Apparently Windows Phone 7 will not have copy-and-paste. Huh. What do you know?

It sounds like Microsoft is depending on the software to be smart enough to recognize data types to get selected content to the right application without the need for the user to manually copy and paste. This is pretty interesting to me since it’s similar to the idea of nountype recognition that we were exploring in Ubiquity. I haven’t used Windows Phone 7 (obviously), but my gut reaction says it’s hard to make data type recognition work reliably, so a manual override – copy-and-paste – is still needed for the cases where automatic recognition fails. And what if I want to do something weird that Windows didn’t expect?

The capability to do things that the authors never expected: this is the definition of flexibility in computer systems, and their flexibility is their power.

I applaud simplifying systems by removing unnecessary complexity. But there’s unnecessary complexity and then there’s necessary complexity. Remove too much, and you may cross the line between simplifying a system and crippling it.

For example, what about this non-multitasking OS that Apple wants you to use? Single-tasking seems like a huge step backwards to me, and I wonder if the simplicity is worth the loss of capability.

Not every device that accesses the Internet needs to be a full-featured computer; there are obviously a lot of people who want some features of the Internet without the complexity of a computer.

But there’s so much that you can’t do with a device that only runs one program at a time, or that has no copy-and-paste. Single-tasking may be OK for a device meant only for consuming information, but it’s crippling if you want to use the device to create anything.

(When I first heard Apple was making a tablet, I envisioned something with a stylus I could use for drawing. I might buy one of those. The iPad, sadly, is not that device. It’s optimized for consumption, not creation.)

I hope the trend towards simpler gadgets doesn’t result in a loss of the ability to go outside the bounds of what the inventor envisioned, the ability to create. Creating stuff is pretty important to me.

Lost Garden is a blog worth following if you’re into usability topics. It’s primarily about video game design, but it’s game design from a psychology perspective and its insights are highly applicable to other kinds of software design as well. I first heard of Danc, the author of Lost Garden, through his presentation called Princess-Rescuing Applications, which is about how video games are actually highly targeted teaching tools in disguise, about how the sensation of “fun” comes from self-directed learning in a safe environment, and how we can apply that lesson to make productivity software easy and even fun to learn.

Now it seems like someone at Microsoft -specifically Microsoft Office Labs – has taken that lesson to heart and created a game meant to teach Office skills. It’s called Ribbon Hero. Lost Garden has an in-depth post about it here.

Even if “Ribbon Hero” doesn’t sound very exciting to you, I think this is an idea with a lot of potential and an exciting approach to improving usability of large, complex apps. I’ll be keeping a close eye on its development.

Edited to add: After watching the Office Labs video, I think one thing they’re missing in the current prototype is that the way the tasks are described to the player uses a lot of Office jargon, e.g. “change the orientation from portrait to landscape”. This jargon is in itself one of the barriers to learning complex productivity apps, so I think Ribbon Hero would be better if it described challenges without jargon, and made learning the terminology part of the game process too.

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