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Joe Dog Software

Proudly serving the Internets since 1999

up arrow In Praise of Default Values

Your JoeDog likes options. He feels that if a program takes a variable value, that value should be configuarable. A programmer can spend a great deal of time selecting the perfect socket timeout, but unless the user works in the same environment it’s not necessarily perfect for them.

On the occasions when Your JoeDog uses Windows, he finds himself struggling to make the software do his bidding. It takes time to add another text field to a Windows GUI, so developers tend to limit the number of configurable options.

At the same time, he hates complicated software. You shouldn’t need a computer science PhD in order to configure scheduling software. Yet it’s impossible to use Tivoli’s workload scheduler and not feel completely overwhelmed. It can take days to set up.

These notions don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Software can be extremely flexible and simple to use. Your JoeDog achieves this notion in his own software with a novel concept known as the “default value.” If you don’t set a value, you get the default. If you require more precision, you can change those settings.

Generally speaking, software users don’t care about every configurable value. They have a subset of values they want to change. If everything has a default that doesn’t need to be set for the software to function, then the documentation becomes less overwhelming. If all you want to do is change one setting, then you can search the docs for just that configuration.

Your JoeDog does enough GUI programming that he can speak to the notion he mentioned above. It takes time to add labels and text fields to a program. Those GUI elements also take valuable screen real estate. As a result, many programmers limit the flexibility of their programs.

Here’s a thought: why not make the program configurable with a combination of a GUI and a configuration file? You can place the frequently changed stuff inside the GUI and the more obscure features inside the file. Trust me, the users who really want to change something will discover how to do that if you let them.

Keep it simple but make it flexible and your users will be appreciative … until you blog about it.