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For technology to deliver on its promise of increasing productivity, it must be simple to use in addition to being reliable.

But technology companies don’t always get that. Instead, many would rather pile on features and capabilities that ultimately hinder, rather than empower, the user.

The result: Users shy away from features they don’t need on a regular basis, leaving them untouched and cluttering their systems for the duration of their ownership of the application.

Users of Microsoft Excel, for instance, typically take advantage of only a handful of the product’s functions. And they have no intention of learning more because they have determined they don’t need to.

Similarly, one of the applications I use most often, Word, contains far more functions than I would ever care to use.

Some of them actually get in the way, forcing me to waste time undoing things the program wrongly guesses I want to do. And when I want to use a function that I need only rarely, often I have to wade through a mess of tool bars and menu items because I can’t remember where I found it the last time I used it.

The number of menu items in Word grew from fewer than 50 in the application’s debut version to more than 250 in 2003. And the number of tool bars went from fewer than five to 30.

Microsoft promises to make its Office applications, which include Word and Excel, more manageable through a new user interface in the next release.

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The new interface may improve the user experience, but I suspect lots of features will continue to either go unused or get in the way.

Simplicity has fallen victim to the increasing sophistication of technology. Adding functionality can produce real benefits, but it becomes meaningless if the added functions complicate use.

It is no wonder, then, that when vendors focused on the enterprise turn their attention to the small and midsize market, they often attempt to penetrate this space with scaled-down versions of their products.

Small business users by and large don’t have the time to figure out all the nuances of a product that is supposed to make their lives easier but instead gets in the way of doing their jobs.

A simple-to-use product is also easier to sell. Google searches and iPods are wildly popular for a good reason: If nothing else, they are a cinch to use. The very first time I picked up my iPod, I didn’t have to read a manual or have anyone tell me how to make it work. It’s that intuitive.

It’s that simplicity of use that is lacking in many applications that vendors are trying to push to the market through their channel partners.

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While developing products, vendors should get feedback from partners who can share with them what works and what doesn’t at their customer sites.

Channel companies are in the midst of a transformation in which the technology itself takes a back seat to how the technology can enable a business to achieve its goals.

To embrace this transformation successfully, channel companies need to know the technology on which they are staking their reputations is reliable and easy to use.

If technology and the channel are to evolve as they should, simplicity is paramount.

Pedro Pereira is editor of eWEEK Strategic Partner, contributing editor to The Channel Insider and a veteran channel reporter. He can be reached at