Friday, May 23, 2008

Evans Data Study: RAD scores the highest user satisfaction

It was with great pleasure that I read the Evans Data Study that was released this week; the study was a survey of over 1200 IDE users, and the bottom line was that RAD had the highest user satisfaction scores among the IDEs rated (including Oracle JDeveloper, Microsoft Visual Studio, MyEclipse and NetBeans). A survey is a survey; I have no doubt that you could find users of all of the above IDEs who are passionate supporters of their product of choice – but this survey revealed that compared to the other IDEs (and I’m quoting here) “RAD is just head and shoulders above them when it comes to user satisfaction.”

Cool; that’s what we’ve been trying to deliver, and it’s gratifying to see that our users are pleased with what we deliver.

What was most heartening to me, though, was what the survey didn’t measure; namely RAD 7.5. I think RAD 7.0 (which is the latest GA version of RAD that’s available) is a pretty darn good product, and the survey seems to agree with me – but I am even more pumped about what we have coming down the road, in the form of RAD 7.5. As I’ve discussed in this blog, we’ve had RAD 7.5 available in open beta since late last year – that code was refreshed at the beginning of May, and we’re still working on it. The fact that we were able to deliver public beta code so early in the schedule is a testament to the state and the quality of the release; we’re still adding features and function, we’re still fixing defects and improving the quality even more, and we’ve also got the benefit of lots of additional user feedback, with enough time (for a change) to do something about it. Put it all together, and I’m convinced that RAD 7.5 will be the best RAD we’ve ever delivered.

Back to the survey; results were provided giving an overall satisfaction of the different IDEs, and the various capabilities within the IDEs were also rated (how does your debugger rate, how do your web design tools rate, etc). Although we were first place in the overall rating, the RAD results in the individual areas were mixed; we did great in some places (application modeling tools, tech support, profiler, web design tools), and less well in other aspects. There was not a lot of variability in the rating for editors, all the products scored well - but in that category, RAD was in last place, for example.

That actually doesn’t surprise me, as the editors were one of the areas I was most concerned about as well – and for that reason, the editors, and the editing experience were one of the areas we’ve spent the most time and energy on, in RAD 7.5. I was presenting at the IBM Impact conference in April, and showed off some of the new features in RAD 7.5 – let me share a couple of highlights with you:

  • The various deployment descriptor editors in RAD 7.0 were attempting to abstract away the details of the actual changes being made to the underlying files – but we’ve heard from numerous customers that it’s more important to assist the developers… but still “leave them in touch” with the underlying files being updated. We have a great new editor framework (the source of several patents) that we’re using across RAD 7.5, that means developers who make a change in the editor, will have no problem know what (and where) they have changed in the actual file – but at the same time, we still provide lots of help and validation in editing the actual contents. These new editors are getting great feedback from our beta customers.

  • We’ve had a big focus on refactoring operations and quick fixes, both of which surface via editors of all shapes and sizes. Eclipse has a great history when it comes to providing refactoring operations, and RAD 7.5 really takes and extends that model; we participate in many existing eclipse refactoring operations now (for example, a rename will do the right thing across the many J2EE artifacts, as well the just the Java code), and we have added several of our own, J2EE specific refactoring operations. These refactoring operations allow us to provide significant help to developers who are updating their code, while leaving the editors to do just that – provide a good, focused, editing experience. Again, the feedback from beta users to date has been very positive on the changes we’ve made.

  • JavaScript is increasingly important in a web 2.0 world, and so we’re introducing significant new support for JavaScript in RAD 7.5 – we have a comprehensive new JavaScript editor, which we’ve integrated into all the right places; you’ll now get support like code assist, syntax validation, and colour highlighting whether you are editing a standalone .js file, or a JavaScript snippet embedded in the middle of an HTML file, while you’re using the RAD page design tools.

These are just a few examples of the changes, improvements, and new features we’ve been developing for quite a while in RAD 7.5 – and the Evans survey has simply validated many of the decisions we’ve made; if we can be number one in user satisfaction with all our old editors, I’m super confident that we’ll be able to make developers even happier, and even more productive, with RAD 7.5.

Next up for me is the RSDC conference, in Orlando – we’ll be presenting and demoing RAD 7.5 there, so come by and say hi if you’ll be there.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

GWC hosting an "Ask the Expert" day next Wednesday

The Global WebSphere Community (a.k.a. is hosting their annual "Ask the Experts" day with IBM Development and SOA experts on May 28th. You need to register as a GWC member to participate, but registering is free and fast and painless.

The session starts at 10:00 am Eastern and ends at 10:00 pm Eastern, and is basically an opportunity for GWC to both ask questions and submit ideas about WebSphere products, directly to the product teams. Do you have a nagging issue or a great idea? This is your chance to share both with IBM.

Join in!

Jobs and lyrics...emotional design

I'm no psychologist, but I play one on the interwebs. Anyway, let's take a blogger favorite subject, Steve Jobs...or preferably, El Jobso. Of the many things he's famous for, it's memorizing his speeches, down to the last seemingly spontaneous slip-up & joke. That "scrolls like butter" comment? Scripted. Yeah. Believe it.

But you gotta admit, it works. Whom else scripts their words so well? Musicians for one. And from his public speeches, we know El Jobso admires musicians. Musicians memorize their lyrics to get us to feel a certain way...just as El Jobso does when he demos the next new delicious piece of gadgetry. It's probably the highest art to get someone to feel as you do when you need them to. It's like a great concert when an entire stadium all feels the same emotion on cue. It's pretty cool, isn't it? So, where is all this going and how does it relate to WebSphere? We're getting there.

Compared to Apple, Microsoft's products are less emotive...but they're damn effective. They're good enough not to get in the way (most of the time...bluescreen...doh) and ubiquitous. Compared to Apple Music, they're Muzak. The white noise of music. Hold music. You know, that stuff in the background that helps you pass the time, but isn't so amazing that it forces you stop, to listen, to *feel*. That would be distracting. But it does remove some of the monotony.

Anyway, there's obviously a place (and I would say a need) for both approaches. I love beautiful objects as much as the next person, but after awhile, the beauty fades into the background, and utility had better be underneath, supporting the facade. Given a choice, people I speak to usually value utility over form, but only slightly, and only then after the glow of newness has worn off. You don't want your tool to be so difficult to use or so ugly that your profession becomes *work*. Bleh.

Frankly speaking, the WebSphere products I've worked on and with emphasize utility a bit too strongly over form. That is, they haven't been strong (but we're working on it) on design focus. We first set out to make efficient, scalable systems that run the back offices of your world reliably. Our model is mainframe reliability. You know, the every credit card transaction, every ATM withdrawal kinda stuff. But not the prettiest GUIs. Some Google software fits into this, none too pretty, but all effective.

I suppose all software designers strive for that ultimate goal: perfect form, perfect function, perfectly intuitive, consistency top to bottom, inside and out. Based on the behavior of something you already know how to do, the next feature functions with the same general behavior. Looks, proportion, cut, color, fit, finish, function...all there. Applied well, your product develops a personality of a good, reliable, effective beautiful tool. A killer app. Much like a great sports car (maybe that's why we have so many comparisons between software and cars? but that's a topic for a different post...).

Anyway, those are my ramblings. Until next time, let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Friday, May 2, 2008

On Consumability...

Hi all, go easy on me given this is my first time posting here. Anyway, re: the might not think of software as food, so indulge me for a minute. We can agree that anything more palatable is more consumable, no? Assuming that, then consumability of any product is a good thing -- they're "tastier" so to speak.

But Aaron, I hear you do you make software more consumable?

Good question. Here's one handy definition: Time to Value. That means, from the time you identify that you'll use software to solve your problem, measure how long the interval is until you actually *deliver* a working software-based solution. Toss in a metric for average time to deliver maintenance and viola! Time to Value. Simple. Believable. Hard as s**t. But ultimately, we believe, doable.

IBM's idea, and this is portable across all software, everywhere, irrespective of origin/company etc. is this:
How effectively can clients identify the right IT solutions to solve a business problem, find the right IBM products and technologies to use, get the solution up and running, and maintain that solution? Our goal is to enable our clients to easily and effectively use our products to solve their business problems. Making this a positive experience leads to delighted clients, which in turn leads to strong references, repeat business, and revenue growth.

We're curious about your thoughts and as the months wear on, our progress (or lack thereof) in areas that you most need consumability.