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Redesigning Google: How Larry Page Engineered a Beautiful Revolution
January 24, 2013 12:04 PM   Subscribe

The new Google way is weird, but it's working
Something strange and remarkable started happening at Google immediately after Larry Page took full control as CEO in 2011: it started designing good-looking apps.
posted by andoatnp (79 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
I can't believe there's any segment of the population that thinks the horrible things Google has been doing to its products are good. I'm stunned.
posted by gerryblog at 12:17 PM on January 24, 2013 [21 favorites]


I wish more people I know use Google Plus. Very nice to use, especially on a mobile. I also like the fact that I can comment on a G+ and it won't show up in someone's feed (unlike Facebook, where people snoop all the time).
posted by KokuRyu at 12:19 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


The changes may or may not look good. The definitely have reduced functionality.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:20 PM on January 24, 2013 [17 favorites]


I can't believe there's any segment of the population that thinks the horrible things Google has been doing to its products are good. I'm stunned.

That's exactly what I said, until I noticed they said "since 2011". Yeah, I guess maybe they could have been improving since 2011. I wouldn't know, since I haven't used them in longer than that. Let me know when they are back up to 2001 quality. (Not to mention lack-of-evilness.)
posted by DU at 12:21 PM on January 24, 2013


"Google is getting better at design faster than Apple is getting better at web apps"
posted by pmv at 12:25 PM on January 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


What if there's a link between beauty and evil?!
posted by yonega at 12:26 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


The redesigned "Holo" apps definitely look a lot better than what they replaced. Some of the tablet apps are particularly nice. What's really most useful is that they tend to have a much more consistent design and behavior, so if you've used one app the same techniques will work in another. This has been a long standing issue with their apps.

It does seem like it may not matter, though, since Samsung appears to be taking over the Android hardware space and they are intent on using as few Google apps as possible (if my Samsung devices are any indication).
posted by selfnoise at 12:27 PM on January 24, 2013


Is this why Google seems to be moving to a monochrome, "flat" look for their apps, on web and mobile? Personally, I don't care for it, but I don't know if that's just from unfamiliarity.
posted by jcreigh at 12:27 PM on January 24, 2013


I'm curious about what was "better" about past Google apps and services compared to now.

Thanks to Labs, Gmail hasn't changed much for me, while Google Docs has become much more powerful, thanks to Drive. The mobile apps work really well, notably how Chrome syncs across devices (didn't used to do that very well at all before).

I know a lot of people (a heck of a lot of people) are upset about changes to Google Reader, and I miss Notebooks, but I don't quite understand the hate here.

Maybe the fact that since Schmidt left the CEO's office, Google is creating a more "closed" ecosytem?

But I'm really curious about what Google has lost or destroyed that makes people so passionate.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:38 PM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


I wish more people I know use Google Plus. Very nice to use, especially on a mobile.

I just started using the G+ app on my Android device and it is *gorgeous*. Way way way better than the Facebook app, that's for damn sure.
posted by asterix at 12:49 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure that a well-designed app counts as "remarkable".
posted by broadway bill at 12:50 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I should say I've been using Gmail since 2004, too.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:50 PM on January 24, 2013


Better is too strong of a word, mildly less shit would be more apropos.

Every app they release reeks of design choices by a committee of engineers, who for fun shoot paper targets of Jonathan Ive created out of hex dumps and spreadsheets.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 12:50 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Everyone is a critic.
posted by the jam at 12:52 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


The most off-putting and disconcerting Google redesign has been of their most important product: The Google.com search page.

The page now has not one, but two toolbars with near-identical options: Search | Images | Maps | News | Videos | etc. What's the difference between them? In general, clicking on the top menu takes you to a Google service homepage; clicking on the lower one refines search terms. Confusing, since they're so similar, but alright.

But even then, it's inconsistent! Searching for "Toronto" and then clicking the top-toolbar "Maps" button will take you to a Google Maps search for Toronto. Alright. Searching for Toronto and then clicking the top-toolbar "News" button will take you to the generic Google News homepage, with no search. The lower toolbar row works more consistently, but it displays inconsistently: Sometimes, the search options are hidden under a "More" drop-down; other times, they're not. It's a bit of a treasure-hunt each time.

It confuses and frustrates me every time I use it now, and I don't understand how this is considered good UI design for what be the single most important piece of interface on the Web today. How could a company that started off whittling down interfaces to their utilitarian minimums, relentlessly A/B testing every single-word, colour-shade change, produce as a centrepiece something so inconsistent and baffling?
posted by bicyclefish at 12:52 PM on January 24, 2013 [15 favorites]


I remember when I was at Sun Microsystems in the mid-90s, and they trumpeted the redesign of their internal website. Seriously, they wrote papers about it. It looked very nice for the time, and it was completely useless.

Sun was another company that didn't pay much attention its users. I'm seeing parallels here.
posted by phooky at 12:52 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've also had a much better time with Google's offerings lately though I can get why people are so keen on hating on Google. Ever since they trumpeted their "Do No Evil" slogan they've been the whipping boys of the tech world. From two idealistic guys in a garage to a multi-billion dollar tech giant must have been a rough transition for their end-users. All those years of "If you aren't using Gmail, you're an idiot!" finally pays off in, well, the huge corporation we have today with their offshore accounts, their litigators, and their corporate interests. But Google has always been pretty good about explaining the changes in their privacy policies, investing in green energy, and even doing their best to open their search up in China despite knowing that they'd lose out to Baidu and Android's been very open for an ecosystem as far as context goes. Google has done a lot to lay down basic progressive and open traditions that go far beyond what their predecessors ever attempted (think about the world we'd live in if Yahoo or AOL won). Personally, I think they do pretty well as far as neoliberal corporations go which is only to say that the problem with them is that they are a neoliberal corporation and not two idealistic guys in a garage.
posted by dubusadus at 12:57 PM on January 24, 2013 [27 favorites]


I wish more people I know use Google Plus.

So does Google, which is why it's been desperately trying to jam it down our throats by tying it to EVERYTHING it does.

Sun was another company that didn't pay much attention its users.

Pointless redesign is bad, sure, but engineers and programmers often are terrible at understanding that UX and look are also things users want beyond functionality.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:58 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I was typing a YouTube comment earlier when I was interrupted by a pop-up asking me if I wanted to use my real name. I mean, they couldn't even have a prompt when I hit "Post", it popped up right in the middle of my typing. How obnoxious.

I'm struggling to see how anyone could think that was a good idea. It doesn't give me a lot of hope for Google.

By the way, is there a Greasemonkey script or something that can restore the old YouTube design? The new one sucks.
posted by MattMangels at 1:01 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


The best way I can describe the feeling I have when using Google applications on the web is that it's like playing with Duplo blocks. Everything is so big and kind of oversized for it's purpose. G+ on the iPad is really nice though.
posted by marylynn at 1:07 PM on January 24, 2013


I wish more people I know use Google Plus.

Check out the community Metafilter Lounge, there's a good number of us there now!
posted by JHarris at 1:08 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


MattMangels: "By the way, is there a Greasemonkey script or something that can restore the old YouTube design? The new one sucks."

You might want to play with YousableTubeFix, which makes a lot of tweaks.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:19 PM on January 24, 2013


This article pins the whole change at Google on Larry Page becoming CEO. But I think it's equally likely that a big reason UIs changed mid-2011 is that's when Marissa Meyer's role changed at Google. Previously she had oversight over pretty much all visible UI for all of Google. Afterwards the whole UI review and approval process was reinvented. I'm not judging better/worse here, but the change in leadership explains why it became different.
posted by Nelson at 1:21 PM on January 24, 2013 [6 favorites]


I often thought that a key UI differentiator between Google and Yahoo was that Google would quickly release something simple and functional, then iterate it over time, while Yahoo would grind endlessly through designs trying to make everything (functionally and visually) exactly as intended by committee before releasing it, ultimately leading to Google grabbing the audience that likes to do things, and Yahoo grabbing the audience that likes pretty things. This is something that seemed like it should change on the Yahoo side.

Now, with Marissa at Yahoo demanding high-performing sites with iterative design, and Google focusing more on grinding to find higher-quality design, things might get interesting.
posted by davejay at 1:33 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


it's like playing with Duplo blocks. Everything is so big and kind of oversized for it's purpose.

They could start with more fine-grained display density options:
Commodious
Comfortable
Cosy
Compact
Condensed
Cramped
Constricted
Crushed
posted by oulipian at 1:36 PM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Now, with Marissa at Yahoo demanding high-performing sites with iterative design, and Google focusing more on grinding to find higher-quality design, things might get interesting.

I would like to give Yahoo a chance, but as things stand there is absolutely no reason for me to want to use Yahoo.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:39 PM on January 24, 2013


So does Google, which is why it's been desperately trying to jam it down our throats by tying it to EVERYTHING it does.

So true, I will always mourn for the Picasa that was. Google Listen was a pretty good podcast app. Google Desktop is lost as well. LOST LIKE TEARS IN RAIN.
posted by longdaysjourney at 1:40 PM on January 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


I wonder where we'll all be when Google decides Plus isn't popular enough and decides to kill the whole thing, like Buzz, or Wave?
posted by JHarris at 1:52 PM on January 24, 2013


(There's still occasional references to Buzz scattered through Google's help documentation.)
posted by JHarris at 1:52 PM on January 24, 2013


: "I wonder where we'll all be when Google decides Plus isn't popular enough and decides to kill the whole thing, like Buzz, or Wave?"

Better off?

Seriously, the only reason I'm still on facebook is because it's the only way to get party invites these days. Category-killer social networking destinations need to die. They're hurting the internet.
posted by mullingitover at 1:56 PM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


I would like to give Yahoo a chance, but as things stand there is absolutely no reason for me to want to use Yahoo.

Nobody needs to want to use anything they don't want to, and I'm not going to suggest otherwise, but is that where you intended to link, to a screenshot of the Yahoo home page on a Google+ account? I have no reason to believe you don't have a good point to make, but Yahoo's home page is no more a comprehensive display of Yahoo's offerings any more than Google's home page is the equivalent for Google. Can you clarify?
posted by davejay at 1:57 PM on January 24, 2013


Can you clarify?

Sure, but you need to include the context in which my comment was made (you excised it), which was in response to another comment about Yahoo.

Anyway, the Yahoo homepage is a hot mess of distracting information, and the visual style seems tailored for a teeny bopper or something. Yahoo Mail also features huge Flash banner ads, a real turn-off. It's like Yahoo is stuck in 2005 or something.

I'm not sure how many people even use the Google home page - you can search from the browser bar now in most browsers.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:06 PM on January 24, 2013


I always thought gmail looked rubbish until they redesigned it last year. It looks great now.
posted by memebake at 2:17 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sure, but you need to include the context in which my comment was made (you excised it), which was in response to another comment about Yahoo.

Actually, your response quoted my comment, which was only a few lines up, so I didn't think it made sense to quote myself in quoting your response.

Having said that, thanks for clarifying. I'll go out on a limb here and suggest that you take a peek at the latest version of Yahoo mail, though, since it has changed substantially since Marissa arrived (and the homepage is, according to allthingsd, undergoing a revamp as well.)
posted by davejay at 2:28 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, the Verge's lips sure are a Google brown.
posted by Catblack at 2:46 PM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


I always thought gmail looked rubbish until they redesigned it last year. It looks great now.

Don't take this personally, but ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?!?!?
posted by phaedon at 3:10 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


gee whiz. shouldnt the goal be just to allow users to choose their own theme easily and with as much choice as possible? For example Gmail looks the way it does because i choose the theme that has mountains or dolphins in the background and i use comic sans 20 point all around so everything is funny.

This whole article is ponderous.

I especially like this quote:

Matias Duarte, senior director, Android user experience, put it this way: "Google is going through a design revolution, for lack of a better word."

hope Matias directs better than he quotes.
posted by Colonel Panic at 3:32 PM on January 24, 2013


So what's the deal with Google Glass, anyway? How soon until my reality can be entirely mediated by a corporation?

Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to interrupt. Please do go on about the design choices in their web pages.
posted by newdaddy at 3:33 PM on January 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


So what's the deal with Google Glass, anyway? How soon until my reality can be entirely mediated by a corporation?

The singularity is going to be great!
posted by KokuRyu at 4:01 PM on January 24, 2013


Here's a challenge for y'all: From the Youtube front page, try to find a way that lists the most popular videos of all time, in descending order.

Before the redesign, this was a piece of cake to do. Now, it's impossible.
posted by ymgve at 4:09 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I always thought gmail looked rubbish until they redesigned it last year. It looks great now.

I agree, but only because I'm using The Return of Old GMail.
posted by jedicus at 4:27 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


gee whiz. shouldnt the goal be just to allow users to choose their own theme easily and with as much choice as possible?

Are you by any chance an engineer? (I kid)
posted by graphnerd at 4:59 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm curious about what was "better" about past Google apps and services compared to now.


Back in the day, things just worked. They were fast, made out of plain vanilla HTML - people used to write articles about the way Google's designers made things a byte or two shorter, to save time. Google's front page presented its search results as plain links to external websites so you could copy one of those links and paste it into your own document. In Gmail, you could alt-click on a link and it would open a different tab in the background.

Google's problem with this was that they couldn't control the user experience sufficiently. Suppose someone clicked on a link - how would Google know what they had done? How could they track it, and monetise it? So external links became links to Google that would then redirect you to the external site - at the cost of extra time, extra data, the surrender of personal information, and occasional Google failures that meant you couldn't get to the website after all. The user experience was almost the same, but not quite: you could no longer cut-and-paste links, or get links in email to open in the background.

The same thing happened with the Gmail redesign. The original design was quick and responsive, and easy to amend with generic third-party tools. It also wasn't easily monetisable, so they redesigned it - supposedly to make it look more standard. Now it still looks like crap, but you have about a dozen different versions of it. It's slower, but more monetisable.

Then there are all the Google services that just disappeared. Again, not monetisable, even though the actual cost of them was probably negligible. I didn't use most of them, but when Google deleted them I realised that I couldn't trust it to keep my data online. I don't know whether this change in my perceptions is something I liked better about the old days; objectively speaking I couldn't trust it back then, either. But I liked my imaginary Google from the old days, and I don't like the real one that I deal with today.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:28 PM on January 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


...engineers and programmers often are terrible at understanding that UX and look are also things users want beyond functionality.

That's because engineers and programmers understand the difference between a startup cost and ongoing expense. Learning a terrible, but powerful, interface takes a little longer but the payoff over the years is enormous. (The set of non-terrible but still powerful interfaces is extremely tiny even in principle and smaller than that in practice.)
posted by DU at 6:31 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


mmm, vim.
posted by sonic meat machine at 6:37 PM on January 24, 2013


Here's a challenge for y'all: From the Youtube front page, try to find a way that lists the most popular videos of all time, in descending order.

Before the redesign, this was a piece of cake to do. Now, it's impossible.


I don't really understand... is that normally how you pick which YouTube videos to watch? Is that normal? That's not how I use YouTube... that's not how I ever picked which videos to watch. Are you arguing that that's how most people picked videos to watch?
posted by VoteBrian at 6:44 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Here's a challenge for y'all: From the Youtube front page, try to find a way that lists the most popular videos of all time, in descending order.

1) type in search box 'most popular videos of all all time' as you said or, or 'most viewed video on youtube' as is suggested halfway through typing most

2) select one of these by hitting enter or clicking the search button

3) Hit the [Filters] button and choose 'Sort by: view count'

While I do use computers a lot, I haven't actually seen the new YT home page, so I figured this out from first principles and got it right first time.
posted by Sparx at 8:00 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wish more people I know use Google Plus. Very nice to use, especially on a mobile.--KokuRyu

You must use it a lot because I'm convinced that's the only way anyone could think that it is nice. I used it to share some documents and pictures with someone, and every time I or the other person used it we had a terrible time trying to figure out where the documents disappeared to, how to assign pictures to groups, pictures to albums, albums to groups, and to move them between these various things (I actually don't think it is possible to do that last thing--at least I never figured out how).

I don't use it very much and so whenever I do use it I have to relearn it, which starts out with a lot of hair pulling and swearing.

Why don't they just set it up like a file system? Create a folder, put pictures/documents/music/whatever in the folder, assign groups or people rights to that folder, allow moving of objects between the folders and from the folders to your desktop file system. Have nice folder viewing tools. Pretty simple, intuitive, and everyone knows how to use it without learning.

As much as I dislike Facebook, anyone can pretty much just use it without thinking (well, except for that turning on privacy stuff, which they don't really want you to do). Maybe that's the problem. Google engineers don't even realize that their tools need you to be a genius to use, because they are all geniuses and the tools are easy for them. They need to hire more idiots. You'd have the Google Geniuses and the Google Idiots. You'd have to flunk their IQ tests to get hired as an Idiot.
posted by eye of newt at 8:49 PM on January 24, 2013


I wish more people I know use Google Plus. Very nice to use, especially on iOS and Android

Fixed. Like all google products, nonexistent and not supported on Windows Phone.

I'm severing my relationship(s) with google since they've declared their jihad against Windows Phone. Best phone OS that's being strangled by app developers' inertia and, in the case of the pricks at google, overt efforts to destroy it.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:11 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Compare the beauty of outlook.com or the Win8 skydrive app to the mess that is Gmail or to Google Drive's interface and tell me that google is making attractive apps. They're absolutely horrible compared to what Microsoft is putting out, WITH NO ADS.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:15 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I howl with rage every time Google fucks with Gmail's interface in some new and infuriating way. At first I gave them the benefit of the doubt: after all, everyone hates change; maybe I would come to like these changes with time? But no. I still hate them. Bring back Gmail circa 2007, please. It wasn't beautiful, but it was so functional.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 9:24 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


qxntpqbbbqxl: "Bring back Gmail circa 2007, please. It wasn't beautiful, but it was so functional."

I honestly don't know what people are complaining about when they complain about gmail changing. These complaints seem like the same backward complaints people had when Microsoft introduced their one good idea in decades, the ribbon interface. What exactly did gmail change that made it less functional? And were you aware that 2007 gmail is pretty much an option if you adjust the settings anyway?
posted by koeselitz at 10:01 PM on January 24, 2013


eye of newt: "Why don't they just set it up like a file system? Create a folder, put pictures/documents/music/whatever in the folder, assign groups or people rights to that folder, allow moving of objects between the folders and from the folders to your desktop file system. Have nice folder viewing tools. Pretty simple, intuitive, and everyone knows how to use it without learning."

You are describing google drive. Seriously, what you just described is exactly what google drive is - the file system, the ability to organize things in folders, the ability to assign rights to folders and make them either public or available to groups, different folder viewing options - everything. One of the more awesome things about this is that the whole file system is available to gmail, so you can attach any document (no matter how huge it is) directly to an email from within gmail, without upload time or waiting for it to attach or size limits or anything like that.

Seriously, the use cases you describe - sharing documents and pictures - are much, much easier if you use google drive. And google drive is free for the first five gigabytes, so it's well worth trying out. I highly recommend it, especially for the stuff you're describing.
posted by koeselitz at 10:07 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


ethnomethodologist: “Compare the beauty of outlook.com or the Win8 skydrive app to the mess that is Gmail or to Google Drive's interface and tell me that google is making attractive apps. They're absolutely horrible compared to what Microsoft is putting out, WITH NO ADS.”

Yeah, I remember hearing the buzz about Outlook.com a little while back. I even thought for a fraction of a moment, "maybe I should check that out."

And in that moment, the word "OUTLOOK" hit me like a wave of fetid, steaming dung, and I fell into paroxysms of pain, fear, and loathing. I'm pretty sure almost everybody else in the world had the same reaction. Which is why Outlook.com will almost certainly not take off. Microsoft made a massive mistake in naming their shiny new webmail client after one of the most justly hated and despised products of the past few decades, an implement of pain and suffering which almost everybody is subjected to daily because their workplace forces it on them. It's hard to express all the things that are wrong with Outlook as an email client: its utter unsearchability, the horrific malformed wasteland that is its database engine, the way it fails and often crashes on handling files of any size – in fact, these tortuous mistakes were the chief motivator that drove so many professionals to use gmail instead.

Microsoft's in a tough spot now. You can't be evil and inept for decades and hope for your image to recover from it easily, even if you do all the right things; and they are not doing all the right things.

(And every single one of us knows that Microsoft would slap ads all over these things if more than three people used them. Just like they did with Windows 8.)
posted by koeselitz at 10:27 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I honestly don't know what people are complaining about when they complain about gmail changing.

For me, in descending order of irritation:

1. The inbox color scheme. I liked their notoriously a/b tested blue. I really, really dislike having my inbox look like somebody bled on a dirty sports sock.

2. Avatars in mail headers. DO NOT WANT.

3. A row of buttons that thinks it's a context menu. NO! I prefer my buttons consistently placed, thank you.

4. Buttons labelled only with weird-ass icons by default. Seriously, just FUCK OFF.

5. Useless "importance" markers the same colour as the stars used to be.

6. "Comfortable" default display density is absolutely not.

were you aware that 2007 gmail is pretty much an option if you adjust the settings anyway?

Misfeatures 4-6 can be got rid of that way, sure.

This stylish theme deals adequately with #1, and I absolutely fail to understand why nothing even close to it is offered as an inbuilt Gmail theme.

Adblock Plus can remove the avatars, which only leaves the jumping buttons. I'm used to those now, but if I were ever going to like them it's had more than enough time to happen.

For what it's worth, I hate, loathe, despise, resent and am frequently enraged by The Ribbon.

But we're on the same page about Outlook. The only email facility I've ever used that's more consistently annoying than Outlook is Outlook Web Access via a non-IE browser.
posted by flabdablet at 10:49 PM on January 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't use their iOS apps enough to have a strongly formed opinion, but I will take this opportunity to say that I really liked the last iteration of the Youtube design (which got changed out a couple of months ago or so) and I actively loathe the new one. So much that was clever and user-friendly about the old one -- right down to its incredibly smart layout that was tuned beautifully to various common screen resolutions -- has been tossed out. I suppose they have massive metrics behind each design iteration, but this latest I find just weirdly obtuse and unfriendly and annoying. Ah well.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:02 PM on January 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Huh. I didn't even notice the "a/b tested blue," and I've never seen avatars in my mail headers. I can see how that would be really annoying if I'd ever seen it before. Maybe there's an option I unwittingly clicked for that?

“For what it's worth, I hate, loathe, despise, resent and am frequently enraged by The Ribbon.”

I felt that way at first, as a seasoned user, but I noticed quickly that people who weren't seasoned users were having a somewhat easier time navigating things. And part of what I love about the ribbon is the way that it intuitively teaches you keyboard shortcuts. I don't have to memorize them anymore; I just press Alt, and choose options from there.

Well, and frankly one of the main things I like about the ribbon is that they changed their core applications. They haven't substantially changed those things for decades. Whatever gutsy MS drone stood up in a meeting with shaking voice and proposed to the uber-conservative gods that they might wish to change their most popular products (which they clearly hate even updating, let alone changing) must have been a brave soul.

About the Outlook Web Access client: oh god yes. Part of what drove me away from ever wanting to try Outlook.com was a deep and abiding horror at the idea that it might be even remotely like Outlook Web Access.

stavrosthewonderchicken: “I don't use their iOS apps enough to have a strongly formed opinion, but I will take this opportunity to say that I really liked the last iteration of the Youtube design (which got changed out a couple of months ago or so) and I actively loathe the new one. So much that was clever and user-friendly about the old one -- right down to its incredibly smart layout that was tuned beautifully to various common screen resolutions -- has been tossed out. I suppose they have massive metrics behind each design iteration, but this latest I find just weirdly obtuse and unfriendly and annoying. Ah well.”

Wait, was that old Youtube app a Google thing or an Apple thing? I thought it was an Apple thing, and Google had to completely redesign because it wasn't their app. Either way, as an uploader, I use Google's Youtube Capture app a lot more than their mainline Youtube app, at least on my phone. And the iPad Youtube app is actually pretty good, at least to my eye.
posted by koeselitz at 11:10 PM on January 24, 2013


I felt that way at first, as a seasoned user, but I noticed quickly that people who weren't seasoned users were having a somewhat easier time navigating things.
I live in word all day for my job and I despise the ribbon for this reason. Fucking me over in the hope my Dad will be able to type his one letter a month a little easier is bull shit.
He can have Microsoft Works, if he wants something for amateurs, but I need a real tool.
I am still really pissed off about this. So, so angry.
posted by bystander at 11:19 PM on January 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Compare the beauty of outlook.com or the Win8 skydrive app to the mess that is Gmail or to Google Drive's interface and tell me that google is making attractive apps. They're absolutely horrible compared to what Microsoft is putting out, WITH NO ADS.

Both SkyDrive and Outlook.com look very visually appealing, and seem easy to use, that's for sure. It's kind of too bad that Microsoft waited so very long to launch a fully fleshed-out Cloud productivity suite. We've been using Google Docs (now Drive) for several years and it works well, but SkyDrive does seem a little simpler.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:21 PM on January 24, 2013


bystander: “I live in word all day for my job and I despise the ribbon for this reason. Fucking me over in the hope my Dad will be able to type his one letter a month a little easier is bull shit. He can have Microsoft Works, if he wants something for amateurs, but I need a real tool. I am still really pissed off about this. So, so angry.”

First of all, people who need "a real tool" have never, never been the market for Microsoft Works. I'm sorry if you feel differently, but Word, Excel, Outlook, and Powerpoint have always been substandard tools that do almost nothing well. Yes, you probably knew how to twist them around just right to get them to do that one thing you needed to do. That still wasn't what they were built for, and I guarantee whatever you had to do to make them work was more convoluted than it ought to have been. The solution to this is the same as it's always been: download a better program. Many are available.

But, second of all, if you're forced to use Microsoft Works, the ribbon is more useful to power users than the menu system ever was. The keyboard shortcuts for the menu system were all based on guesswork and arbitrary randomness. The keyboard shortcuts for the ribbon, on the other hand, are intuitive and easy for anyone from a newbie to a power user. I don't have to memorize them any more. And since I avoid Microsoft Works like any computer-savvy person ought to, and end up using it only once a week on good weeks, this is useful to me.

However, third of all, you probably should understand that I think very ill of Microsoft Works in general. The whole is a software suite that has not been significantly updated in two decades. The ribbon isn't a significant change. It's understandable that when you change even slightly a thing that's been pretty much exactly the same for more than two decades, people who are used to the old ways will complain. But Microsoft Works needs to be completely rebuilt. It needs to be torn apart and redesigned from the ground up to be a workable suite of software. Excel needs to be a front end to an actual database, with backstops in place to help a user know when it's time to transition. Word needs to be an actual layout program that natively renders fonts and images and accurately wraps text and deals with all the things a layout program should, with a native format that can handle such precision. Powerpoint needs to just be taken out in the back and shot.

I appreciate that, if they did that, Microsoft would really piss off a lot of stalwarts. The trouble is that Works as it is now – as it's been for two decades – does not work. As a database tech, I've seen hundreds of fake databases built out of Excel spreadsheets that are extended far beyond where spreadsheets should be extended; and I think everybody is aware at this point of the obnoxious vagaries of Word documents. The whole thing needs to burn, to be replaced by something new.

But Microsoft will never do that. One of their key philosophies is that, when people like a thing enough to continue to purchase it, you never change it. Never bet on something audacious when the status quo will preserve market share. That's the philosophy that will kill them in the end, I think.
posted by koeselitz at 12:28 AM on January 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


There are rational reasons for why Word sucks so much, by the way – rational to Microsoft, at least. For a long time, particularly under Bill Gates, Microsoft practiced a kind of corporate warfare by way of file format, the most famous expression of which was "embrace, extend, extinguish." In the realm of Word documents, they realized a long time ago that .doc was the ascendant format, and that therefore they could hold onto market share if they could continue to make Word the program for opening .doc files. How did they do that? By making the .doc format so insanely convoluted and confused and unworkable that any other document program would crash and burn if it even tried to open .doc files. Yes, that's right: the crazy, haphazard, arbitrary way that Word opens files is completely intentional. They continued this trend even when open document formats started to grow in popularity, working hard to force out the open office standards by introducing a new (and similarly convoluted and insane) "open" standard of their own, which you know as .docx.

Basically, Microsoft is a predatory corporation. If we're going to live with their products, we have to learn to live with that insanity.
posted by koeselitz at 12:34 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait, was that old Youtube app a Google thing or an Apple thing?

I don't know. I wasn't clear, perhaps, but I was talking about the website.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 12:56 AM on January 25, 2013


Word derail: No argument from me that word is a piece of crap, but it is the piece of crap I am forced to use to edit the documents other companies send me. To be clear, I meant the feature reduced office suite, Microsoft Works, as being suitable for infrequent users, and leave the Office suite working the way it has for the last 15 years.
posted by bystander at 2:49 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


You want to know what changed? . . I'll tell you what changed.

*Long silhouette drag of cigarette, intense exhale, crushes out cigarette in ashtray*

The And Operator.

Once there was a time when the humble plus sign could fine-tune searches to a sweet, sweet razor's edge of results.

Before the dark times. Before the . . . well.

And now? Now we scramble between quotes in duckduckgo or - holy-crap-how-did-that-happen Bing. Bing! *shakes head, lights another cigarette, pours a shot of Victory gin*

Oh don't give me that crap about multiple quotes or - HA! - "Verbatim". . . Pathetic.

You messed up, G. Messed up big.
posted by petebest at 4:58 AM on January 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Based on the trainwreck of design on that Verge page, I'm not sure I'd trust them to judge whether Google is doing good design.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:59 AM on January 25, 2013


Dude, the Verge and their offshoot Polygon are sporting one of the most interesting and innovative design vocabularies in a long time for That Kind Of Site. I'm not entirely sure how much I like what they're doing, but if you don't see that they're trying something interesting and very modern, you should probably just recuse yourself from the conversation.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 5:37 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


But Microsoft will never do that. One of their key philosophies is that, when people like a thing enough to continue to purchase it, you never change it. Never bet on something audacious when the status quo will preserve market share. That's the philosophy that will kill them in the end, I think.

Not sure that just after the Windows 8 launch is the time to make that claim, although ironically that experience may actually reinforce the conservative tendencies of MS product design.
posted by jaduncan at 5:40 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not entirely sure how much I like what they're doing, but if you don't see that they're trying something interesting and very modern, you should probably just recuse yourself from the conversation.

Interesting and modern ≠ good and effective. Dude.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:56 AM on January 25, 2013


Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Dude.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:07 AM on January 25, 2013


Yeah, I guess it's true that Windows 8 is them trying desperately to wake up from the long nightmare of design conservatism, and probably failing.
posted by koeselitz at 8:30 AM on January 25, 2013


I'm pretty sure almost everybody else in the world had the same reaction.

Not even close. There are a ton of corporate clients I've worked with who adore Outlook and wouldn't think to use anything else.

Big G+ user. I don't think it will go the way of Wave or did Wave have millions of people using it?

I wish they'd make a decent G+ desktop client asap. Use it all the time for meetings and screen sharing for training. Wonderful stuff.
posted by juiceCake at 8:36 AM on January 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


I do wish people would G+ instead of Skype, which be a total resource hog and is difficult to use for many people.

I have contacts on Gmail who use Skype instead of Gmail's built in telephony/chat/video chat/screenshare ability. Bizarre.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:17 AM on January 25, 2013


I honestly don't know what people are complaining about when they complain about gmail changing. These complaints seem like the same backward complaints people had when Microsoft introduced their one good idea in decades, the ribbon interface. What exactly did gmail change that made it less functional? And were you aware that 2007 gmail is pretty much an option if you adjust the settings anyway?

You can get something kind of like 2007-era-Gmail if you're willing to spend a lot of time screwing around with browser extensions. I'm not, partly because that's a hassle to maintain on the four computers that I use regularly.

There was a great post a while ago by a former Google engineer, around the time of the first big Gmail UI change, who explained how new design edicts were clobbering UI features that had been painstakingly researched and developed, in favor of assimilating the look and feel with other Google properties. Can't find that post right now, unfortunately.

But since you asked, my own list of "backward complaints" is as follows:

1. I used the message icons (red exclamation mark, yellow star, blue star, etc) to classify and prioritize stuff in my inbox. Now those are gone, replaced with only star and an "important" label. Edit: I figured out how to get them back while writing this rant. Yay.

2. I prefer the old text buttons to the new icon-only buttons.

3. I hate the new editor. It pops up in the bottom right quarter of the screen and I always have to make it bigger. I especially hate the design philosophy that hides all of the formatting options behind multiple clicks. I like to use things like bullet points and indents, and now it's annoying to get to those things.

4. I find the Google+ integration annoying. I like Google+, but I don't want it in my email (yes, I know some of this can be disabled), and I don't like solicitations everywhere to add everyone to my Google+ circles.

5. Most importantly: It has become significantly slower. I see "Loading..." a lot more often than I used to.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:52 AM on January 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I get around all that by downloading all my Gmail emails to my desktop Outlook client.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:20 PM on January 25, 2013


It would be interesting to know how many people use webmail versus a client. All my business accounts are Google based but I seldom login to the webmail, using Thunderbird or the native Android mail app.

I guess this reduces the hurt because I really don't mind the web interface when I use it, but have always favoured a mail client over a browser.

It's always quick. Love the new popup mail window. Search is great but that is no surprise.

The move to web based everything and the limitations of the browser will I imagine delight and annoy depending on what you like and don't like. Perhaps one day we'll see the level of customization we see in desktop apps.
posted by juiceCake at 6:33 PM on January 25, 2013


qxntpqbbbqxl: “I hate the new editor. It pops up in the bottom right quarter of the screen and I always have to make it bigger. I especially hate the design philosophy that hides all of the formatting options behind multiple clicks. I like to use things like bullet points and indents, and now it's annoying to get to those things.”

This is the one I feel like is most complicated, really. And to me, it seemed like the biggest change.

The thing for me is that – well, in my estimation, the old gmail had a huge drawback when it came to this issue of composing emails. Which is to say: the new-email editor needs to be independent of my inbox. Every single time I wrote a new email, I'd find myself needing something from a previous email conversation, and then I'd have to go back over and right-click "open in new tab" my inbox or something similarly weird, and then switch back and forth between tabs. The new email composition routine is really slick, I find; with a composition box open in the corner, you can go through as many email conversations as you want, gathering whatever details you need. And the pop-out box is great for when I want to just maximize the edit window and focus only on the email I'm writing - you couldn't do that in the old gmail, either. And I guess I might use the formatting options less than others, but it only takes one click to bring up all formatting buttons right there.

I don't know - I mean, I understand liking the old way better. The new composition design seems very well thought out to me, however, even if one disagrees with the choices Google's made.

And for what it's worth, I dislike "G+ integration," too. I do wish they'd cut that out. Thankfully it doesn't show up much in my email, but when it does it bothers me.
posted by koeselitz at 7:59 PM on January 25, 2013


2. I prefer the old text buttons to the new icon-only buttons.

At least that one you can fix with a Gmail setting, so you don't have to apply the fix to every. single. browser. urgh.
posted by flabdablet at 12:22 AM on January 27, 2013


All my business accounts are Google based but I seldom login to the webmail, using Thunderbird or the native Android mail app.

Are you loving the new Thunderbird "YOU WILL USE TABS GODDAMMIT" interface as much as I am absolutely not?

Also, I utterly fail to understand why the new Thunderbird main menu doesn't look like the new Firefox menu, which I do actually think works better than the old menu bar did. Plus, unlike MS, the Firefox team not only let you put their old UI back if you want it, but have been humble enough to stop recent upgrades from forcibly removing it.
posted by flabdablet at 12:28 AM on January 27, 2013


Are you loving the new Thunderbird "YOU WILL USE TABS GODDAMMIT" interface as much as I am absolutely not?

Yes I am.

Of course, if I didn't like it I'd merely go into Options and change the Open messages in: from "A new tab" to either "A new message window" or "An existing message window".
posted by juiceCake at 7:50 AM on January 28, 2013


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