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Andrew



Joined: 23 Apr 2005
Posts: 110
Location: Carlisle, PA

PostPosted: Mon Jan 23, 2006 9:55 AM Reply with quoteBack to top

In my experience, there are mainly two types of software applications. The first are the “power apps” like Microsoft Office and Adobe Photoshop. These applications provide hundreds of features and a great deal of flexibility. They also have a steep learning curve and clunky interfaces. Too many options can lead to feelings of being overwhelmed. GUI (Graphical User Interface) clutter is quite common as buttons, toolbars, and menus jockey for screen real estate.

The second type are the “lean apps” which trade extensive feature sets for efficiency. Shareware often falls into this category. For example, Delicious Library catalogs collections of music, DVDs, and books. While a large database or spreadsheet application could accomplish this task, Delicious Library does it better, providing a slick interface and a simple, user-friendly workflow. However, this does come at the loss of flexibility. Delicious Library is great for organizing collections but has little applicability beyond that.

So which is the better approach to software design, a powerful or lean design?

Generally, I prefer the lean design, though Mapwing uses a little bit of both. The biggest advantage of leanly designed software is clarity. Simply put, when you use a lean app, there is less complexity and less confusion. This make the workflow more efficient. For example, both Macromedia Flash Professional and Mapwing Creator Pro can create similar virtual tours. However, unlike Mapwing, Flash Pro is not explicitly setup to create tours. Flash Pro is an all-purpose power app designed to create everything from web sites to animated movies. While less customizable, Mapwing is certainly more efficient. It is designed with just the right set of features to create virtual tours, making its workflow many times faster.

Of course, not everyone sees clarity as an important concept in software design. Several times Mapwing has been criticized as a lean app with a power app price. To a certain extent, this is flattering. Unlike similar applications, Mapwing has managed to keep GUI clutter to a minimum. Instead of relying on a floating tool palette, Mapwing Creator Pro makes use of on-window buttons, menu options, and keyboard commands. Even the Mapwing navigation system reduces GUI overkill by using a simple system of arrow cursors and image icons. A clean design does not happen by accident. Each new feature addition to Mapwing is careful scrutinized for necessity and optimized for workflow efficiency. Often times, developers will start with a lean app and simply pile on the features over time. While the software gets more feature rich, it becomes bloated and increasingly difficult to use.

A common misconception is to see clarity as cheapness. Part of the advantage of buying of a lean app is the increased efficiency that comes with a clear design. Mapwing Creator Pro will never have the flexibility of Flash Pro. But, then again, that isn’t its goal. Rather Mapwing Creator Pro simplifies the normally complex process of creating virtual tours, saving users hassle, time, and money. Might clarity in software design be one of the powerful features of all?
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