Criticizing Web Apps

As long as I’ve posted a lengthy diatribe about how awful the library room-booking web interface is, there are two more that drive me nuts.

We have a way of putting in work orders for maintenance. Last semester I tried to open one of our windows and it just fell out. This semester, we had three different light fixtures burn out in 2 days time. So you go online and put in a work order. This is a great thing to have web-based. Except they picked this insane system that opens multiple browser windows, resizes your browser (?!), uses copious JavaScript requiring you to double-click on links… And it only works in IE. Oh, and there are irritating things that could be fixed with one line of code… You log in with your student ID, which is eight-digits that inexplicably have an @ sign in front of them. So they have this big note on how you cannot use the at sign, you must only use your eight-digit number. One line of code could just strip it out if it was included.

Much like booking library rooms, submitting help tickets is a Programming 101 exercise. In fact, it’s easier than the library interface, because you don’t have to do time calculations. You have an employees table, a clients table, and a work table. Tasks get entered into work by the client, and the staff assigns an employee to it. And when it’s done, you set work.status to “Complete,” a simple ENUM field. This is like 45 minutes of coding, although I’d probably spend more time prettying up the interface.

Then there’s the computer help desk, another web app. For one thing, all the links to it point to an http:// URL. But if you actually use them, it barfs up an error that you must view it over a secure channel. Being a web dork, I just take “s” onto the end of “http” and life is golden. To someone who’s not so good with computers, and who’s already at wits’ end with their computer, they’re probably going to break down and cry, because even the help desk webpage doesn’t work for them.

This, too, only works in IE. In this case, they didn’t have copious bizarre crap (like requiring double-clicking on links), so I set Firefox to pretend it was IE. The page loads okay, but looks terrible, with nothing lining up right. IE and, well, the rest of the world, have differing views on how lots of things are done, but requiring IE really isn’t the best solution. Oh, and as an added bonus, they control your mouse cursor, preventing it from indicating links in any manner. This means that someone took time to write code that does nothing but decrease usability.

But worst of all, even if you use IE like they demand, if you actually try to click on any tickets to view them, you get taken to a random system with a long canonical hostname, which just throws you “HTTP 400 – Bad Request.”

So last night, I submitted a help desk ticket indicating that the help desk is broken. Because, frankly, it doesn’t work. All of its internal links take you to the wrong server (or, seemingly, the right server but with the wrong hostname), and that’s assuming you’re smart enough to get in, by understanding the error indicating that you need to use HTTPS, not HTTP.

Most of these things are sold as turnkey devices, it seems. Maybe I should start a company making them. Apparently, no technical expertise is required to do so.

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