Salvi Jansen

Microsoft revamps the user interface experience. by admin

It is no longer easy to do anything revolutionary on this highly saturated IT market. Content-wise apps have altered the perspective of the end-user on software. It is no longer necessary to ask how something is done, as long as it gets done. A short term perspective nonetheless, making it even harder for developers to convey the most important message about building software: don't yet expect it to keep up with the ever increasing change and complexity.


We now have created this end-user with a highly eclectic nature. This user combines features (apps) to fulfill certain needs. This might be great for a smartphone, but when you come to think about an operating system or enterprise solutions, the apps stop but the eclectic user is still there. The user gets confronted with encyclopedic software suites that are highly "configurable" (read: standardized) with an interface that sometimes resembles a space shuttle command center.

Here you can see a SAP UI example.

App-ify both inside and outside

Those same companies are now trying to get the software to become a set of loosely coupled features, using a service bus approach which they call a "platform" or a "base". But this is only about the content, nobody is thinking about the exterior except for the end-users who ditched their own encyclopedia a long time ago. It might be a bit unfair towards designers and analysts, but for the end-user, the guy who is sitting at his desk trying to figure out the software, only the exterior counts.

So why is Microsoft able to be revolutionary?

If you see that the content side of software is highly saturated, one should start thinking about how things look and try to unify what has been blown to pieces, I mean apps. As I mentioned before, an operating system is not like a phone, it needs a stronger sense of unity. And even though the content might come from different places, the end result should look like an interface that controls apps, and not the other way around.

The Windows start screen

How things work under the hood is by no means relevant to the end user. It is all about how the user perceives the behavior of the system. It is therefore not even necessary to start shredding a software suite to pieces in order to get this light "app" feel, because it is only a different way of looking at the interface. We all know this problem from the past when developers were not able to explain to the client that a prototype is not a working program, but just a model of the exterior. And we all know the result of building on a prototype...

dilbert_disaster recovery.jpg

Windows 8 will not be doing a lot of new things, but they changed the way it looks completely. You are not browsing the system anymore, the system is constantly adapting itself to become as relevant as possible to the individual user. Think back to those programs that had an "easy" and "expert" mode. Windows 8 only has a "relevant" mode. It does not have too many buttons like the ERP system from SAP in the example above, nor is it too easy/limited. The interface becomes the entire application. People are no longer browsing different levels and screens but are part of a dynamic and very personal "ecosystem".

I'm very happy with the UI behind Windows 8 (and WP7) and am hoping to see similar approaches from other big software companies. Thumbs up for Microsoft!

Pixmania review: e-commerce disaster by admin

Never in my life have I been so badly treated by a company as by Pixmania Pro, the corporate version of Pixmania. In this article I will give you a list of facts why they are bad with IT and bad with customers all together.

I helped a friend of mine with the purchase of a Blackberry Bold 9780. That shouldn't be too hard to do, right?


e-commerce: the Pixmania website horror

1. Hello, I speak Dutch.

Pixmania, a French company, seems to share the typical French chauvinism of thinking everyone should speak French. Their vague attempt of making some things in Dutch is a big failure. Everytime you leave the website, everything turns back into French. For one of the biggest e-commerce sites, they should know how a cookie works.

2. The customer portal of hell

I've been working with IT and information systems from when I was 14. Next year I'll be a commercial engineer in management information systems. I know about every piece of managerial software on the market, and this is a customer portal from hell. It is nearly impossible to find your order on their site once you made it. It is a user interface nightmare. Please grow accustomed to this:


3. Contact form: forget it!

After a month, the Blackberry Device stopped working. Then the horror of trying to contact them started. Suddenly, it seemed there isn't even a contact form on the website. Yes, one of the biggest online retailers, but no contact form. No online ticketing system, nothing of the kind.

4. Email adress: forget it!

When I tried their email adress, it gave me a bounce after five days. In short, it means that after a few days, an automated system sent me an email telling me the receiver's inbox quota had been reached. Yes, we are still talking about a company residing on the internet. 

5. Calling Pixmania-Pro


The only way of contacting them seems to be through a €0,17/min number, or wait... a €0,30/min number.

azur.gif phone-number_befr.png


I pressed "2" for Dutch, then "2" for "already made on order" and started talking to the guy on the other end of the line. After a few words I got: "Uh, hello Sir? I don't speak Dutch." - The Dutch speaking person was "ill". Please notice that when I called them again a month later, I still got the English guy on the phone. I didn't know that being the only Dutch speaking person within the company could result in a part time job? So people, if you want them to speak your language, please consult your psychic medium for the right day to call.

Also, they are closed when they want to. July 13th at 01:00PM? "Notre service clients est [...] fermé." - And why?

Course of events

Start of May: Device broke down. I sent it back.

Start of June: Online portal still stated "First check on device. We will let you know ASAP." I called them. They told me the device could not be repaired and they would send a new one.

Halfway through June: Nothing happened. I called them again. They told me they would give a refund as the device wasn't in stock anymore. They would send us an email with the information. Nothing happened.

End of June: Suddenly, we get two parcels. One containing a Blackberry Curve in a Blackberry Bold box, and one containing a battery. Absurd.

July:  The company doesn't want to give a refund any longer. We have been in this mess for 4 months now. The only thing we can do is send the Curve back and hope for a Bold.


How Pixmania treats their customers:

a few quotes from the rather cheeky Dutch speaking help desk guy

"It is not possible that we promised you a refund. It is not our policy to do so. I don't know (care) about what the other guy told you."

"Have you got that in writing?"

This makes me really angry. The customer is being portreyed as a liar. Why would I tell them something that is not true? They tape every call that has been made. Check it!

Also, about sending a cheap Curve phone instead of a Blackberry Bold:

"If a phone isn't available anymore, we might send you something that looks like it. As long as it is new."

So you would send me an egg cooker instead of a coffee machine if you are out of coffee machines?

This one also made me laugh:

"You are an entrepreneur, not a customer. You don't have any customer rights."

So because VAT wise we aren't the end user, we don't have any rights?


And you will love this one:

"Could you please translate your email into English because my boss does not speak Dutch."

- Where is your boss?

"At the other end of the desk."



So in the end

We had to make several €0,30/min phone calls, of which 40% were answered and 20% in the right language. Most of the time, the help desk was closed and sometimes the call just didn't come through.

We had to pay for sending the broken device back to them. The only thing they sent us were broken or the wrong devices.

Their email system doesn't work most of the time, their customer site is a joke...

The help desk doesn't know about what the help desk previously said and has some quite cheeky people amongst them.


As a commercial engineer within IT, it hurts me to see that e-commerce still has to be this way.


Never, ever, ever buy something at Pixmania(-pro).com.

They just don't care about the customer.


Quality and reliability in online information systems [dutch] by admin

For my dutch speaking friends:

I lend a little hand in a master thesis of a friend of mine, Koen De Couck, mastering in Philosophy. (Which is not equal to being a Master of Philosophy, but then again the English made that one up, not us). 

Read up on "Kwaliteit en betrouwbaarheid bij online informatiesystemen, een statistisch-wijsgerige analyse" here.

Cyberspace, by William Gibson. by admin

Just once in a while, I like to share a little quote with the world. Today, I'm citing William Gibson in Neuromancer, 1984:

"Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts... A graphical representatation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the non-space of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding..."

Boy, was he right...

Evolvable Software Architectures: Elgg by admin

Ensuring architectural stability when software gets older (and constructs are adjusted, elaborated...) is still a hard task. At the University of Antwerp, Belgium, a team is conducting research on how to avoid the system-wide propagation of adaptation effects in software, or in other words, how to develop 'evolvable software architectures'. They import the concept of systems theory into software development, in search of a theoretical framework that insures stability.

Professor Mannaert explained the problem at the 2009 IARIA conference on Future Computing. You can find the slides here.



Stable software development examples are not easy to find, but we are able to recognise certain good practices when we see them. I wrote a concise paper on the open source social network framework Elgg in Dutch.

You can download the paper here (elgg.pdf) and read more about Elgg on their website.