Dvorak: Down With Rinky-Dink Software

Why hasn't photo-editing software been developed that is both easy to use and not rinky-dink? There's an expression we do not use enough. Rinky-dink.

Can powerful software ever be made easy to use? Or must you always assume that the computer owner is a blithering idiot or a child?

Take Adobe Photoshop (please!) as an example. Here is a product that people feel obliged to use, since it can do almost everything when it comes to photo editing.

But it is anything but rinky-dink. In fact, it's often unnecessarily complicated.

Other powerful packages are also out there, and they too are difficult to use. A favorite of mine is PictureWindow from Digital Light and Color (search). Also a bugger.

When I say these and other packages are difficult to use, I do not mean "impossible." I mean "difficult."

Unless you are using these programs full-time, you spend a lot of time trying to figure things out. Generally with something like Photoshop, someone shows you how to do something, and you then quickly forget the 25 steps. Gee, it seemed so simple when Bert Monroy showed me!

So you go to a book or Web page that shows other ways to do the same thing, and you have to follow the steps one by one from the notes. You soon learn there are a few dozen ways to accomplish the exact same thing — all requiring a lot of steps.

And, just so I get this jab in, Illustrator is harder!

Now with Photoshop, most photographers only want to do perhaps a dozen or so functions. You want to make the picture more vibrant, get rid of red-eye (search), remove an object from the scene, and maybe swap the heads of the people in the picture. Oh, yes, and you want to crop. Essentially, you want to optimize the photo.

So over the years, people have developed programs to be bundled with digital cameras. This is where the rinky-dink stuff appears. Even Adobe had one of these programs, which has been replaced by Photoshop Elements. Photoshop Elements is essentially an older version of Photoshop with its name changed to Elements. It's fine.

I won't mention the names of all the rinky-dink systems out there, but they all have a common interface that I can only describe as the kindergarten teacher asking little Sally what she wants to do.

You've seen this. The software asks you "What do you want to do?" Then it gives you a list of options. "Grab photo." "Make an album." "Remove red eye." "Make a collage." "Make a print."

Make a print? How about using the drop-down menu under FILE and clicking on PRINT? Is that so off-the-wall?

These programs assume that you are a dolt. And in fact, when you look at the interface to rinky-dink software, you soon discover that these programs are in fact harder to use than Photoshop because of the rigmarole you have to go through to do a simple chore.

Does any computer user actually have to be walked through a simple process like "remove red-eye" each and every time? Click, click, click, click. ...

Rinky-dink software isn't just found in photo-editing software, although that's where it seems to crop up the most. Any software that asks you "What do you want to do?" is in this category. What you usually want to do is what the software does. So why is it asking me what I want to do?

Now back to my point. And yes, this is a questionably constructed rant.

My point is, why can't we have simple and powerful software that can do the 45 things photographers do most in Photoshop put into a package that is easy to use?

And by "easy to use," I mean intuitive and quick. When did easy to use mean "dumbed down for Granny?"

Dumbed down and stupid is not the same as easy to use. Have I made this clear yet?

My favorite example of this is how simple the Palm Desktop is as a PIM (personal information manager) when compared with something like Microsoft Outlook.

Microsoft has a tendency to combine powerful tools with the dumbed-down "What do you want to do?" interface more than any single company. Its photo editor is one of the examples I said I wouldn't mention.

The Palm Desktop does all you need in a PIM without being either intrusive or stupid. How come I see no photo-editing software like this?

And a note to vendors out there who I know will be contacting me to tell me I am wrong: Please compare the Palm Desktop to Outlook to see what I really mean. Comments are welcome.

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