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Give Me More Text

Saturday, November 27, 2004
To continue with my previous post (Give Me Text), I wanted to show a little UI from the SQL Server 2005 Business Intelligence Studio. There are obvious improvements in the feature set formerly known as Data Transformation Services. The toolbox is brimming with tasks and transformations you can drag and drop into the Data Flow designer. Stuff like “Pivot”, “Aggregate”, and “Fuzzy Grouper”.

There are parts, however, that remind me why I still prefer programming with keyboards and text files to GUIs. GUIs do not scale. In order to perform multiple operations I need to perform multiple actions. Like the following dialog: 

The problem here is it took at least 34 mouse clicks to change the behavior of each column. from “Fail Component” to “Redirect Row” (to send erroneous records from a flat file to an error file instead of halting). UI designers do this to me all the time, and it’s the reason I get frustrated with them.

Text files scale because you can select one operation and have it applied to multiple locations. UIs do not do this too well – they make you click, click, clickety drag click. It’s why I try to avoid the DTS designer in 2000. The OLAP designer in 2000 is even worse.

The good news in 2005 is that there really is a text file underneath, and perhaps with some more documentation on the XML format these tasks might become easier.

It might also be interesting to see what UI accessibility improvements come along with Avalon and Longhorn. Perhaps they can provide some sort of meta layer where I can group similar controls easily and modify them with one action.

Even better would be if I could speak to the computer and ask it to “change all error drop down selections to redirect rows”. The magical accessibility layer can find drop down controls under the Error column and set everything without me moving a mouse.

That would be cool, but I’m still not giving up my text files.

Pete Saturday, November 27, 2004
The reason text files work for you, and the UIs you use don't is that text files permit you to build linguistic abstractions, where those UIs you've used don't. But there are UIs that permit linguistic abstraction, mostly implemented in Smalltalk or LISP. It's the paradigm, not the implementation.
Scott Allen Monday, November 29, 2004
That I can believe, Pete. Most of the UIs provided by MS are of the wizard type. I'd like to take a look at something different (in any domain - just to see how it could work differently). Any suggestions?
Pete Monday, November 29, 2004
There's the Squeak eToys interface, part of Squeak (http://www.squeak.org and http://www.squeakland.org), which is the one I can come up with the quickest. I just tried looking for some stuff on Direct Manipulation, which is a related concept, but came up dry; I think I just haven't looked hard enough right now. Still, eToys should give you an idea of what is possible.
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