Tag Archives: application

Don’t buy Windows 8 a coffin just yet

It’s only been a month and people are already ringing the death knell for Windows 8.

From pieces like this one claiming Windows 8 is an opportunity for Apple, to reviews panning the Microsoft Surface with RT, the tide has turned, from excitement and enthusiasm for Microsoft taking such a bold step, to opprobrium and ridicule for getting some things wrong with the latest release of their operating system.

As an Apple user and advocate for nearly two decades, I was always comfortable gloating that Apple seemed to get the User Interface right more often than not, even when the underlying operating system was a little flaky at times, to say the least. The interface always improved, even when the OS continued to fail.

Remember System 7.5? ’nuff said.

Continue reading

test for failure, not success

I’m visiting Toronto at the moment and had an experience with a boutique hotel and their website.

As you can see, their room request form is wonderfully simple and usable in design.

Availability request form

It was easy to use, clear and offered just the right amount of options to get the request in. Very pleasing. I’m willing to forgive the copy being sub-standard since the form is so straightforward and is exactly what I need from a booking request.

Unfortunately the message that followed was less than useful.

Lack of availability at the Gladstone Hotel

in text:

You requested:
1 () room for a 3 night stay, arriving on Thursday, October 14, 2010, departing on Sunday, October 17, 2010, to accommodate 1 adult per room.
Room Availability
.. Requested daily number of rooms is greater than maximum.
Click ‘Change Request’ to revise your selections.

I’m not sure what they think I might conceivably derive from this response, but what I actually did was book a room in another hotel down the road, where I could get the sort of room I wanted and the booking was straightforward, and more importantly, successful. I contacted the hotel to let them know of the error, trying to be helpful and the response I received was that the site was not “broken”. I was told the error arose because there were no vacancies on Oct 14. They did not explain why the error message did not say this. They did not try to discover where I experienced a problem, but to their credit, asked several questions to attempt to find me a room, albeit 2 days later.

.. Requested daily number of rooms is greater than maximum.

This clearly is a statement that was never tested with users, for I cannot imagine a test user understanding what went wrong here. Not only was the information supplied unhelpful, clicking either button (Change Request or Continue) produced an application error (Error:500) and stopped me in my tracks. There was no further progress possible. You should attempt to never deliver an application error to your customers and this article from Smashing Magazine might help give you inspiration on what types of response you can give. It shows 404 errors (page not found) but with some clever coding, you could also use it for application errors, like Twitter does when their servers are feeling a bit stressed, causing them to deliver the Fail Whale page. In fact, the Fail Whale is so popular it has it’s own fan club. You should be so lucky with an error page!

This to me was an obvious example of where user testing would come in handy, in particular, testing what happens in the system when someone tries information that produces an error or is outside of expected inputs. If I had changed my dates (not possible in this example) I may have received a better response from the site, perhaps.

It appears to me they spent little if any time working out what would happen if something went wrong and the system needed to deliver an error message. They also didn’t spend any time testing what messages would be delivered to users under different, normal circumstances, like when a room is not available for a desired date.

A valuable lesson is that when planning, building and testing, you need to make sure your communications are succinct and clear, and to test that your error messages make sense to they types of users who come to your site. In addition, you need to prepare for when things go wrong, when people break the bounds of expected or calculated behaviour, and not just when they make choices you are prepared for.

How much business or attention are you losing by not having thought of the errors deeply enough?

Usability? Your problem, according to Skype

Isn’t it great to be told that when a site does not work, it is YOUR fault?

I went to skype.com to download the latest release for my Mac, went to the downloads page, and landed on the default Windows download page. OK, I’m used to this and expect it, even though I thought they used to sniff out my OS and browser and deliver me to the MacOSX Download page automatically. (For those of you not aware, all browsers tell the webserver what browser and operating system the visitor is using. It is trivial for a web designer to utilise this when it needs to.) So I click on the well signposted MacOSX Downloads link and click on the helpful big green button saying Skype 2.7 for Mac OS X Download.

So far so good.

So you’d now expect to see a download progress bar right? No, I get redirected to the Windows download page, which does not allow me to download the Win version either. To my experienced eyes, this is a clear example of some logistical loop on the web server. Someone has tried something clever, some web redirect to make the site deliver the file according to the OS given, right? No problem, all developers are human so I pop over to the poorly signposted help button and several clicks later (where there is no mention of the possibility that one would have trouble downloading) I manage to get a message off to support to get some assistance. The form asks me my OS, browser, skype version, etc… and leaves me space to tell them I am trying to download the latest Mac release, and would like a direct link to the file or dmg as required.

Guess what the reply, 24 hours later, is?


Hello Joe,

Thank you for contacting Skype Support.

You should try to download as follows:
Close your current Skype by clicking the Skype icon in the system tray (the green spot in the bottom right hand corner) and choosing “Quit” from there.

It is suggested to clear your web browser cache to make sure you don’t get the old version again.
How to delete cache in Internet Explorer:
Go to Internet Explorer –> Tools –> Internet Options –> General and under Temporary internet files select ‘Delete files..’
How to delete cache in Mozilla:
Go to Mozilla –> Tools –> Options –> Privacy –> Clear cache.

Go to http://www.skype.com/download.html
Click download -> Download File -> Open… and off it goes. *If you again experience the issue, please repeat the downloading process while using an alternate browser.*

Later when you have logged in, check Help -> About to see whether you have the right version

Please reset your firewall for Skype as sometimes the old settings may need to be completely refreshed after an upgrade.

*Please note, that firewall does not completely disable Skype from connecting, but may be causing this connection quality.

1) Make sure your status is set to Online. Go to Skype > File > Change Online Status > select “Online”. You can also right click the Skype icon in the taskbar > Online Status > select “Online”.

2) Download and install our latest Skype version found here: http://www.skype.com/download/

3) If you have recently upgraded or installed Skype then your Firewall needs a new rule in the exception list. Even if the previous version of Skype is already in the exception list, delete it and create a new rule for Skype. If you have more than one Firewall each of your Firewalls will require a rule allowing Skype to connect to the internet. Sometimes Firewalls allow Skype to connect for a number of days before blocking it.
For firewall setup – http://www.skype.com/help/guides/firewall.html

4) Another reason for that may be a proxy that is blocking your access to the Internet. Ask your Network Administrator to help you on that matter.

5) If none of the above helps and you fail to connect to the Skype network, it is likely that your firewall is blocking these connections and you need to open up some outgoing ports. Note that this refers only to outgoing connections, not incoming connections. In most firewalls, you have to specify a destination port or port range to open. There are four options for Skype to work:

*Ideally, outgoing TCP and UDP connections to all high-range ports (1024..65535) should be opened.
*If the above is not possible, open up outgoing TCP connections up to port 443 & 80. Some firewalls restrict traffic on port 80 to HTTP protocols only, in this case Skype can not use it since we do not use HTTP. With some firewalls it is possible to open up all traffic to port 80, not just HTTP, in this case Skype will work.

* If none of the above is possible, Skype can use a HTTPS/SSL proxy. In order to do that, you have to configure the proxy address in Internet Explorer options. Then Skype will be able to use the proxy as well.

6) You may also try the following:
* Close Skype
* Go to C:\Program Files\Skype\Phone and rename Skype.exe. E.g. rename it to Skype1.exe or similar
* Start Skype using the new renamed file (if renaming the Skype program file helped you then it is definitely a matter of a firewall blocking Skype.exe

Best regards,

Brigitta – Skype Support


Those of you who know your way around a mac can see this is a reply for WindowsXP users. I’m not saying that Mac users, a clear minority, deserve top line attention. I do believe that if you do offer software and support to Mac users, you retain awareness they are using a Mac. So in short, Brigitta

  • did not read the form Skype creates, clearly displaying the OS
  • did not direct me to a direct download
  • sent me a stock answer, after I filled in a detailed form with my problem

So on my reply, where I ask them to both review my original support ticket and note that I am using a mac and therefore WindowsXP support instructions will not help, received the following reply:


Hello Joe,

Thank you for contacting Skype Support.

Please try to download Skype for Mac OS X using Safari, if using Mozilla Firefox fails.

Best regards,

Mihkel S.
Skype support


Once again, I ask them to send me a direct link to the download, after I tried Safari, Camino, Flock and Opera.

The thing is, I clearly asked them to test this link with a Mac from outside their network in my original email. I am certain that no-one did any such thing nor did they post a ticket to the web team to ask them to do so either. Most sites that offer downloads also offer options and direct links to the downloads as well as these automated options.

What one does not want is to be told the problem is mine, but to be told the problem is under investigation. Surely I cannot be alone?