OpenVMS Shark
Maple Leaf

 

USER INTERFACES

Graphical versus character based user interfaces

Peter Drucker (Widely considered to be the father of modern management), stated that "the first maxim of management is productivity". We believe this theme should remain a primary litmus test for engagement in any modern ERP project.

Web Browser based applications

Most web based applications lack multisession capabilities, suffer from cumbersome graphical user interfaces and deliver slow response times. This seems to be an inherent shortcoming of browser based applications. Anyone that shops online should be familiar with using a program within a browser to place an online order. If you've been annoyed with having to go through three or more screens to place your order (with the inevitable delay as you wait for each page to load), just imagine conducting all your internal business activities this way. The Web's stateless, mainly forms-based user interface approach can be visually appealing, but it's not necessarily the right model for every application and certainly not the right choice for business ERP. There is nothing more frustrating than having to re-enter data for all or part of the current web form owing to a single mistake or omission which remains unrecognized until after the entire page has been submitted for validation.

Browser based applications tend to be built around drop-down selection lists and mouse clicks. Although this has some advantages (particularly for occasional use), these features can be extremely cumbersome when trying to execute data entry tasks productively. This is a problem that also plagues most other Windows based graphical user interfaces including those based on the client-server model. While these programs are often visually attractive and some can seem easy to learn, they are far less productive than the traditional character-based applications where navigation and data entry are accomplished with keystrokes. To quote ERP Management Consultant Robert W. Starinsky :-

"As for the additional keypresses and mouse movements, get used to it".

This productivity deficit was a common complaint of seemingly all end users Robert encountered when comparing a character based interface with a GUI based front end. The inconsistency of constantly having to switch between mouse actions and keyboard entry seriously impacts both usability and productivity, particularly for skilled users. While computer programmers are accustomed to building applications with consistent user interfaces, building a Web or client-server UI is too often an exercise in reinventing the wheel. Buttons, controls, and widgets vary from application to application. Sometimes the menus are along the top and at other times they're off to the side. Sometimes entry fields pop down when you roll over them, and at other times they pop up. Real time validation of entered data at the individual field level is also commonly absent, depriving the user of immediate feedback. Application multitasking is usually impractical with a graphical user interface, particularly in cases where you need to run multiple instances of the same application. Often the graphical user interface screen is cluttered with a bewildering array of choices which makes it very difficult to learn and identify with the imposed workflow model.

In-house implementations of Web browser based business applications are typically much more complex to set up, are inherently less reliable and are difficult to maintain compared to character based alternatives. A minimum of two servers are usually needed to deliver web based applications versus the single server solutions deployed for client-server and character based alternatives.

Security vulnerabilities abound in web based applications, and the complexity of the browser itself seemingly makes bugs and security threats inevitable. Why saddle your mission critical business applications with that much baggage ?

Recently, Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz described the browser as "hostile territory". It's a world divided between giants, he said, with Microsoft's Internet Explorer on one side and Google's stake in the Chrome and Firefox browsers on the other. Schwartz's statements may be self-serving, but he does have a point. Increasingly, the evolution of web standards is being driven by major browser vendors. New features are implemented first and (maybe) standardized later. Business application developers have little genuine input into the future direction of the Web. In fact many developers who currently deploy web based graphical user interfaces become locked into specific browser versions for extended periods of time owing to dependent functionality which becomes broken when browser version upgrades are implemented. Does it really make sense to rely on client-side software that's such a moving target ?

At JCS we maintain a commitment to dependability and ease of use for our business applications. We are not prepared to sacrifice the full range of real-time interactivity offered by traditional "Form-less" character based interfaces. It is our conviction that using a well designed character based interface continues to offer the most productive, stable, secure and cost effective environment available for mission critical multiuser business software.