Back in the mid to late 90s, a slew of business was done porting “green screen” applications to web apps. These old text based menu UIs had a steep learning curve but supported high levels of mastery. A user with 5 years experience in a system could execute a half dozen keypresses and move through a set of menu choices in an order of magnitude less time than a novice user. The port of these applications to the web dramatically increased the learnability, friendliness, and approachability of the systems, but had disastrous effects on overall productivity for experienced users.
With Oracle and SAP being early adopters of the Ubiquity command line interface (CLI) as an opportunity to extend web applications, I’m confident that the CLI is actually a frontier for enterprise web applications.
We’ve released an initial command set at VersionOne using our REST api and the jQuery functions in Ubiquity. We have noun types for our core vocabulary. This has a bit of a wrinkle as the product can be configured for Scrum, DSDM, or the Rational RUP meets agile AUP. Our find and checkmail commands have rich previews re-using our iconography. GoTo has a custom nountype to auto-complete to page names. I’ve named commands with the “v1″ prefix, pulling us out of contention with most other commands.
I’m just starting to scratch the surface of what it means to design a good command line vocabulary. Equally critical is working with the Ubiquity team to improve the overall UX. I submitted a patch for some of the changes I recommended in the last post and have teamed up with a Mozilla intern doing tests on Ubiquity.
The work on pie-menus for the ubiquity context menu is very cool. I’ve been a fan of this since before I did the first marking menu Mozilla implementation in ‘01, but I actually place more value in selection independent operations, perhaps using the current page or automated extraction of information from a page. The context menu (of whatever) form is great for selection based operations, but in our enterprise use case, it seems more valuable to craft dynamic nouns. Text selection, and subsequent deep menu navigation, is always going to have a higher raw cost in time and effort than a well crafted command line with fluent keyboard driven auto-complete and selection from suggestions.