Useability

Useability

By CWNP On 12/04/2007 - 25 Comments

What good is a piece of networking equipment if the end user can't effeciently operate it?  By 'operate' I mean install, correctly configure, and make on-going changes to. Hardware and software platforms in the WLAN industry have grown outrageously complex trying to meet the ever-growing demands of today's enterprise.  Sometimes organizations buy equipment based solely on specs, and soon thereafter develop a serious case of buyer's remorse due to useability problems.  Let's take the WLAN controller as an example.

What is the most basic function of a WLAN controller?  To serve up virtual WLANs. T hese are most often called WLAN Profiles.  Each profile consists of asic parameters such as ESSID, QoS, Authentication, Encryption, and sometimes more detailed parameters such as when, where, and by whom the WLAN Profile can be used.

The organization and presentation of these profiles should be the core theme around which all other features are built becuase that's the primary reason the WLAN controller exists.  Some vendors keep it simple, some do not.  Some vendors add hundreds of other features, and some do not.  Whether a controller has only the most basic features or is packed to the point of giving normal users a serious case of feature fatigue, the end user's experience should be a primary concern in the GUI and CLI interface design.

Most vendors have created reasonably useable CLIs, so their GUI is the primary focal point of this discussion.  The ideal scenario is to design a user-friendly GUI at the on-set of course, but that doesn't always happen. So what do we do after a GUI has reached negative critical mass?  An immediate overhaul or a long-term overhaul with a short-term wizard.

Is anyone else tired of playing musical browsers with all of these appliances?  Note to vendors: Give us Firefox support first, then IE7, IE6, Opera, and Safari.  I can't recall how many dozens of times I've heard, "Firefox support will be in the next release."  Nothing frustrates me more.

Something I just don't get is that one vendor can configure a profile in 5 clicks while it takes another vendor 25. Some features are buried under 6-8 layers of sub-menus - why?  If you are a VAR and reading this, ask yourself whether this kind of thing intimidates and frustrates you.  A poorly-designed GUI makes the initial and on-going learning curves excessively long which discourages resellers.

My overall take on this topic is that if vendors would spend as much time on their GUI as they do giving the end user feature fatigue, WLAN admins' and consultants' jobs would be a lot easier.

;soap box - end.


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