Querious!

There are some differences between the implementations of the search field in the Finder, iTunes, Mail, and Safari. Consistency being one of the hallmarks of Apple software, I think this ought to be fixed.

Based on the screenshot at Apple’s 10.3 Finder info page, it looks like it displays the scope of the search in the inactive input box. I believe the magnifying glass menu is used, as in Mail and iTunes, to change the scope of the search.

iTunes displays a magnifying glass on the left of the search field which, when clicked, allows the user to select what field they would like to search: all, artists, albums, composers, or songs. The type of query to be performed is listed immediately beneath the input box. Because of the iTunes interface layout, placing the query type label beneath the entry box rather than inside is acceptable because it does not use additional screen space. With that said, it is still not consistent with other applications.

Mail uses the menu to allow users to select the field and scope of their queries; the entire message, subject line, to or from in either the currently selected mailbox or all of their mailboxes. When the search field is not in focus, it displays the name of the field selected for searching (message, subject, etc.).

Safari takes a different approach, using this left side magnifying glass menu as a history menu, displaying previously run queries when selected. When not focused, it also displays a text label for the type of query to be performed (always “Google”).

While they are both functional, the method used by Safari assumes that Google’s general search will always be the search engine used. The implementations in Firebird and Camino are open to extension, allowing the developers to add engines without having to change the existing UI.

The problem is one of displacement: if Apple ever adds the ability to select from multiple search sites/types, what happens to the history feature? I believe auto-complete could be used in this case. It is used in website search input boxes, so why not in Safari’s Google Search?

Alternately, the UI could be substantially overhauled. The current UIs are designed so that the option to select the engine is placed first. Users probably do not think of what engine they want to search first – they have a query in mind, not an engine. Placing the search engine selection menu on the right of the input dialog makes more logical sense to me, better reflecting the thought process of using search services. Also, rather than search queries being submitted only after the user hits the Enter/Return key, why not automatically submit the query once an alternate engine is selected?

Editing Note: this entry was revised on October 7/8 to include information on the 10.3 Finder and Mail’s search field interfaces.

Tweaking OS X

There has been some discussion (Tim Bray, Eric Meyer, MacDevCenter) of how people configure OS X to make it more usable for them. I trim down the Dock’s contents and add several things:

  • A-Dock
  • While it doesn’t have the massive number of features of DragThing, A-Dock gives me what I want: a separate Dock for folders and a way to quickly reveal the desktop. I place this in the lower right corner of the screen to take advantage of Ye Olde Fitts’s Law.

  • F-10 Launch Studio
  • This allow me to quickly launch any application without using much screen space unless it is activated with either the keyboard or by a hot corner (Fitts’ Law again). Applications can be organized into groups, which can be further organized alphabetically or by user preference. I have sent them some feedback asking them to add the ability to define row or column groups, depending on user choice.

  • CornerClick
  • I quickly miss the features this offers when not installed on a machine. It fits so easily into my workflow and is so simple, it feels like a natural extension of the interface. I imagine Exposé will make some of my settings redundant, but I’ll probably find new uses for it.

    I keep my Dock pinned in the bottom left corner (no magnification, no bouncing), populated only by the few applications that I leave running constantly such as Safari, iChat AV, iTunes, Terminal, Kung-Log, and Camino. These are never displaced by applications which come and go due to their left alignment. It makes the Dock far easier to work with.

    The corners make for easy targets, so I use them quite a bit.

Furthermore . . .

Why does iTunes not remember the position of playlists that are opened as separate windows?

Also, Excel would benefit from cursor coordinate highlighting – the column and row which the mouse cursor was in should highlight slightly to make it easier to determine precisely what cell you are in.

It's blue, it's an address . . .

But it’s not a link! I am rather tired of Read Me and help files under OS X that have Web and e-mail address links colored with the default browser link colors, but do not function as actual links. If you are writing a help file in which addresses will be displayed, write it in HTML. I don’t know if the situation has changed any in 10.3, but Apple really ought to make it possible for documents authors to include working URL links in RTF files.

Safari, Camino, and OmniWeb’s “Open URL” services are handy, but not nearly as simple as clicking on a text link.

Attack of the filename dependency!

A friend was having trouble installing the OS X version of Mozilla Firebird. This process is usually extremely simple: double-click the compressed file (assuming your browser or compression utility doesn’t handle such things automatically), mount the disk image, then drag the application to wherever you would like it to reside.

I was perplexed as to what the problem could be until he pasted the text of an error message into an IM: “the document “mozillafirebird-0.6.1-mac.dmg.g is an unknown format.” The .tgz file extension had somehow been screwed up. Adding the t z to the opposing sides of the g fixed the problem and made the file usable.

The moral of the story is that file extensions are an archaic, oftentimes perplexing way to determine file types. MIME types or T/C codes are much more transparent to end users. No user should have to guess as to a file’s type in order to access it. While there is no perfect typing system, filename extensions are certainly one of the worst.

iTunes stream browsing, nested playlists

An interface for Internet audio streams more like the Library and Music Store browsing interfaces is one of the few things I would change about iTunes.

Two panes spanning the full height of the window – genre in the left, station in the right. This would allow for easier categorical browsing.

The downside would be that you couldn’t view multiple stream categories at once. That capability doesn’t seem all that useful, so I don’t think it would be missed.

Also among my few feature requests is nested playlists. Having a sizable collection of music , I have several playlists of one genre, divided based on year. I’d like to be able to shove them into a top-level container labeled with the genre name, allowing me to keep them together without being constantly displayed. I understand the desire to keep things simple, but we don’t all have the luxury of monitors running at 1600×1200.

Another drag

I would like to be able to drag the address bar link/icon from Safari to the Mail Dock icon to open a new message with that URL in the body. This sounds reasonable to me. Some of my other ideas may be wacky or impractical, but I don’t think that is the case with this one.

MT vs. iBlog

Apple is giving away a registered copy of iBlog to all .Mac subscribers, but I don’t think most MovableType users will find it of much use. While the interface is nice and it integrates decently with several of Apple’s iApps, it is missing too many great features. I’ll be sticking with Kung-Log + MT.

Pros:

  • The built-in stylesheet editor is far better for those who aren’t comfortable writing their CSS by hand.
  • Navigating your postings using the calendar in the lower left of the main window is quick and easy.
  • No database configuration required.

Cons:

  • No database to store things in!
  • No web interface for posting or management.
  • No web posted comments.
  • No TrackBack or similar feature.

Cross tab dragging

Safari has a real usability problem: trying to drag an address bar link from one tab to another that is open to your Bookmarks library is impossible. This is rather irritating.

I have no idea if this is possible, but how about making the tab open to Bookmarks spring-loaded? If I drag an address from the location bar to the tab, that tab should become active. Problem solved.