Interface Simplicity and SharePoint’s Central Admin

December 5, 2006

I read an interesting article today that has both re-affirmed and made me question existing notions I had about user interface design and ease of use. One of the points of the article is that user interfaces which display all avaliable choices at once are easier to use than those that hide the choices behind sub pages, sub menus, etc. The point that the article makes (actually referencing another article “The Truth About Google’s So-called ‘Simplicity’,”) is:

“Why are Yahoo! and MSN such complex-looking places? Because their systems are easier to use. Not because they are complex, but because they simplify the life of their users by letting them see their choices on the home page: news, alternative searches, other items of interest.”

My first thought when reading that was “then why is the damn SharePoint Central Admin so hard to use??”.  I don’t know about you, but every time I go in there I feel like an idiot because I have to stare at the page for 5 minutes and scan each link to remember which item will take me to the options I need.  Not only that, but I frequently have to click on an item to remember “nope – that’s not the one”.

On the other hand, I think about other interfaces like Window’s control panel.  One of the first things I do when I install Windows is revert the control panel to classic mode so that I can easily see all options available to me.

Maybe the reason why Central Admin is so hard to use is that they’ve tried to show you many options at once, but still in a grouped way.  For example, first off you have the Operations and Application Management tabs.  My first challenge when I’m looking for something is to remember what tab it’s on.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quickly scanned the Operations page not seeing what I need, gone to the Application Management tab only to come back to the Ops tab after reading through EVERY link on that page (and clicking on quite a few).

Then, on each page you have groupings of links: Global Configuration, Topology and Services, Security Configuration, etc.  When you’re just scanning the page you tend to see the group names before the links themselves so if you don’t remember what group something is in, you might miss it on a quick pass.

Maybe a better UI would be a simple alphabetized list of all links.  I usually know the name of the link I want, I just can’t remember what group or what tab it’s on.

Or another idea would be to group related options into “Tools” similar to the control panel in Windows.  You could have

  • Security Manager – all security settings including farm accounts, farm administrators, etc
  • Site Manager – configure web apps and site collections
  • Server Manager – services, backup and restore, farm topology, etc

Anyway, all I know is that central admin is hard to use.  But on the other hand, maybe that’s inevitable when you have a product as large and with as many options as SharePoint has.


3 Responses to “Interface Simplicity and SharePoint’s Central Admin”

  1. Amy Says:

    Hi Glen

    “I have to stare at the page for 5 minutes and scan each link to remember which item will take me to the options I need. Not only that, but I frequently have to click on an item to remember ‘nope – that’s not the one’.”

    That is so true. However I’m still more inclined to follow the Google simplicity way of doing things. I never have a problem finding or using the more complex functionality they provide … unlike MSDN and such like that try to drown you in options, trees and information.

    Don’t get me wrong, you sometimes need that. But back to SharePoint, I think it’s main problem is just poor organisation of those links and tabs. Or perhaps poor organisation from the point of view of a user/administrator/developer in the real world and not the Microsoft world. I’m sure it makes sense to the experts in Microsoft, but I would gladly offer some suggestions as to how they could reduce the need for searching around those two tabs of overwhelming links (to magical places). 😉

  2. Ruud Orlagh Says:

    oh we didn’t care,we made it very clea. Ruud Orlagh.

  3. that’s why it will never wor. Liesbeth Kiki.

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