UI Design and Consultation – Komodo 6 Projects Debacle

I’ve used ActiveState Komodo as my IDE for Python and Ruby for a while, starting when I found Eclipse and PyDev irritating especially for debugging.

They recently decided to significantly redesign the Projects feature within Komodo, as part of version 6, and it serves as a great negative example of what happens when you don’t consult your users or put out prototypes but just inflict a design on people. For many users, including myself, the new approach loses functionality and makes the program significantly more painful to use, as you can see in the discussion forum.

I’ve heard a few tales now that reflect a certain degree of arrogance in the ActiveState team and I wonder if this is another example – the team or a key person wanted this new design and didn’t want to deal with asking the community so chose to implement it first, so there’d be no going back. I found this comment particularly interesting:

If you’ve followed bugzilla, you’re aware that there were plenty of bugs in the project system.
True, we could have fixed those bugs, and gone on with the status quo, but there were aspects in the existing project system that were standing in the way of where we wanted to take Komodo.

As you can see below, from the New Features web page, it’s basically a file tree, in their words It provides a customized view of your file system (local or remote) and allow easy file management operations such as file editing, copying, drag/drop file moving, creation or removal of files and folders, as well as recursive search capabilities.

Places will replace the existing Komodo project viewer (by the time Komodo 6 is final).

One of the things that really bugs me about this is that I am a cross-platform developer. When I shift platforms, I shift mental modes and use the explorer and file open dialogs of that platform, with their different idioms and keyboard shortcuts. I don’t want the Komodo developers spending their time writing a replacement file browser for me. I have written enough file handling to know there’s more work than many people anticipate dealing with different permissions, network drive issues and external file system events – it’s not a trivial workload to have added that we didn’t ask them to take on!

The Places pane in context, showing a file tree and badged files.