Microsoft stealing from commie scum

For example, document icons are no longer a hint of the type of file, but rather a small picture of the file itself. The icon for a Word document, for example, is a tiny iteration of the first page of the file. Folders, too, show glimpses of what’s inside. Such images can be rather small, but they offer a visual cue that [assists] in the searching process, Allchin said.

News.com: An early peek at Longhorn

The K Desktop Environment‘s Konqueror has supported icon thumbnails for numerous document types and folder content hints for several years. Apparently, the KDE developers have a time machine that allowed them to travel to 20xx so they could steal these “innovations” from Longhorn!

  • File thumbnails
    1. MP3 audio*
    2. JPEG (PNG and many other image types are also supported)
    3. KPresenter document (the KOffice slideware component)
    4. KSpread document (the KOffice spreadsheet)
    5. KWord document (the KOffice word processor)
    6. SVG
    7. HTML
    8. PDF
    9. EPS
    10. MPEG-4 Video
    11. AVI (DivX)

    *Konqueror can also preview audio files, playing the file when the mouse cursor is held over the icon for one second or so. It isn’t a must-have feature, but it is kind of cool.

  • Folder content hints; these are not custom icons — Konqueror automatically badges the folder with the icon of the majority filetype.

While I am happy to point out that KDE beat Microsoft to the market with these features by several years, they aren’t as useful as one would hope. Seeing a thumbnail of a text document really isn’t much use when it is between 100-200 pixels. I do like image thumbnail icons (which pretty much every environment’s file manager has provided for a while) because they are visually distinct and it is useful with some PDFs. As for folder content hints, they break when a folder contains several different types of files.

Remember: those dirty open source communist hippies just copy Microsoft’s super fabulous products and it’s never the other way around. Ballmer told me so.

Salon's Manjoo on a resurgent Apple

The main points of Farhad Manjoo’s “Hallelujah, the Mac is back” and my thoughts about them:

Windows is a piece of crap

I recently helped my friend Johnny with his Windows XP SP2 laptop, which had become overrun with spyware. Being the blissfully spyware-ignorant Mac and Linux user that I am, I didn’t know which tools would actually remove all the crap. I tried several mentioned in Asa Dotzler’s scumware horror story, but even with the latest updates, they didn’t get it all. We were running out of time, so I installed Firefox for him and am hoping for the best.

My friend Brian came over several days later with his laptop. Firefox had convinced him months ago to switch browsers, but somehow, Internet Explorer now had a toolbar full of spam links. He knows he didn’t install it, but there it is. Software installation so seamless, the user doesn’t need to do anything! Wow!

Manjoo touches on a point I’ve made previously: the atrocious “security” has, for many Windows users, negated most of Microsoft’s investments in user experience. “Windows XP has a task-based interface that allows yBUY VIAGRA NOW!! CLICK HERE 4 HOT NAKED CHIXXX!!”

The Mac mini is inexpensive and includes the iLife suite

There is a case to be made for using the mini for browsing, e-mail, IM, and media management while retaining a Windows PC for gaming. Not that (higher-end) Macs are bad gaming machines. Some gamers seem to think Macs still come with Rage II+ graphics and are limited to the games of five years ago.

Hertzfeld thinks Open Source will break Microsoft’s stranglehold

If the Brazilian government’s intention to switch entirely to open software is any indicator, this is true. Microsoft will be around for a good while longer, but all empires fall. The combination of the freedom and developmental pace of Open Source and the seeming inability of Microsoft to deliver truly high quality software makes it likely that other developing nations (China and India come to mind) will move in that direction. Hell, even Richard Clarke thinks Microsoft will lose substantial marketshare over the next 10 years or so, largely due to the abysmal security.

Donning The Fedora

Since switching my Linux machine from Gentoo to Fedora Core 3, I’ve noticed:

  1. Font anti-aliasing is much better. I can’t make a fair comparison to Mac OS X since my iMac is of the LCD variety while my Linux machine has a ViewSonic 17PS CRT.
  2. Nautilus, the GNOME file manager, can now reliably browse Samba shares. It’s much slower than Konqueror (the KDE file manager/browser/kitchen sink), but it works.
  3. GNOME no longer crashes the X server after about a half hour of inactivity. That one got really annoying.
  4. Nearly everything feels faster, despite one of the supposed benefits of Gentoo being that, because everything is built using custom compiler settings, you end up with a finely tuned system.

The few things I dislike about the default Fedora Core setup:

  1. BlueCurve is ugly. Switching to the default GNOME look is easy, with KDE only being complicated when it comes to the K Menu (think Windows Start menu), which required going through and choosing the default KDE icons for the different menu categories (Internet, Office, etc.).
  2. The BlueCurved OpenOffice is functionally acceptable, but I really prefer the Ximianized version that fits much better with the default GNOME appearance.
  3. The ability to shut down cleanly broke between FC2 and 3. A search of the Fedora forums showed that this is a problem for a number of people.

In other news, WordPress 1.3 looks like it will be a nice release (I’m running alpha 5).

F-Spot Print Previewing

Nat Friedman of Novell recently praised the design of the proposed F-Spot Print Preview window. Two minor suggestions for making it even better:

  1. Allow the user to specify whether or not the copies are collated using a checkbox. This would be dependent on the user choosing to print more than one copy.
  2. Add a Collate checkbox to the F-Spot Print Preview

  3. Allow the user to select preview pages using a drop-down menu in addition to the navigation arrow buttons. This would allow for two click selection of any page, regardless of the total number. With the mockup implementation, getting from say page 4 to page 10 of 10 would require 6 clicks going forward or 4 going backwards whereas a drop-down would allow you to reach it in two — one to open the drop-down, one to select the desired page.
  4. Allow page selection using a drop-down menu

Evolution Evolution 2

This OpenOffice presentation illustrates a few of my suggestions. It isn’t of much interest to those who don’t use Evolution.

I’m glad to hear that there is work in progress on a syndication aggregator EPlugin. It seems a logical next step.

A General Comment Regarding Toolbar Display

The display of toolbars should be controllable in the manner of GEdit, which provides a sub-menu of the View menu that allows the user to pick from the Desktop default (as specified in the Menus and Toolbars window), Icons only, Text for all icons, and Text for important icons only. Here is the relevant section of the GNOME Human Interface Guidelines (version 2). I think titling this sub-menu “Toolbar Display Style” makes more sense than the GEdit title: “Customize Toolbar”. Customize implies (to me) the user modifying the button set or rearranging existing buttons – changing the display style is more descriptive of what the controls actually do.

Mail

  1. An “Ignore Thread” menu option (probably implemented as a menu toggle) would be nice, automatically marking messages in a selected thread as Read. Great for ignoring mailing list flamewars and trolls.
  2. The “Automatically check new mail” interval preference has the same problem (in my opinion) as the Task Status incrementer – it is too fine grained for most users. Make it a drop-down menu of 10 minute intervals and allow advanced/picky users to directly input any numerical value in the box.
  3. The Send button in message composition windows should be dimmed until one or more recipients are chosen or input by the user.
  4. For recipient names, I think it would make more sense to use contacts’ File As name rather than the full name: Mr. Daniel J. Wilson, Esq. vs. Daniel Wilson (kidding about the Esquire!). File As names are generally easier to visually scan.

Contacts

  1. Evolution really needs a “Me” card – a contact card the user creates to be the definitive source for their personal contact and collaboration information. The creation of this card could be a walkthrough shown the first time the application is run. I think I saw somewhere that work on this was underway, but just thought I would highlight this as a big deal.
  2. Drag-and-drop of VCF files into the Contact List area would be a welcomed and logical feature (the GNOME HIG does advocate pervasive direct manipulation, after all). To add a contact to a specific list, VCF files could be dropped on contact list names in the lefthand list. Dropping to LDAP servers would have to be handled based on LDAP authentication.
  3. Support for the importing of group vCards seems problematic. I attempted to import a group vCard (version 3.0) exported from Apple’s Address Book application which imported fine in Kontact 1.0; Evolution produced a single contact with miscellaneous information from different contacts. Individual cards are imported without issues.
  4. The Contact Editor
    1. Immediately after selecting a month and day for a contact’s birthday or anniversary, it might make sense to automatically select just the year portion of the date as it is likely that the current year is not the correct one.
    2. Keyboard navigation of the available text fields is somewhat unpredictable in the Mailing Address tab; Return and tab work like they do in a text editing application when the Address box has focus, but they change field focus and activate the default button when other fields have input focus. The most logical solution would be to force the Address box to use the same key behaviors. The HIG recommendation is for the Return key to move among fields in this kind of data input scenario, but I think using the Tab key makes more sense – it is commonly used in other desktop environments and in web forms for field navigation. Return should activate the default button.
    3. Related to the above: pressing the Tab key while the City field has focus takes you to the Address box, which traps you by capturing subsequent tabs. Keyboard navigation quicksand!
    4. Having the Manager, Assistant, and Spouse text fields autocomplete based on existing contacts would be great. Not a huge problem as this is likely only a one-time input, but still of use.
    5. Zip is an abbreviation for Zoning Improvement Plan, so it should be capitalized as ZIP.
  5. The Contact Preview Pane
    1. In the preview pane, it would be nice if instant messaging names were links that would allow users to open new IM conversations in the protocol’s default handler application. I know AOL Instant Messenger uses the “aim:” protocol, but I don’t know about other IM systems. Online and availability status indicators would also be cool.
    2. IM protocol names (AIM, Yahoo) could also function as links to the web pages of clients for the appropriate service.
    3. Actions for addresses: get map, get driving directions (the user’s address would be drawn from their card), print mailing label. Alternatively, addresses could be formatted as links to open maps at Yahoo! Maps or MapQuest.
    4. The type of e-mail address should be indicated: “joe@smith.com (Work)”.
    5. The contact editor uses the wording “File under”, but the contact list view column uses “File As”. A very minor difference, but a difference nonetheless. Yes, I’m that anal retentive.

Calendars

  1. It would be great if the view switching toolbar buttons more clearly indicated the active mode. This could be done by coloring the active icon and/or adding a frame around it. See Slide #2.
  2. The red text coloring of the current day in the month view is deficient in several ways. First, red is one color that some people with colorblindness cannot see well. Second, it just doesn’t stand out, even with normal spectrum vision. I suggest adding a differently colored one or two pixel thicker frame around the current day and perhaps bolding the day number (which might be better displayed in INSERT COLOR HERE). See Slide #3.
  3. For birthday reminders, it might be nice to automatically insert a note stating the age of the person.

Tasks

  1. The Task Editor
    1. Why a 1% incrementer for task completion status? Why not intervals of 10% in a drop-down menu? Allow the user to directly input single percentage increments using the numerical input box.
    2. How about a “Choose Bookmark” button that opens Epiphany’s bookmark manager so the user can pick an existing bookmark? Alternately, a disclosable section (like that used for the new file picker’s “Browse for other folders” widget) that could reveal the user’s bookmarks.
    3. Drag-and-drop of bookmarks from browsers (bookmarks or address field) to the Web Page field should be possible.
    4. The “Group” label within the new task creation window should use the assigned task group color. See Slide #4.
    5. Putting the Start date above the Due date seems more logical to me, but that might just be my way of thinking.
    6. For task group coloring, wrap the task group’s label in the chosen color, which would have the effect of forming a more easily identifiable relationship between color and grouping.
  2. The contextual menu that appears when right-clicking on an existing task list should include a “New Task” command that creates a new task with the group set to that which was clicked on.
  3. When creating a new task by selecting the New Task command from the contextual menu displayed when clicking on a specific day, automatically set the start date to that day, with the time set as the default beginning of the work day as specified in the preferences.
  4. Provide at least one or two other columns by default in the Task view, particularly since the width of the creation window’s Summary field is unlikely to lead the user to write a summary of such length that it requires the entire width of the main window’s task list view to be fully displayed. Priority and Due Date would be my suggestions.

Straw 0.25.1

Straw is a syndication feed reader for GNOME, developed primarily by Juri Pakaste (I think).

Categorization of feeds is a great feature, allowing individual feeds to be displayed as members of multiple groups. For instance, I have a GNOME category and a User Experience category, both of which display Seth Nickell’s weblog, since he is both a GNOME developer and a user experience/interface designer. I like this a lot more than the hierarchical “files in folders” metaphor some other aggregators use. It appears that it is also possible to create sub-categories, but the interface isn’t very clear (I stumbled on this feature by accident).

Suggestions, bugs, etc.

  1. The toolbar display setting is not being inherited from my GNOME Menus & Toolbars preferences, which I’ve tried fiddling with in an effort to get them to take. I had this problem in Liferea, but quitting the application, altering the toolbar display setting and re-opening the application resolved the issue. I’ve tried the same steps with Straw without success.
  2. In addition to inheriting the user’s default toolbar display setting, a View => Customize Toolbar menu would be nice. Take a look at GEdit’s View menu to see what I mean. Here’s the GNOME HIG page regarding the use of toolbars.
  3. Good gravy! Please step up to the GTK+ 2.4 file picker (Figure #6)! The old one is a usability travesty.
  4. Import and Export commands should have ellipses as they require further user interaction to complete, and assigning keyboard shortcuts to them might also be a good idea.
    • Import Subscriptions…Control-Shift-I
    • Export Subscriptions…Control-Shift-E
  5. A contextual menu option to copy the address of feed links (homepage, individual headline) would be nice.
  6. “Mark All as Read” in the contextual menu as it is in the drop-down menu.
  7. The Subscriptions pane contextual menu command reads Remove but the resulting dialog text and button are worded with Delete. A small inconsistency, but one that should be resolved.
  8. Importing grouped OPML files could optionally create categories and sub-categories depending on the hierarchical structuring. Asking users if they would like to do this would probably be best.
  9. Favicons to the left of the feed name would be nice visual differentiators. Their display could be toggled in the General section of the preferences.

Feed Properties Window

Is there any way you could make the Properties window remember its size? Epiphany’s does, so I’m assuming it’s possible.

General

  1. Since the categories cannot be rearranged within the category listing box (a feature that might be of some value), it might make sense for check boxes to be toggled by clicking anywhere within the category’s row instead of the user having to hit the rather small check box itself. See Epiphany’s Bookmark Properties window behavior to see what I mean. It’s a small thing, but it saves a substantial amount of time when assigning categories by providing a far larger click target to the user (Fitts’ Law at work) and decreasing the space between the scrollbar and the space the user must click to (de)select a category.

    Compare the size of the clickable regions (outlined in red):

    Straw:

    Straw's category assignment window

    Epiphany:

    Epiphany's category assignment window

  2. Providing a rollover highlight that indicates that the clickable space extends beyond just the checkbox and label text would also probably help. Check out the File Management preferences that use check boxes or radio buttons (Views and Behavior) to see behavioral examples.

Applications Preferences

Categories

  1. That you can create sub-categories using a slash is not made clear in the category creation interface. I only discovered this by creating a group called “UX/UI” (for User Experience/User Interface). This is potentially a very useful feature that should be clearly noted in the interface.
  2. Instead of two buttons, Ascending and Descending, how about two radio buttons? Radio buttons would more clearly indicate the active setting. You could place the existing button graphics to the right of the appropriate text label:

    Ascending (Graphic)

    Descending (Graphic)

  3. Since most users are not going to use an external source for their syndication feeds, the related interface elements could be placed in section revealed only when the user checks the “Use external source for category contents” box. I’d mock this up, but Glade is still a mystery to me.

Liferea Usability Review

Comments based on Liferea 0.5.2c running atop GNOME 2.6 on Gentoo Linux.

  1. It might be a good idea to include a handful or two of feeds by default. The Liferea-related ones are a good idea. How about adding some general and tech news feeds? A user seeing that they can access the content from some of their favorite sites without having to repeatedly visit them might help draw them into the application.
  2. Choose a term and use it pervasively: Feed or Subscription. My vote goes for feed – subscription has more syllables and has connotations of paid content. Consistent terminology is important, particularly when introducing what is likely to be a new concept.
  3. The application needs a way to select multiple feeds – this is of particular use after importing an OPML file containing feeds you might not need. Being able to select and set custom updating schedules for multiple feeds by using the Properties dialog also has its uses.
  4. For your toolbar, use the user’s Desktop Preferences => Menus & Toolbars settings; if they have it set to display titles, they should be displayed.
  5. I strongly recommend displaying both the date & time in the Headline display pane by default. I don’t have any concrete reasons as to why – it just feels better.
  6. Relative dating (Today, Yesterday, etc.) in the date column would help users orient themselves to the feed’s content.
  7. Also by default, Liferea should probably use the user’s menu bar clock setting (12 or 24 hour).
  8. Is displaying the seconds really necessary? They add to the visual clutter without adding an equal or greater amount of useful information.
  9. Import/Export keyboard shortcuts would be useful, though not really important since these actions are not likely to be performed over and over.
  10. The notification area widget doesn’t behave in a very logical manner (yet), resetting itself to “no new items” after reading a single headline in an updated feed. I think the notification widget should display the count for both new and unread items.
  11. “Mark All as Read” in the feed pane contextual menu rather than “Mark as Read”. Inserting All makes it a tiny bit clearer.
  12. Provide drag-and-drop of feeds and headlines to filesystem locations. For headlines, the content could be formatted as HTML or plain text snippets.
  13. From the GNOME HIG 2.0:

    “Label the menu item with a trailing ellipsis (“…”) only if the command requires further input from the user before it can be performed. Do not add an ellipsis to items that only present a confirmation dialog (such as Delete), or that do not require further input (such as Properties, Preferences or About).”

    1. Feeds => New Subscription…
    2. Feeds => New Folder…
    3. Feeds => Import Feed List…
    4. Feeds => Export Feed List…

    Ellipses should also be used for the New Subscription and New Folder contextual menu commands.

  14. A “Validate Subscription” item in the contextual menu could pass the feed’s syndication URL to http://www.feedvalidator.org. After checking a troublesome feed for proper structuring, users could then use e-mail links in the feed’s meta-data to inform the proper parties of the problem. This could cut down on the number of “this feed doesn’t work, so your application is broken” complaints. I imagine you’ve gotten a few of those.
  15. Speaking of valid feeds not displaying properly… Here is one that feedvalidator.org claims is valid and which displays correctly in NetNewsWire for Mac OS X, but doesn’t display the latest headlines or any post titles in Liferea:

    http://gusmueller.com/blog/rss.xml

  16. For feeds that provide an e-mail address for either the webmaster or managing editor, make them clickable! Doing so should open a new message in the user’s default mail client. This would be handy for reporting feed parsing problems to the parties responsible for such things. Mailto: links within web pages should also be handed off to the default e-mail client rather than simply doing nothing.
  17. A cursor change over clickable links to web pages would be nice. Both Firefox and Epiphany implement this, displaying the pointing finger cursor (I believe I’m using Red Hat’s cursor set, but that might be an X11 thing…) over links.
  18. Do not display the application’s version number in the window title, particularly now that you have a Help menu in which to place the About command. You aren’t alone in this deviation from the HIG; the Ximianized OpenOffice 1.1.1 also needlessly displays its version number. From the GNOME HIG (2.0): “A good window title contains information that is relevant to the user, and distinguishes a particular window from other open windows. Omit information that does not assist in this selection, for example the application’s version number or vendor name.”
  19. Preferences
    • Headline Display: “Open web page links in Liferea’s window”. As I mentioned earlier in this review, other links (mailto, ftp, etc.) should be handled by the GNOME defaults. Handling links to binary files is another problem that will need addressing.

      Also, for the custom time display format, you should include a bit of text explaining how to use the feature as well as an example.

    • GUI: Use “Interface” for the title instead. Geeky technical abbreviations such as GUI should not be used.

Gentoo box en route

Thanks to my brother’s massive collection of spare hardware and the fact that his employer just bought everyone a new workstation, I will soon have a PC running Gentoo Linux.

This will be my first personal Linux box, though I did use Red Hat 9 on a daily basis for about three months when I was serving as a general IT geek alongside my brother at a place called Centerplex. I’d link to the website, but it’s just too embarrassing (not that I designed or coded it!).

I have both GNOME 2.6 and KDE 3.2.1 installed via Fink, but using them atop Darwin isn’t an optimal representation of their functionality because neither one is really well supported; there are rather large functionality gaps within both.

I’ll be posting more Open Source (including, but not limited to, GNOME and KDE) usability reviews as I reacquaint myself with these two environments and run into problems.