User-Centric Development

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The keynote at DevLearn 2008 this past past fall was given by Dan Roam, the author of The Back of the Napkin. Dan spoke about the importance of thinking visually, especially when problem solving.

His presentation spurred a conversation between myself and the other Lampo attendees at the conference: Jon Shearer and Michael Finney. We were discussing how bad things can happen when software engineers find a neat “feature” they can work into an app, regardless of whether the users want or need it.

This brought Finney to a perfect, real-life example of this concept in action. He had recently purchased a new Gateway laptop with a built-in 802.11n wireless network adapter. When using the wireless, however, he had noticed that it would occasionally slow to a crawl. It’s never terribly convenient to troubleshoot this type of problem, especially when so many components are involved (ISP, broadband modem, wireless router, laptop hardware, OS…) and the problem is intermittent.

Well, last weekend, he had a guest in his house with a laptop, and he was able to do a side-by-side speed test during one of these episodes, and he discovered that while the other laptop was getting about 20mbps down, his was getting about 20kbps down.

This took the network out of the troubleshooting stack, so he really dug into the laptop to locate the source of the problem. Before long, he found a “feature” that is new to Windows Vista.

As with prior versions of Windows, you can create and customize power schemes to use when on battery power in order to preserve battery life by throttling the power that certain components use. It is common to scale back the processor speed or the LCD brightness to achieve longer batter life.

Well, Vista has added Wireless Network Adapter Throttling into the default power saver scheme, effectively crippling your network speeds in the name of battery preservation. Let’s think this through for a minute. I want to preserve battery life, so having to sit and wait 1000x longer for a website to come up (all while my LCD and processor burn through battery while I sit and do nothing) is the answer?

Just because you can do something as a developer with the technology you have, doesn’t mean you should.

And just in case you got to this post by searching for an answer to your network slowdown woes, here’s how you change this setting in Vista. Control Panel -> Hardware & Sound -> Power Settings -> Change Plan Settings (on your currently selected power plan) -> Change advanced power settings -> Wireless Adapter Settings -> Power Saving Mode. That’s right, 7 clicks deep, one of which includes clicking on “Sound”. *sigh*

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One Response to “User-Centric Development”

  1. fpchurchadvisor Says:

    Great Post! And a hilarious example…

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