I’ve been trying to figure out a good topic to write about with the release of Planning 126.96.36.199 and I figured the infrastructure piece would have been covered by John Goodwin within 15 minutes so that would be old news. I realize the installation and upgrade to this version is a very important topic and there a ton of new features and major changes that need to be discussed. (Yes, Business Rules is gone and only Calc Mgr remains.) However, one thing that I think does need to be discussed is the new user interface for Planning. It’s actually a lot more different than the old one than people think. Oracle says it’s now much more Web 2.0 like and therefore better. (I thought they said this about the last UI redo but it’s all a bit foggy.)
The bottom line is that if you present your users with the new UI I’d be very prepared for what I would think would be major backlash. I’ve used the new UI to enter a forecast and it’s very different acting and departs from the old mantra of “Excel on the Web”. Why, you ask?
It would appear at first pass that Oracle missed the mark completely, however, you really need to dig deeper and poke around in the UI to understand it’s not as bad as you might initially think. However, the actually selection of a cell and updating of data in it are counter to the way Excel works.
Let’s look at a few examples.
1. Speed. I can’t really demonstrate speed with screen shots. You’ll just have to trust me or try it yourself and let me know what you think. I can’t really spin this one to be a positive and lack of speed is a big problem when you roll out to the end users. The one thing I will say is that while the speed is an issue there is a benefit here and that is the bandwidth usage of each form. Oracle estimates that web forms that were about 2.5 – 3 MB are now around .5 MB. Not sure if those numbers are exactly correct but it’s close to what I’ve seen.
2. New pop-up messages. Every time you save data you get a pop-up window. While it’s nice to be told that everything worked as it should have, but a pop-up?
The good news is that if you simply click on the form the pop-up will go away but that is counter-intuitive to most users who will believe they need to click the “OK” button before continuing. Definitely something that should and will be called out during training sessions on the new version. (I’d be shocked if no users complained about this during training sessions on the new version.)
3. Lack of appropriate Scroll boxes. This is actually very interesting and a change in the way most people think about navigation. There are no scroll bars on the left hand panel of the application. (They do remain on the right hand panel.) All we need to do here to demonstrate the difference is to shrink your IE window. Don’t ask me why the abandoned it on one side of the form and kept it on the other. Probably something that will change with the next release.
Here IE is maximized to take up my whole screen. Notice the Business Rules area.
Now if you see the same form in an IE window that is not Maximized but instead has to crunch things together a little bit, you’ll notice that the Business Rules section is gone and there is instead a very small double arrow that is a link.
If you click on the arrows you’ll see a link to open the Business Rules section of that web form.
If you click on the link for this you’ll open the web form’s business rules.
A little different than the old UI and the other side of this UI, but not completely unusable. The one thing that Oracle doesn’t seem to mind doing is adding more clicks to applications. Take this example for instance. You used to be able to launch the rule from the web form with 1 click. Now you are using 3 clicks.
4. Date Entry and Updates. This idea of Oracle being OK with adding more clicks is magnified when you look at the data entry on a web form. Since this is probably the single most used functionality within Planning the ability to do it easily and efficiently should probably be a driving factor of the design of the application.
In version 188.8.131.52 when you want to update a data cell you need to double click instead of the past versions accepting a single click to activate the cell. In this version a single click seems to activate the cell because it changes it’s color, however, it doesn’t allow anything else unless you are using a menu driven action. By double clicking the cell is activated for data entry. Ok, I’m with Oracle so far to an extent. To be honest the way the forms worked in the last version as far as data entry seemed to be pretty good and worked well for me. However, if we have to live with a double click I can live it. The next piece is where things depart from what I’d call “standard usability”.
When you double click on a cell containing data the cell is activated for data entry but the cursor is on the left hand side of the cell. This is certainly outside the realm of consistency with Excel. One of the beauties of the old UI was that if you double clicked the form it highlighted the entire value and you could type over it. Now, not only must you double click to activate the cell for input but you must double click again to highlight the numbers which incidentally doesn’t work because now the commas stay in the cell while you are editing them and the double click to highlight the contents stops at the commas. This is obviously a nit picky item for Oracle, however, they should understand that this function of entering and updating data make up the vast majority of what users of the system do. I would further point out to Oracle that Essbase became famous for a lot of reasons but one of them was undoubtedly because of its smooth integration (extension of, if you will) with Excel.