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Wizards are for Dungeons and Dragons

Jeez - I go heads down into work for 2 days and missed this great post on Thursday by Joe Wilcox on the Microsoft Monitor.

Whenever I give Visual FoxPro training, I almost always skip over the Wizards except for one: the reporting wizard but for the most part I agree with this article.

Instead, the Builder or Helper approach is much more straight forward. A Wizard typically "does it all" but how many steps make up a good Wizard UI?

Traditionally, Wizards have at least three screens: a welcome, a to do and a finish. Well - get rid of the Welcome and now you're left with two. In those cases, I think it makes very good sense to get rid of the Wizard - it's simply not needed. The Add Hardware wizard sometimes really bugs me - it says 'I'm hear to add your hardware" and then almost instantly "I'm done." Why not just add it automatically?

I used to like putting in Wizards for some of my more advanced configurations - because they needed to use users specific questions. If you have 50 options that need to be set, you likely don't need to ask about each one - you only need to ask about 5 to 10 questions - but it could almost be like the Property pages these days - where you have a Basic property that shows 10 options and then an advanced that shows all of the options.

A Wizard approach to 50 questions might have 10 different steps - and that's just way too many. The original Foxfire! setup wizard had a great feature - it SAVED the configuration and allowed users to come back to it before committing it. But now, in recent versions, the tools themselves have gotten better so they only need one or two steps and if that's the case, why do you need a Wizard at all.

Wizards used to be great when the underlying tools were simply too complicated to use. But now with plug and play and developers actually taking the time to make that lower level much more accessible - they are effectively a hindrance.

The bigger problem I have with Wizards is that they "do it all" and don't tell you what they did. Builders , at least in the VFP world, do something for you but what they did is obvious.

I'm sure there are some exceptions that one could find but I don't see why a better Wizard UI would have two approaches:

1. A Basic and advanced viewing of settings
2. A Builder approach. I don't think anyone wants to hand-write the code generated by the RI Builder but it's great that you have EASY access to it afterwards.

You tell me - do you use a Wizard approach in your applications for hard to do stuff?

Take my poll and let me know.

Microsoft Monitor: Wizards are for Dungeons and Dragons


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