Love in the time of software-a

I have been using two pieces of software a lot lately: the zune client, and Win7. And today I found myself having two very different but still highly emotional reactions to both pieces of software. One was like an instant huge crush-on-first-sight, the other was like a slow-burning love affair that grows over time.

The crush was when I first used SmartDJ in the zune client. Now, I have known about SmartDJ for a while (it creates automatic playlists based on ‘seed’ content), but never gotten around to using it myself (I am a very average user in that there is a high barrier to getting me to explore a new piece of software for more than about two minutes).

I had just installed the newest version of the zune client on a new PC, and when I started it it asked me to name three of my favorite artists and said it would create SmartDJ playlists from them. It was a great reminder to me that I should try the feature out – and plus, there’s something just kind of cool about software asking you what you love, you know? I mean, IE just assumes I want a bunch of random crap in my favorites and puts it there for me… but zune asked me what *I* liked -- OK that’s totally not fair to IE but hopefully you get my point. :-)

So then I entered three of my favorite artists and it created the SmartDJ playlists… and oh man, it helped me re-discover songs in my existing collection that I haven’t listened to in years! It wouldn’t have occurred to me that The Ting Ting’s “That’s Not My Name” would be such a perfect complement to Jason Mraz, but it was. I have been getting so tired of the same-old content on my running playlist for a while, but it’s a huge effort to scour my library to create new playlists.

So now, I’m totally hooked. I have a huge crush on SmartDJ. Kudos to the zune team, nice job!

And onto my slow-burning love affair… after I installed the zune client, I immediately went to find it under the start menu and add it to the new Win7 taskbar. The first time I used Win7 and saw the taskbar, I thought to myself “Oh – another way to launch programs. OK, seems a little nicer than quicklaunch, I’ll go for it.” In the months since then, I have gotten totally hooked on it, and have stopped pinning apps to the start menu.

When I first started using it, it was just because of the convenience of not having to click that one extra time on the start menu – which when you look at it, seems a little silly… but wow that one click has a huge mental burden for me.

Over time though, the feature started growing on me as I discovered more and more of its functionality (classic progressive disclosure) and also discovered how the existing functionality I knew about helped me in new ways I hadn’t imagined beforehand.

For an example of the latter, its ever-present visibility has ended up with me using it as a way to remind me to use certain applications, like a log parser I need to run periodically, or having Live Writer on it to remind me to blog:


Next, I discovered the live preview of each window on hover – emphasis on the ‘live’ which really comes to life when you have an application like WoW that’s doing something in the background, and the live preview lets you quickly peek and see what’s going on (aka “Have I landed in Dalaran yet? Man this is a long flight path…” for all you wow aficionados :-). Pretend for example that this thumbnail was live:


It’s not just live preview that’s handy, but certain Win7-aware applications provide access to quick tasks on hover, like the zune client that provides basic transport controls:


Eventually I also stumbled across the little “minimize all windows” shortcut in the lower-right corner (and I also like that it shows the full time and date – I could never get my XP machines to reliably show both for some reason):


And later still came the discovery of the right-click functionality – at first I just used it for closing all of the windows at once, a minor handiness. But then I found that certain applications that were Win7 aware, such as IE, had specific tasks available in that menu, another nice and easy shortcut:


Or of course my zune client again:


Or photoshop:


At any rate, it was an interesting day for me, software-wise… and it was a nice reminder how important the role of emotions are in software design & engineering.