There are two services I use not just every day, but many many times a day. One is email and the other is Twitter. Facebook and StackOverflow also get their share of attention, but one thing that sets Twitter apart from Facebook and StackOverflow is the proliferation of clients you can use to access it. You can go to the web page, and do it all in a browser, or you can get any of the many clients available to give you a richer experience. The same is true for email - I can use Outlook or I can use OWA and do it all in a browser.
Recently I found myself facing a full week away from home and the office and with no way to get a VPN although I had great internet access. I could listen to CBC radio and watch Canadian TV but I could not bring my email in Outlook. The first day was ok, but not great. I found myself wanting to email people, and I had to open Outlook to poke around and get their email addresses, then paste them into the OWA new message. It was so different from the usual fast-as-thought process of typing the first letter or two of their names and pressing tab. I also had to delete my own spam, because I don't like server-based spam filters and have been really happy with my client-side spam settings in Outlook. The little preview windows weren't as informative as I wanted, my old appointments weren't showing up, there was no to-do bar, and deleting messages or waiting for the new window when I replied to messages just took too darn long. By day 3 I was about insane. Finally my favourite sysadmin (who I was smart enough to marry almost 30 years ago) got Outlook-over-http working for me and I could go back to normal.
I was utterly astonished at the effect on my mood that not having my client application had on me, and the effect of getting it back. It was very distinct and unmissable. The browser solution just wasn't good enough for me - and OWA is an amazing feat of engineering, with a way richer UI (delete key works, F keys work, etc) than most browser-based solutions. It got me thinking, once my cheerful mood had let me catch up on some outstanding work, about client apps in general. Why do I only use Twitter in a browser? I've tried a whole number of clients but I always end up back in the browser. I think it's because clients have to be well-designed to work well. If they hog resources, jump in your face too much with focus stealing or balloon tips, or insist on being sized a certain way then they don't get a chance to show you their good side. Twitter is pretty young and I don't think we've really had time to winnow the good client features the way we have with email. With that in mind, and believing a good client really will be a better experience, I've decided to try MetroTwit. I've heard really good things about it and I honestly believe that client apps make more sense for these sorts of information feeds. So far, I like it. I get toast for new tweets, a new tweet counter as a taskbar overlay icon, and such a delicate consumption of my CPU and disk activity that I can't tell if it's running or not.
You might also be interested to hear why the developers chose WPF, and what that led to for the team:
over just a couple of months, what we’ve achieved with MetroTwit was simply not possible without
WPF considering the few precious midnight hours we put into it on most days.
According to the rest of the team (the real developers), apparently I owe much
to data-binding which I’ve been told is nothing short of a miracle.
If you have a choice of using a browser or using a client app, which do you choose? Is it always the same or does it vary with the business purpose you use it for? While we don't represent our users exactly, we can still learn from our own personal choices and our emotional reactions to software.