Today I showed Sheila at the Harambee Centre how to turn a Word document into a sensible email questionnaire. We just went for copy and paste from Word into an HTML email, then asking people to reply and fill in their answers.

Outlook 2000 has a nice feature that if you type within a reply to an email beyond the end of lines of the replied-to message, then it marks your text with your name and a special colour. This makes it much easier to read the responses!

Computers are still way too hard to use. There’s no easy way of doing a website questionnaire of this form, without coding. Even if there is, it is almost certainly proprietary rather than using standard document formats and protocols.

It was interesting just watching a normal user try to edit an HTML email. It was frustrating, as she quite reasonably expected it to behave exactly as Word. Quite reasonably from a standards and software engineering point of view, it doesn’t. From a usability point of view this sucks.

Some things, like formatting being different, require better standard word processing file formats to use for sending emails. Other things, such as it not having a Word-like spell checker with squiggly red lines built in, are caused by application-focused software.

Software should be document focussed or action focussed. I want to put Word documents in my Outlook folders. I want to make a bookmark in Mozilla which records an entire set of tab pages, including web sites, open instances of Vim, command lines in certain directories, and a Gnumeric spreadsheet.

I want to be able to forward anything to anyone because everything that everyone uses is an international standard.

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