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Why Business Software is so Painful to Use  [ The Wall Street Journal ]
October 12, 2007 05:16 PM
Posted by Ben Worthen

Business software is too hard to use. It’s slow, poorly designed and doesn’t have many of the features that we’ve come to expect from the software we use in our personal lives.

One reason for this is that the companies that make business software aren’t making it for you. They’re making it for your information-technology department. Consider the following exchange that took place at the research firm Gartner’s annual conference yesterday. Gartner analyst Yvonne Genovese told Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer that she installed the new Vista operating system on her home computer and then uninstalled it because it was too difficult to use. Ballmer’s response: “There’s always a tension between the value that end users see — and frankly, that software developers see — and the value that we can deliver to IT.”

Ballmer specifically mentioned security as one reason Vista seems so cumbersome – the new operating system has more security features than any of its predecessors. Other common IT concerns include how easy a piece of software is to manage and whether it’s robust enough to be used by hundreds or thousands of employees.

Another problem with business software: It’s most cost-effective when it’s used by as many people as possible. This gives the companies that make the stuff an incentive to cram their software full of every feature imaginable. It helps them sell it to an IT department eager to buy one system instead of, say 10. (It slices, dices, and pays our bills? Sold!) But it also makes using the software more complicated for the average worker, who probably just wants to do the same six things over and over again.

Unfortunately, it often feels like doing those six things requires 15 steps.