Saturday, March 17, 2007

Free for the asking: the over-the-range microwave that thinks it's a Web browser

We are replacing a Sears Kenmore Elite over-the-range microwave oven / vent. It is perfectly functional and high-wattage but it has a cosmetic flaw.

The main problem is that it is circa 1997, and it thinks it is a Web browser. I am not making this up. The controls include Back, Home, and Favorites buttons, and a rotating knob that serves the mouse function.

It was designed by Whirlpool in the heyday of Netscape Navigator. I met two young designers from Whirlpool at World Usability Day at MSU and they swear they are not responsible; they joined the company after that horrible mistake. Even the model name says 90s Web; it is Navigator. It's damn confusing to operate.

So my wife hates it. She curses whenever she warms milk for the cat.

The cosmetic flaw is a crack in the plastic fascia. You could probably order the part, but parts for this thing are expensive. The light bulbs to illuminate the range are like $50 each, but I bought two spares and they come with the package.

I told the Whirlpool engineers that my favorite microwave is the small Sharp cube I have at work. When you close the door all it exposes is Start and Stop. The Start button starts it. Hit it again and it adds a minute. Hit Stop and it stops. When I visit a foreign microwave and want to warm my hot tea, I always hit the Popcorn button. I think my comments upset the Whirlpool usability experts. I'm sticking to my words -- the best designs make it trivially easy to do the most common tasks.

If you could use this unit, or if you know of a charity that could, it's yours for free.