Newsletter #400 Preview: Who Is It So Hard to Be Easy?

July 29th, 2007

The other day, I got involved in a lengthy debate over finding an easier way to install message board software. Now this may not seem to be a big deal to you, except when you realize that any site you visit that includes a discussion forum is using some kind of software to generate those features. It may be something home built or a third-party application, but that’s how it is.

Now for The Paracast discussion forums, we use vBulletin, published by Jelsoft, a British company recently acquired by Internet Brands, Inc. It’s commercial, meaning you pay for a user license and ongoing support. There are lots of other forum applications out there that are actually open source, which means they are free, such as MyBB, which we use on some of our other less-trafficked sites.

Alas, vBulletin suffers from some of the same deficiencies as its open source-based brethren, because the installation process is a throwback to the 1980s. Instead of just double-clicking an installer, you first have to manually place all of vBulletin’s files in a folder on your Web server. Then you must run an installer or upgrade script to set everything up.

The manual file placement process is, in the scheme of things, not so difficult, except there are serious issues to confront if you’ve done any serious modifications to the software. You see, vBulletin is programmed in PHP, a scripting language, and all the files are open for power users to configure to their own needs. Sometimes it’s just to change the look and feel, but it also allows you to enhance the program’s capabilities, such as adding ad banners and other features.

Now that’s where the fun begins.

Story continued in this week’s Tech Night Owl Newsletter.

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3 Responses to “Newsletter #400 Preview: Who Is It So Hard to Be Easy?”

  1. Andrew says:

    Gene Wrote
    “But I do welcome your suggestions. Meantime, it’s sad, very sad, that in this era of Apple’s ascendancy, so many people persist in believing that the hard way must be the better solution. Maybe that’s why so many millions continue to tolerate the mess that is Windows.”

    Perhaps its more a function of forums being a type of application that is administered by advanced users who prefer manual control over letting any type of automation interfere. I’ve found this to be common on many applications that originated in Unix, and that unfortunately remain in place on OSX and Windows versions.

  2. I agree about the conspicuous gap between the iMac and the Mac Pro. And the iMac has two things that make it unattractive to many potential purchasers: a.) start loading it with extra memory and the price point leaps up dramatically; b.) the iMac makes great sense if you happen to need both a computer and a monitor, but if you already own a good monitor it looks a lot less attractive: why pay for something you already have? If, for example, you happen to own a 20″ or 23″ Cinema Display, you find yourself looking at the choice between a Mini and a Mac Pro, a gap which is, to put it mildly, noticeable. (This would be less of an issue if Apple would make an iMac that could drive multiple monitors, but there’s no reason to think such a model is in the works).

    And Apple has plenty of reason to continue the Mini. A few years ago I visited a Mac-oriented computer lab in which most of the time the computers were being controlled from the front of the room via Remote Desktop and were little more than slave terminals. Even when the students were working independently their needs were pretty bare-bones and the first generation iMacs or eMacs in the lab were very adequate for the purpose. If you are a purchaser for a school system, the price point of the Mini must look very attractive, and it is quite competitive with Dells and so forth. If Apple were to phase out the Mini, that would mean walking away from a large part of the education market, and this would be all the more so if they simultaneously phased out the 17″ iMac. I can’t imagine Apple being dumb enough to do that.

    Of course Gene’s headless iMac would address both these concerns, wouldn’t it?

    Oh, I understand the advanced users syndrome here. Since our Webmaster took his one-month vacation six months ago, I’ve had to learn a lot of things in that realm, and I do understand how to at least get around without messing up too much.

    But we need to educate these people on the “Mac way.” 🙂


  3. John says:

    The other thing to consider is that it is easy to be hard. If an array needs to be populated with four items it easier to simply put up a dialog asking for those items than it is to think through what is going on and seeing if there is a simpler way. If multiple engineers work on a product it is easier to let each style their own GUI tweaks rather than enforce a consistent style. Etc.

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