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|What About This Wildfire Thing??
|If you've kept up at all the happenings at PTC (makers of Pro/Engineer), then you're well aware of the next coming adventure they call Wildfire.|
|What is it?|
|Wildfire is the development code name of the next release of Pro/E. It's unsure at this point whether it will retain the "Wildfire" name into production, but Wild Fire aptly describes the total make-over of the product. (Hopefully we won't look back at it as a devastating force the destroyed everything in it's path.) Either way, it will certainly change the landscape with respect to Pro/Engineer.
I was invited this summer along with several others to PTC's headquarters to have a look at the current development build and give some feedback. While there, we were shown the new products and given a fairly extensive background on how things have evolved. I don't know much about those that used to drive development, but I can say that the current drivers portray a much different and refreshing attitude toward the product and toward customer input. It was obvious they have really thought through a lot of what's happening.
|So what do I think?|
|First, you won't recognize it.
Second, it's a mixed bag. Assuming they can find a good pesticide, the new and/or casual user will love it, the rest of us will hate it . . . at first.
|Update May 2003:|
|After really using Wildfire we have a somewhat different opinion. Read A New Outlook on Wildfire.|
First, The Good:
|There is so much to be excited about with Wildfire. To begin, there are some great feature additions and some great re-thinking of existing features. Most of these are well documented in the PTC hype, so I won't go into detail, but here are some highlights:
|This may be the skeptical side coming out, but there are a few notable things that seemed . . . well, . . . a little out of place, perhaps even contrary to the stated objectives.
|The REALLY Ugly:|
|A few things in Wildfire stick out as just poor. These are The REALLY Ugly.
. . . things like not having the layer icon as a tab for the layer view window. All the other things that can be viewed there have a tab, why not layers?
. . . things like not being able to access layers and the model tree simultaneously -- to put items on layers by picking from the model tree rather than from the model. That isn't a big deal to the PTC guys as they haven't created a 50+ feature model in years. (Think that's critical? It's true. I've asked dozens of PTC employees and they all admit they haven't done much modeling in years!)
. . . and many more.
|In Summary . . .|
|. . . We'll take the good with the bad. Now we have a company that's trying to listen to the customer, but seems to be directed by an intellectual introversion -- reflected in the Solid Works copying, the MickySoft UI (at the expense of usability), and burying of unique functionality. We have a company that is trying to drive Quality, but is making so many dramatic changes that the Pest Control Swat Team is overwhelmed. We have a company trying to make a more consistent product for better acceptance, but see a continued alienation of its existing users. -- What to do.?. If the bug killers win, the rest will matter less, and we'll all be happy.
TIP - When it comes out, Try It! But be careful in setting your expectations -- especially in listening to all the Wildfire propaganda. Hopefully then you'll be pleasantly surprised.
A note of Thanks: The invitation to visit PTC and look at their next product was a great opportunity. I want to thank everyone involved for the information and hospitality.
A note of Apology: I know it's much easier to critique than to create, to criticize than to congratulate. I applaud the effort that has gone into creating Wildfire and I'm excited about the improvements (though I have left the promotion and accolades to others that have already written them). I am very happy to see the attitude change in PTC management and happy that the company is seeking customer feedback. I am sorry if any of the above editorial is interpreted as condemning or damning -- that is not the intent. It is just my opinion. Certainly any of us would have done it differently -- but we didn't -- and those that have did their best. I hope that the above comments will be taken as constructive criticism to improve the product as it continues to evolve.
As an input tool, the mouse is a wonderfully versatile and flexible devise, but reliance on it (as in many current software products) creates inefficiency. The mouse requires position (with both large and small muscle groups), then, feedback (eye-hand coordination instead of feel), then, in sequence, selection (one of only 3 possibilities) -- making it ergonomically inefficient. With Wildfire, PTC relies even more heavily on the mouse -- thereby reducing the ability to optimize for speed.
For speed, you need the right tool at the right time. Other input devises, like the keyboard, are more efficient for certain tasks. Unfortunately, the gospel of Graphical User Interface has swung too far toward carpoltunnel (sp) and has forgotten the virtues and efficiencies of a broad tool chest. I like the mouse, but I hate the serial sequence of move - click, move - click, again and again, move - click. Progress is slow compared to trained fingers each with small muscle movements that occur with just a thought -- (visual feedback isn't required, and my arm and shoulder don't get sore). Why not skip the repeated sequential steps? Why not skip the eye-hand feedback and go straight to the meat?
Those that mouse through the menus may think I'm full of crap, but those who have optimized their environment don't use the menus much anyway, so having to mouse to each command (even if they're streamlined) will be a productivity degradation. A perfect example is the current sketcher. I like some of the improvements, but even after 2 years, I'm still slower with it. There has to be a balance somewhere -- and PTC has not yet found it.
PTC, If you're listening and if you want customer feedback, this is where you should focus your future efforts. Find ways to individually customize and optimize functionality to reduce the reliance on the mouse and to increase efficiency -- both in ergonomically and in spending less time focusing on the HOW and more time on the WHAT (the reason we use the software in the first place).
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