Andrew Burke

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Safari For Windows - What Apple Missed
Posted on: 2007-06-14

Apple's new Safari 3 for Windows is an interesting strategic move - certainly a bit of a surprise. The public face of what they're doing is providing another way to show Windows users what it's like to use a Mac. While the private face of this probably has more to do with the iPhone and a future of possible embedded WebKit applications, Apple does seem to have put quite a bit of effort into making this switcher-bait. They've done a lot to make the experience more OS X-like, including their own font and image rendering. It looks like they may have set up their own internal Cocoa-like toolkits that run inside Windows (not that big a surprise now that everything runs on Intel - but an interesting strategic move).

They seem to have messed up on one important thing, though - and it's similar to something I've had to wrestle with on a recent project as well: the experience for the user the first time they use the program. Many people have noted that it takes a long time to start up the first time and then again when it hits its first web page. I've tried this out on my Thinkpad X30 and it's true - the first time experience was really slow and annoying.

Many windows people will download this, curious about the much-ballyhooed 'twice as fast as I.E.' browser, try to start it, note that it's taking more than a minute to get moving, and never try it again. They'll never take the time to notice that it speeds up significantly the second time you launch it - they'll just have the memory of that lousy slow misrepresented Apple program they tried once.

Given all the extra libraries and functionality that's built into Safari, it's not a surprise that it takes a while to start up the first time. I'm sure it has a lot of important work to do. However, if you're pushing something as being fast and trying to convert people, you can't have this happen - least of all the first time.

Perhaps this could have been done behind the scenes during installation: once the regular install is done, open a small version of the browser and load up a 'Welcome to Safari' page. Everyone is used to installers taking a while to run.

On a recent project, we sent out starting logins and passwords to our top customers - the people whose buy-in would be very important for the success of the project. Since these were starting passwords, we were going to automatically expire them so that they would only work once, and once they logged in they would be forced to pick a new one. However, we realized that this would make for a lousy first experience: "Hey try our new software that'll make your life easier - but first, pick a new password that's more than 8 characters, must include a mixture of numbers and letters, isn't too common, and ideally includes special characters or punctuation as well!" Not a good recipe for user enthusiasm. So we kept the initial passwords for a week and then expired them, so the users would actually have a chance to use the application first before having to figure out new passwords.

I first learned about this kind of issue in the late 90s, working at a large bureaucratic organization. There were various attempts at setting up a central name and phone number listing for all staff in the organization - but most people used a large unformatted text file which had everybody's name, title, department, and phone number in it. You would pull this file from a shared drive, open it in Notepad and then do a search for the appropriate name. A little ugly and awkward, but fast and simple. While I was working there, the IT department (and probably a pile of Very Expensive Contractors) came out with a fancy new client-server address-book application that included tree diagrams of the organizational hierarchy, relational-database searches, and all sorts of other fun stuff. Problem was, the first time you tried to use it, it would churn for a good five minutes to get itself set up - and then it would give you your own information to be confirmed or updated, including all sorts of extra fields for birthday, social insurance number, etc. etc. If I recall correctly, it also asked you to confirm your position in the hierarchy, which would only work if your boss and/or underlings had been correctly updated as well. If you didn't get all of this filled in, it would churn some more and then then bug you about it every time you started it up.

A few people tried it - me included - and after a week everyone was back to loading up a text file in Notepad and typing CTRL-F. When you want to get someone's phone number, you just want to get the !#@ phone number quickly and without a lot of fuss, not spend fifteen minutes looking up your own information for some chunky PowerBuilder app.

"The first time is kind of awkward and maybe even painful, but trust me it gets much better later on!" may work for some things in life, but not for getting people to use software.

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