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Making Software by Greg Wilson, Andy Oram

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If At First You Don’t Succeed...

The next opportunity to study API usability came 18 months later. With my colleagues in the Visual Studio user experience team, I worked on a study that investigated whether experienced Visual Basic 6 developers could write .NET applications using the Visual Basic .NET language.

Visual Basic .NET is the latest version of the Visual Basic programming language, and it departs radically from earlier versions of Visual Basic, such as Visual Basic 6. Most notably, the .NET framework used to write programs in Visual Basic .NET provides similar functionality to Visual Basic 6 frameworks, but is composed of a completely different set of classes and namespaces. There are other differences as well. For example, in Visual Basic .NET, the default lower bound of every dimension of an array cannot be changed from 0 to 1 as it can be in Visual Basic 6.

Our team wanted to evaluate the experience of developers using Visual Basic .NET for the first time to perform common tasks such as writing to and reading from text files on disk. Having learned our lesson from the card sort study on the ATL Server API, we decided that in this study, we would provide participants with a specific task and observe them in our usability labs performing those tasks. We would videotape each participant and ask them to talk out loud as they were performing the task. We would then analyze each video to look for common patterns of behavior, interesting highlights, and any evidence that could ...

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