, the more you realize that Claris is truly clueless about the virtues and productive uses of the program it sells.

FileMaker is a program with a real natural advantage. It does something extremely useful that none of its principal competitors can do, even now. It can swallow large irregular chunks of text (formatted or otherwise) and automatically index every word, making searches of huge amounts of data lightning quick.

FileMaker's further ability to search, sort and calculate on the basis of both text and image fields makes it a wonderful tool for authors, filmmakers, academics, artists, students -- anyone who has to organize large amounts of disparate information.

As a reflection of this, FileMaker users have been pleading with Claris to include features like the "marker pens" that programs like Folio Views have offered for years.

And what was Claris response? None of these features are included in FileMaker Pro 3. Instead, Claris's snail-like development team has spent the last five years adding relational database capability to FileMaker!

This masterstroke enables FileMaker to do in a more clumsy fashion what its competitors have been able to do for years, while simultaneously eliminating one of FileMaker's special virtues: it's original ease of use.

Then there is the matter that Apple/Claris has crippled the Windows 95 version of FileMaker by not implementing the world wide web connectivity that it provides in the Mac version of FileMaker.

I know it takes a long time for news to reach Apple and Claris, but I've already gotten the word. BugNet's Office manager has informed me that our next database purchase will not be Claris FileMaker.

-- Bruce Brown

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* Here's Bruce Brown's BugNet Memoir...
* Here's the free BugNet from 1999...