Efficiency rant

January 30 2007 JacquesC 2301

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I am going to post this rant here on my primes blog instead of polluting some other post (like a book entry say) with all sorts of tangential opinionated stuff. The book entries should, over time, become canonical. The most useful stuff might even make it back (with proper attributions!) into product documentation. Right, so what's this rant about? Efficiency. I know all about that, you think to yourself. So this guys' going to go off and rant about how Maple is slow, show some examples that make his point, and so on. Bzzt, wrong. Ok, so Maple isn't the fastest thing ever, but it is generally fast enough. And when it isn't fast enough in some area where it is clearly behind, wait a couple of years (ok, sometimes 5, but I am patient), and voila, it's fixed. And the same holds for memory usage (though there one has to be even more patient). OK, so if it's not the product efficiency that he wants to rant about, what is it? People efficiency. Yes, I mean my time. The time it takes me to get my job done. I do a fair amount of work in Maple. In fact, I spend hours and hours using Maple, and minutes and minutes (when it's not fractions of seconds) doing computations. So when my tools slow me down, that makes a real difference to me. Like others, this is why I am interested in better development tools for Maple. And why many of us get upset when some features like copy and paste don't work quite right. This is the fundamental reason why some of the misnamed ``usability'' features irk me so. Let's take a look at what Wikipedia has to say about usability:

Usability is a term used to denote the ease with which people can employ a particular tool or other human-made object in order to achieve a particular goal.

The part to concentrate on is at the end: in order to achieve a particular goal. The reason to use Maple is because you have some kind of computation to perform, or at least computation is an integral part of your task. So anything that gets in the way of that is bad. This post is already long enough, so I will not go into details of the many features that really irk me. And the missing features that would really make a difference. Anyone who reads the usability page and puts their thiking cap on can come up with a list way too easily. Though I really love the line

The use of terms user friendly and user friendliness should be avoided, as there are no widely accepted definitions for them, and they are thus often used without much substance.

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