Have you ever been a regular at a coffee shop? The barista knows you by name, and every morning when you come by, she’s already got your Triple Non-Fat Sugar-Free Vanilla Latte waiting for you. That’s an intelligent default. She doesn’t know for sure that’s what you want, or even that you’ll come in today, but you’ve ordered it enough times before that she’s confident making it.
Well-written software can have intelligent defaults, too, and you can give your users that same feeling of anticipating their needs. Here are a few examples of programs that found a clever way to save their users’ time with common, repetitive tasks.
Leopard’s Smart File Rename Feature
Traditionally, to rename a file, you click once, and then again in the filename, and then the entire thing is highlighted, including the extension. If you then start typing, the extension is lost, so every time you have to re-highlight just the name portion.
But in Leopard, Apple changed the function to automatically highlight everything but the extension. They recognized that most of the time, you’re only changing the filename and not the extension. This is a tiny, tiny change, but it saves you a highlight action every time you rename a file.
TortoiseSVN’s Auto-Expanding Collapsed Directories
TortoiseSVN includes a browser to navigate the SVN tree to find the directory you want to check out. Since loading all the directories takes time, when you first open the browser, it just shows you the part of the filetree that you’re in. To access the full tree, you just collapse the top directory, and then expand it again, at which point the program loads everything else.
A recent version of the program changed the behavior so that when you collapse the top-level directory, they automatically open it right away, and load the full tree. Saving a single click isn’t a big deal, but it makes you feel like the program is anticipating your needs.
Xbox 360′s Annoying Device Selection Prompt
Okay, now for an example of where an intelligent default is desperately needed. The Xbox 360 has an optional hard drive to save your games to. You can also use a memory unit. As a result, games need to include a prompt asking you whether to save the game to your hard drive or the memory unit. The problem arises when you have only one storage device connected.
If you only have a hard drive, then you only have one option when they ask you where to save your game, but they ask anyways. Here’s a suggestion for the UI guys developing all those games: If there’s only one possible answer to a question, don’t bother asking!