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Topic: RANT: user tools = useless tools (Read 3626 times) previous topic - next topic

RANT: user tools = useless tools

Prologue: I once owned a small software company. I was the sole proprieter and the sole programmer. The product was a spelunking-simulation game, written in C++ for DOS, which tells you how long ago this was. The game worked fine but never made a dime, and has long been abandonware: I mention it here to establish my bonafides as someone who really does understand computers.

Rant: User Tools are so DAMN user-unfriendly that it is actually quicker for me to go through an entire score and make changes by hand in every measure than to figure out how to use a user tool to do the job. There is next to no guidance in the forum ("getting started with NWC2 user tools" is only useful if you already know how to install and use them) or in the help screens brought up by the ? in the user tool dialog screens (and no, typing "help" in the input field doesn't help much, either). Syntax is impossible to figure out except by trial and error. I hereby give up on them completely. I'm sure I'll get lots of helpful suggestions: save yourselves the trouble. A facility for global modification should be built into the program; it should be dialog-driven and work on selections and single staves as well as complete files. The rest of the tools - well, you can play with them all you want, but leave me out of it. I'd rather write music, and the user tools as currently implemented only get in the way.

Bottom line: if I'm having this kind of trouble, how in the hell do newbies cope? Do user tools in their current form really help sell the program, or do they drive potential users away?

Re: RANT: user tools = useless tools

Reply #1
Bill: in your assessment of user tools, are you including the new embedded tools that are part of the user objects in the 2.75a beta? They don't require installation, and in general don't have any real user interface. You highlight a group of notes and select the tool from the dropdown, and it inserts the object and changes the note properties as needed.

Please let me know if those particular tools are in the same boat as the others you mentioned.


Re: RANT: user tools = useless tools

Reply #2
I tend to agree with Bill. The only two tools I found useful (i.e., necessary - if a tool is not necessary, I won't use it and "rather write music", as Bill says) in my 17 years of NWC, are adp_Parts (thanks to Lawrie for pointing out how to lay out commands to call it in a usable way; after rearranging and prefixing them with 1...6, I can now call them with 3 key hits, which is essential; and of course to ADP who wrote it) and my own ShowRanges (some other tools were useful to understand how to write this one - thanks to those who wrote them ...).

And yes, even for me - a software developer and software architect ("the guy with the big picture; who knows about usability; and who can write a compiler"  :D) - finding out how and where to set up the tools was experimenting. A non-software person would never care or be able to do this.

@Mike, what do you man by "the embedded tools that are part of the user objects"? Do you mean those under ".Plugins" in the user tool dialog?


Re: RANT: user tools = useless tools

Reply #3
Additional thoughts/rants (it's a forum, after all?): Musical typesetting is a complicated and extensive topic.
But a tool for such a complicated topic only gets really good with a combination of power users + software developers that write the (complex!) tools that the power users envision and awkwardly try to describe and hope for.

However, most probably, 99% of all musical scores (NWC and others) created are experiments by medium-interested and medium-capable medium-frequency users which do not need much functionality, or even do not know what they need and want.

NWC, being a not-too well-known software, has a much too small base of power users and software engineers behind it - I would guess maybe 10 of the former (zero of which are the "multiplying power-users" like music publishers), and around 3 of the latter (Eric, Mike, Lawrie ... whom did I forget?).

The latter might be ok (you people are very ok! - it's the number I talk about); but the former number is (much?!) too small, it seems, to create that critical mass of critical and persistent and creative-destructive users that push developers to rewrite and rewrite again tools to reach the necessary usefulness, usability and robustness. That's the reason, I think, why most NWC user tools are at the moment too developer-oriented or very entry-level; and sometimes simply "old"; and it's not easy to change this.


Re: RANT: user tools = useless tools

Reply #4
@Mike, what do you man by "the embedded tools that are part of the user objects"? Do you mean those under ".Plugins" in the user tool dialog?
Yes, these are the ones I mean. They use the same API and techniques as other user tools, with a few restrictions/differences:

  • They must be written in Lua. Regular user tools can be written in a variety of languages, including PHP, Javascript, etc.
  • They aren't installed separately by the user; they are embedded in the code file of a plugin, and are generally "specific use" tools to make it easier to use a plugin. For example, the user tool will insert the object between pairs of notes, and will convert the notes to RestChords with the correct rest durations, mark the rests as hidden and mute the chords.

Re: RANT: user tools = useless tools

Reply #5
My two cents: personally I find the user tools and the objects very, very, very useful.
The user tools are simply a quick way to do what you can do by hand, but in no time, like a kind of macro, and this saves me a whole lot of time.
Having said so, sometimes, as Bill wrote, guessing the syntax for them (as a user, not to program them) is quite awkward.

What lets me a bit troubled is that more and more is delegated to "objects".
They are good but... they are still "external things". What should be a native feature can now be done, but in a convoluted way.
Often their working is tricky. For example: how often I forget to mute the visible notes for arpeggi, trills etc.?
Of course the new embedded tools help, but the thing always looks fictitious.

So, maybe they are not the best of the best, and I agree with Bill when he says "how in the hell do newbies cope?", but surely I disagree when he says "I hereby give up on them completely."

Re: RANT: user tools = useless tools

Reply #6
Mike, no, I'm not implying anything about the embedded user tools; however, I haven't tried them and am not likely to. I like the user objects (although I agree with Flurmy that too many of what should be native features are only available through user objects) and have no trouble making them do what I want them to without resorting to preset tools, so the embedded user tools seem superfluous - and, because of my experiences with the regular user tools, unattractive.

Re: RANT: user tools = useless tools

Reply #7
Do user tools in their current form really help sell the program, or do they drive potential users away?
Neither, I would think.
Registered user since 1996

Re: RANT: user tools = useless tools

Reply #8
I wrote on my webpage, "clipboard data created and read by NWC (in addition to their .nwctxt format) is text based, (and) tools can be written to create or modify it."  These were put together to help automate various repetitive tasks I faced in NWC, first as web pages with the user having to go through the clipboard, then as user tools.

I don't consider the installation of any tool to be a hassle, just follow the directions and it's up in less than a minute.  Besides, it's only done once.  For example, the bass staff of a piano part often is in octaves.  It can be done by building the octave chord every time it's needed or copying an existing chord and changing its duration or position as needed.  Or, run a user tool one time for all the single notes that will turn them into octave chords, complete with all necessary accidentals and ties.  Your choice.
Since 1998

Re: RANT: user tools = useless tools

Reply #9
Hi Bill,
while I see your point, I really think the issue is similar to many software packages...

E.G. These days most people can build a simple spreadsheet in, say, excel.  But how many can use, say, pivot tables?

IMHO NWC is no different.  Basic functions are easy and effective, but to really get the most out of it, there are advanced capabilities to be learned - in this case user tools and now object plugins.

You make the point RE plugins that these features should be native...  I can't help wondering if that's what many of these functions won't end up being.

Older style user tools - well, I for one couldn't function nearly as well without them, but I will say this, the INSTRUCTIONS for existing user tools, in most, if not all, cases are woefully inadequate.  They suffer from the same problem that pretty much every manual does - they make almost no sense to the layman/non-programmer/newbie.

Fix the instructions and examples to be understandable in plain language and things will become much, much easier for the vast majority of users and potential users.
I plays 'Bones, crumpets, coronets, floosgals, youfonymums 'n tubies.


Re: RANT: user tools = useless tools

Reply #10
Hi Richard,

I would appreciate it if you tried this tool and give your opinion on the user friendliness and help text.
Dialog based Global Modification Tool
Always look on the bright side of life!