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.

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.

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?