Item and selection count display methods

Rather than use the status bar display dependent method currently implemented in OS X, how about using some of the Quartz engine’s compositing features to display an overlay graphic of the number of items currently selected in a window?

My idea is this:

As a user moves through a window selecting items, a counter would appear inside the window, dynamically displaying the number of items selected. Ideally, this would include both the number of total items in a content area and the number currently selected by the user.

This would have to be rendered one of two ways, based on continuity of selection:

  • If the selection was contiguous, the counter would appear beneath the highlighted items. This would make the meaning of the counter more obvious.
  • For non-contiguous selections, the counter would be rendered in an appropriately contrasting color scheme against the background of the window.

In both instances, the counter graphic would have to be transparent enough to allow the user to read all text (file names, list-view column information) below it with ease.

Advantages over current implementation:

  • Not dependent on the user enabling the status bar in the Finder (which is off by default, at least in Jaguar). This appears to have changed in Panther due to the new design of the Finder.
  • Directly related to that, this method does not use additional screen space, using the window as its display canvas.
  • Maintains user focus on the selection area and the actual task of selecting; does not force their eyes to move to the status bar, a rather small target, then back to the items they are selecting.
  • Looks spiffy!

Potential problems:

  • Counter could become obscured in very small windows.
  • Potential visibility problems for Finder windows in which the user has set a custom background color or picture.
  • Placement of the counter in the Finder’s column view.

Ultimately, I think this sort of thing could replace the status bars of a number of applications. The status bar in Mail is particularly wasteful – it uses the entire width of the main window simply to display “xxx messages (xxx KB).” While it does also display the information related to sending and receiving mail, this could be displayed in a status bar such as that used in OmniWeb, only appearing when information needs to be displayed. The persistent information could be displayed in a floating counter/status item.

Random thoughts:

  • Should the counter float on top of the window’s content for a moment, then fade into the background? It would stay in the foreground while selecting items.
  • How would the desktop be handled? Currently, there is no counter for the desktop unless it is viewed as a window. Perhaps a counter should appear only when selecting multiple items?
  • Would it make sense for the counter to follow the mouse as long as it remained within a selection area?

A mock up of this idea would illustrate the concept far better than any written description. I should learn how to use Interface Builder anyway.

In the interim, I’d appreciate it if iTunes would display the number of selected items rather than just the total.

Zoom!

I’ve been playing with the Flash zooming interface demo that is a part of Jef Raskin’s Humane Interface concept. As noted in the demo itself, it is limited and does not reflect the full capabilities of today’s rendering engines. With that said, it is still easy to see the potential of such a design.

The space is easily navigable and items can be grouped in certain locations. This is a more truly “spatial” UI than that advocated by John Siracusa. A “spatial” metaphor doesn’t really make sense when items can disappear. Sure, a window or desktop can have items arranged spatially, but the value of that spatial representation is greatly decreased as soon as the window is closed or the desktop covered.

My questions about the implementation of the zooming interface:

How is a given object’s zoom level determined?

Does the user have control over an object’s zoom level? Can it be set relative to nearby objects or a global scale?

How would things such as playing media be handled in such a UI? How would I create a playlist of audio files?

I know – just buy the book. Not seeing anything more detailed on the website, I imagine the book delves into specifics.

GNOME Storage

A recent Slashdot headline described a new filesystem/UI concept by Seth Nickell, GNOME Storage. Having looked at the screenshots and read the PDF describing the reasoning behind the project, I am very hopeful that such a system will be embraced by the GNOME community and other operating systems (ahem, OS X).

As more and more information moves online, particularly media, organizing and locating this information becomes almost linearly more difficult. Many users forget where they save and what they name their files. Most people can remember what was in a file they are looking for – this is most applicable to text documents. For either audio or video, most people can remember at least a few facts about a given item: an actor’s name, the year it came out, who the bass player was, a lyric or snippet of dialogue, etc. This information is meta-data. This would make a system like Storage useful.

The problem: how does the meta-data get there? At some point along the road, someone somewhere has to input this information.

For certain types of media it could be input once into a world-accessible database such as FreeDB.org or IMDB.com. While most people realize the utility of this information, they do not want to have to enter it manually. This puts the burden of meta-data input/creation on the content providers. This is fair and logical, as the customer/consumer is (in a law-abiding world) providing money in exchange for a product. This data is also useful to content providers, so there is no reason not to expect them to add it.

For the content of individuals, meta-data entry is a bit more problematic. How do you get a person to add valuable contextual information to a document, every time they create one? Ideally, the information that would be added to this individually generated content could be automatically drawn from data stores on their computer. Access by programs to this information should be tightly controlled BY THE USER, preventing spyware from transmitting your social security number to some shady character.

In a perfect world, I should be able to use a Storage like interface to instantly display all image files sent to me by Joe Smith in December of last year. The system would use the catalog of meta-data to locate all images that were attached to emails from joe@smith.com dated December 1 to December 31, 2002.

F10 Launch Studio

I’ve been using F10 Launch Studio a bit. While I think the concept is very solid, there are some issues with the interface that prevent me from using it full time.

1. The order of the groups cannot be rearranged. Why?

2. Items cannot be sorted into rows – they can be ordered, but that order is used for a continuous left-right, top-bottom layout. This makes it hard to subdivide a group. For example, the Internet pane would much more useful if I could create several rows (or columns) in which similar items were placed.

Row A: Browsers – OmniWeb | Mozilla | Safari | iCab | Opera
Row B: Chat clients – iChat AV | Proteus | AIM | Fire
Row C: FTP/SSH – RBrowser | Transmit
Row D: P2P – Poisoned | XNap | mlMac
Row E: Misc. Utilities – URL Manager Pro | Safari Bookmark Exporter

I imagine one of the problems the designers encountered was with icon sizing and horizontal scrolling – the app is designed to offer scalable icon sizes and ONLY vertical scrolling, a la iPhoto. This would create a problem if a group of icons were confined to one row. The solution: limit the maximum icon size when using grouped rows!

One of the features I’ve found very useful is the hot-corner activation – I’d like to see the corner be used to both show AND hide the launch window, saving a bit of mousing if it is accidentally activated.

I think these changes would make a good product great. Then again, what do I know?

File copying UI

Having used Gnome a bit, one of the features I found much to my liking was the method used to show the progress of file copying. Rather than using a chunky, clutterific progress window, the file’s icon label updates (in real-time) the filesize until the copy is complete. On completion, the filename is displayed as normal.

I think this would be a welcome addition to OS X. A number of the Eazel people who created Nautilus are (back, in some cases) at Apple. They may well have ideas about how to improve this feature, possibly taking advantage of the graphical features of Quartz to give the user additional visual feedback. Perhaps a gradual fade-in of the icon?

I would not advocate using this method in all cases – it is best used ONLY for file copies initiated in the actual file manager. Downloads started from FTP clients or browsers would have no easy way to indicate that a download has begun as requested. This is how it works in Nautilus/Gnome.

In this corner . . .

I have been using Greg Schueler’s CornerClick on my iMac. An interesting implementation of Fitts’ Law. While it is true that the corners of the screen have infinite depth, there are only four of them. Using modifier keys is a good way to expand the manipulation possibilities, but forces the user to remember the key combinations. CornerClick used in conjunction with the upcoming 10.3 release with Expose might greatly alleviate the need to use the Dock.

Boing, boing, boing!

I downloaded and tried out the latest version of Spring (v1.3). I like the concept, but the process for creating new “objects” seems rather difficult. It would be nice if Spring could automatically make Person objects for entries in the OS X Address Book application. Also, being able to make a visually browseable canvas (similar to what MP3 Voodoo does) of all of your iTunes albums would be neat.

All in all, an interesting product and approach to UI.

It lingers . . .

A few minor UI gripes:

  1. Hold Shift while clicking on a Finder window’s toolbar display toggle widget (the Tic-Tac shaped one in the upper right). Handy dandy. Now try this in any other application with a toolbar. It doesn’t work. Phooey.
  2. Depress Command while clicking the display toggle widget in the Finder. Nothing. Try it in Mail (or OmniWeb). Neato.

These are surely not the biggest of UI problems, but they are inconsistencies that ought be corrected. Supposedly, the Cocoa and Carbon frameworks did at one point behave identically, but this was broken before the initial 10.0 release.