Solomon IV Service Series was awful. No, that doesn't do it justice. Solomon was impressively F*#@-ed up.
I had almost forgotten the horror, but thanks to this thread my long-repressed memories have bubbled to the surface. So much for all that precious time and money spent on therapy and hypnotism!
We had to upgrade all of our systems to machines 2-3x as fast, with 4x as much RAM, just to run it. Even with the blazingly fast new workstations, Solomon still ran (er...crawled) slow. We commonly joked that the faster machines just allowed Solomon to crash faster and let us reboot more quickly. Sadly, it was only a joke for the first couple of days...after that, it was just a very disheartening statement of fact. Originally we were still running Windows 95--that had to go, too, because only an enterprise-class operating system like Windows NT 4.0 could handle Solomon's frequent crashes without requiring a reboot. Well...almost. We found out later that WinNT couldn't always handle the crashes, but at least we were sometimes able to save any other files we had open and semi-gracefully reboot the system.
In order to do anything, you had to memorize seemingly random patterns of buttons and menus to click on. There was no logic to the order in which you opened up new screens to enter new customer data, look up existing tickets, etc. There were several different ways to do do almost everything, but nobody could get the same series of steps to produce the same result (except for hanging the system--that feature was implemented particularly well).
To top it all off, Solomon Service Series was apparently built on top of a set of lobotomized VB libraries, which meant Solomon didn't "work" (if you can call it that) like any other Windows application any of us had ever used. The text fields' behavior sometimes wasn't even consistent within a single screen. A few cases in point:
- Several text fields were stuck permanently in overwrite mode, so you had to copy & paste the contents of the field into Notepad, edit the contents, and copy & paste from Notepad back into Solomon.
- Many text fields wouldn't allow you to copy or paste (including some of the fields that were permanently stuck in overwrite mode). You could neither right-click the mouse nor use Ctrl+C/Ctrl+V to copy/paste these fields.
- Several fields were too short to insert meaningful messages.
- The UI was an absolute maze.
- Every dialog and screen had a numeric title which meant nothing to the user.
- Buttons and menus had cryptic names, some of which did the opposite of what you would expect them to.
- The program was astoundingly slow. Just tabbing to the next field would often bring the system to its knees. Imagine how much we dreaded actually clicking on buttons!
- Solomon frequently (and sometimes nondeterministically) locked up the entire system, requiring us to reboot Windows or do a hard reset.
After several months of blood-boiling frustration due to system hangs and lost productivity, we discovered that you could sometimes interrupt a system hang and regain control of Windows. The on-site "Solomon Expert" from the third floor finally got tired of hearing us complain about the lock-ups and came down one day to demonstrate that the system worked perfectly for her.
I noticed that, as she zipped through the screens filling out a support ticket, something on the left side of the screen kept flickering on and disappearing, and she frequently reached all the way to the left of her keyboard to do something. Being the Windows 95 Power User that I was, it didn't take me long to catch onto what she was doing: she was pressing Ctrl+Esc, which is the keyboard shortcut for bringing up the Start Menu (none of our keyboards had "windows" keys, so I don't know if that would have also worked). As she continued demonstrating how great the system worked, I pointed out the Start Menu flicker to some of my colleages and we asked her, "Wait, what did you just do?" She showed us several more times as we tried to get her to notice that she was using an undocumented "feature" that nobody had ever told us about, but she didn't even realize she was pressing any extra keys until we told her to go one keystroke at a time and stopped her in her tracks when she reached for Ctrl+Esc. Somehow she had figured out a "hack" that allowed her to just barely trick this unusable software into working well enough for her.
In my free time, I started working on a replacement GUI app that would interface with the same database as Solomon, but which would actually "work," so to speak. My code-name for it was "DSD," for "Die, Solomon, Die." Unfortunately, I only had a copy of Visual Studio.NET Beta 1 to work with, and the GUI editor in Beta 1 really wasn't ready for prime-time. The time it took to refresh the GUI editor was apparently n!, where n was the number of components added to the Windows Form. On top of that, my tenure as a student was drawing to a close. I was about to get a new job, far, far away from Solomon, and nobody else really seemed to have the appropriate background or enough time and interest to pick up where I left off.
Oh, what we all would have given for a UI as sleek, robust, and user-friendly as FileMatrix.