PuTTY is a great little utility that comes handy when trying to connect to Unix computers from Windows machines. The GUI hasn’t changed for many years. Even though it doesn’t have many functions (just connect), it has a confusing user interface. Albeit when you get used to it, you don’t even think about the initial steep learning curve. The first screen as shown below is pretty much all the functionality of the application:
- Connect using different protocols (Raw, Telnet, RLogin, RRS, Serial)
- Load/Save the connection
Unfortunately a lot of options are put in the interface in a confusing manner. That big tree structure on the left represents a list of options available for configuring certain connection parameters. When the user first runs PuTTY, he or she will be wandering around trying to figure out how to connect.
Also some of these options prove to be really critical so if you are one of those users who learn by trying things, you don’t want to mess with options in PuTTY.
Another issue is the load/save function. It is a little bit hard to get. I recommend downloading PuTTY and trying it. It doesn’t need installation. This is basically how it works:
- Save: type a session name in the “Saved Sessions” (it’s not saved yet, though! weird name) and press “Save” button
- Load: select an element from the list and press “Load” button (it doesn’t load when you click and select and item!)
There is a lot to learn from a native Windows application which can be roughly considered as the graphical version of PuTTY: Windows Remote Desktop. Let’s take a look:
The first page is pretty simple and focused on the functionality of the application: to connect. So if you just want to connect, you type the destination address and then press the “Connect” button. Of course if it fails or you want to change some settings, you can press the “Options” button. Also some help if available if you are interested. This is what happens when Options is clicked:
I suggest PuTTY to have the same first page as Windows Remote Desktop. However, I suggest putting all the options under another dialogue and show it when the user clicks “Options” button. The application functionality and options dialogue box should be separated.
I also suggest adding a help button (it can lead to an online help). There is not a lack of space in the GUI of PuTTY. There is enough space for “About”, so there can be space for “Help” as well. In Help the user can learn about the basics of PuTTY and how to take advantage of the various connection options.
For the load/save functionality, Windows Remote Desktop again has some lessons to learn. The “Save” and “Open” button on the first page let the user know about what they can save (it would be better if those buttons are put right under the Logon Settings to show this is what they save or open). Please pay attention that these buttons are not visible by default in Widnows Remote Desktop and the user has to press the “Options” button to see them. That’s not logical. They are not part of the options.
This is the wireframe of my suggestion for the function dialogue (first screen when running PuTTY):
And this is a suggestion for the options dialogue:
The tabs are sorted in the order of importance. Please note that the options dialogue has the standard OK, Cancel and Apply buttons just like any other standard Windows application. And finally here is a suggestion to allow loading and saving the configuration from the main screen. The open and save would look nice with icons. If verbs “Open” and “Save” are written on the button caption, they should end up with “…” because of Windows naming conventions for actions that open another dialogue.
I contacted PuTTY development team and here is what one of them replied:
…PuTTY is generally used by technical people for a wide variety of purposes and they often need to be able to get at a wide variety of options quickly. I’m sure there would be complaints if we hid the options away in a sub-dialogue box; it would certainly make it more awkward for _me_ to use…
Another developer added:
…the fact that all the _most commonly used_ controls are on the front page is a feature, not a bug. I don’t disagree that this somewhat hurts usability concerns such as discoverability and conceptual coherence, but there is a compensatory element of convenience to the experienced user…