User Experience Begins at Step One

For this week’s post, I decided I would play around with the Internet Explorer 9 beta and post some initial thoughts. I’m a bit of a browser geek, and as I mentioned back in April, I’m excited about IE9. I imagined I’d have a great time exploring the support for HTML5 and CSS3, and playing around with new features like SVG and GPU-acceleration.

As it turns out, I didn’t get that far. Why, you ask? Two reasons:

Reason #1: It has never taken me as long to download a browser as it took me to download IE9.

Seriously. I opened a text file to log my initial impressions, and thought it would be fun to start taking notes right from my search to download the beta. I ended up saving my text file, happy with my outline, after only completing the install. Briefly, here’s what I noted:

Downloading the installer feels like work. The top hit on Google for Internet Explorer 9 is the old platform preview page from April, still with the same title. I initially skipped over it, thinking that I already have the preview and that’s not what I’m looking for. The next few results were all sketchy, unofficial mirrors. Eventually I crawled back to the preview page, which had a link to “Get the Beta”.

This led to a completely different-looking page (neither were particularly well designed, they were both quite startling in their mediocrity). Here I immediately saw a link called “Get it Now”, which I followed to a third page, that had not one but almost forty buttons labeled “Download”.

Yes, forty.

This is because Microsoft decided to list all languages IE9 is available in, each with its own download link. And to choose your preferred language, you don’t click on the language or a checkbox or anything, you highlight your OS version from the accompanying drop-down list. Are you kidding me? Who designed this? That’s five clicks now, for those of you who are counting, across three pages, with two different types of controls, and I had to parse my language out of a giant list.

Downloading a browser shouldn’t feel like a chore!

Think about the last browser you downloaded. Was it Chrome? Then you probably don’t remember downloading it at all, because it takes about 10 seconds. The download page can be found in an instant, and you click one button to download the installer. ONE. From one page, that you found really easily.

Maybe your last download was Firefox. In that case you probably remember it a little better. The procedure was smooth and enjoyable; branding was consistent and the sequence of clicks and navigation was concise and straightforward. You probably noticed how beautifully designed Mozilla’s website is.

If Microsoft is expecting IE9 to compete with the other major players in the browser market, they have to streamline the downloading process. Google and Mozilla go out of their way to make sure their browsers are easy to find, and simple/enjoyable to download. Finding and downloading IE9 is currently a hassle.

Reason #2: Installing IE9 is about as modern as debugging IE6.

I’m serious. The installer for IE9 looks and feels like it was built in about 1997. It’s a standard dialog box with a progress bar. No decoration of any kind, and no branding. No “Thanks for participating in our beta!” or “Here are some of our new features…”. Just the bare minimum; something no other browser maker would dare do these days.

And how long it took! I’m pretty sure I could have installed FF, Chrome, Safari and Opera in less than the amount of time it took to run the installer for IE9. Of course, Microsoft was kind enough to provide me with a couple of helpful progress messages explaining what was taking so long:

That’s it. Two extremely vague statements with no way to gain further information. And just when I thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse, I completed the install only to find a pop-up telling me to restart my PC. I almost fainted. Why on earth would installing a browser require a system restart? This is unheard of.

Is this really the best Microsoft could do?

Where were the interaction experts that put together the interface for Windows Phone 7 or Windows Live? When will Microsoft figure out that it’s no longer acceptable to phone in their UX? That it’s not okay for even trivial interactions with a new product to be poorly designed?

The web crowd is not known for its patience, and I wonder how much longer it will persevere.

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