Web Informant #289, 23 May 2002: The clickless install




Let's hear it for the clickless install, the ultimate way that products, especially networking products, should work. This goes beyond plug and play: I am talking about taking something out of the box, plugging it into power and Ethernet, and it just works. I don't have to mess with any parameters, I don't have to bring up my web browser to configure it, I don't need to insert the drivers CD and hunt down the XP or OS 10 version, and I don't have to read a single line of poorly written documentation. Think this is just fantasy? Perhaps.


As a member of the Famous Computer Products Reviewers Professional Society, how I long for the clickless install. Even one-button is too complicated, because it means that you have to know how to click on that one button. It isn't because most users are too stupid to know what button to click. Okay, maybe sometimes it is.


I was joking around with one of my visitors this week, Patrick Lo, the CEO of Netgear. He was showing me his latest line of products, most of which don't have any power switches on them. It wasn't because the users would forget to turn the darn things on, he told me -- it was just the lack of real estate on the products, so they couldn't squeeze in the switch anywhere on the box. Nevertheless, I think this is a step in the right direction: anything a vendor can do to eliminate operator error is a Good Thing.


Part of my motivation for the clickless install comes from being used by my neighbors as their unofficial networking consultant. Sometimes, I look like a real hero in being able to plow right in, find that one button or screen that is causing the problem, and leave within minutes with everything up and running. That kind of experience makes me feel pretty good, I have to admit. But I wish the vendors would get the clickless religion sooner, rather than later.


Another example is how Symantec has improved Norton Anti-Virus from their 2001 to 2002 versions. They are still far away from the clickless install, but they are getting closer. That is, until you get infected with a virus, and then you have to spend lots of time clicking through various screens to make sense of it all. It shouldn’t have to be that way.


Many of the low-end router/firewall/hub gateway products could become clickless, if they just had a little bit better software interface on them. There are two tricks to making this a reality: one is choosing the right default settings so that most users don't ever have to muck around with them. The second is being able to automatically detect network conditions and set itself up properly. We are almost there on this latter item, too.


I am seeing some signs of hope here: Netgear has improved their interfaces on their latest round of products so that they will detect the networks they are attached to. Lo mentioned that he is constantly trying to make these even better. For example, while I am not in general a big fan of frames in web browser screens, the new Netgear firewall/gateways make very nice use of them: menus on the left, content in the middle, and help text on the right. You don't have to hunt down the manual, you can get step-by-step instructions on the help panel if you need them, and if not then you can focus your attention on the actual screens themselves. That is how it should be.


Still, we aren't there yet. Clickless installs are more the exception than the rule. And I guess as long as we have to click on something, people will click on the wrong thing, and consultants and integrators will profit from these mistakes.


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David Strom
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entire contents copyright 2002 by David Strom, Inc.
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