Simon Willison’s Weblog


Why MSN Messenger sucks

9th December 2002

Acts of Volition: What’s wrong with MSN Messenger 5.0. I rarely load up MSN (I like to browse in peace) but I’d like to add a few points, aimed at Messenger in general rather than any particular version of the software:

  1. There is no way of setting the displayed name of people on your contact list. To my mind, this is a critical design flaw. I have a number of people on my contact list who change their name, daily, to something obscure. I constantly see new names popping up on my list and the only way of telling who they are is to hover the mouse over them to see their email address and then try to match it with a real person from memory. This is not how software should work. With only a few name-changers on my list this is bearable but irritating—were the number to increase a primary function of the software (seeing which of my friends were online) would be practically invalidated.
  2. The interface looks more like a web page than an application. Yesterday while logging on to my account through my girlfriend’s PC I spend several frustrated seconds trying to find the “log in as a different user” option. My girlfriend pointed it out—it was right in front of my eyes, but Microsoft’s interface designers in their eternal wisdom had chosen to make it look like a hyperlink rather than a button. I don’t look for hyperlinks in applications, so my eyes had skipped right over it.

Steve observes that Microsoft’s UI design teams seem to need to implement an entirely different interface scheme for every product line. I concurr—but I have trouble understanding the motivation behind this. From my (admitedly limited) knowledge of user interface design, two of the most important considerations are to keep things consistent and to observe the principle of least surprise (don’t so anything unexpected). How the biggest sofware company in the world gets away with fragrantly ignoring these principles at every turn is beyond me.

This is Why MSN Messenger sucks by Simon Willison, posted on 9th December 2002.

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