Wonderfully ironic

Here’s a somewhat amusing quote from Robert Scoble (while he was still at UserLand):

every PC today is really a macintosh | Acts of Volition

scoble@userland.com

http://scobleizer.manilasites.com

Virginia Howlett at Microsoft told me she designed Windows using a Macintosh (she was lead interface designer on Windows 3x). I have a feeling that she moved over to Windows 95 shortly after she told me this, but it still is an interesting piece of trivia.

Steve Wozniak is one of the nicest and most genuine people I know. He still answers his email, by the way, and if you call him on his phone number (you can find it on the Internet — it’s the same number he’s had for more than 10 years) he’ll pick up the phone and talk with you.

I owe my career to Woz and will always have a soft spot in my heart for him.

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.

Smart Bookmarks?

This idea came to me as I was both using iTunes’s Smart Playlists and managing my bookmarks in Safari. Since both Safari and Camino‘s bookmarks are stored in an XML format, I’m sure it is possible to add several useful meta-data types to them. A rating option and a comment field (already available in Camino) would be nice. XBEL does not appear to immediately support a rating system, but it could probably be added to the standard.

With an ever expanding collection of bookmarks, I find that there are quite a few sites that are worth bookmarking, but are not necessarily great or frequently updated/visited. OmniWeb allows you to set a custom site-update checking interval for every bookmark, but this is not very useful as an organizational metric. An “out of five stars” rating system would be easily understood by users and useful as a possible organizer. Ratings could be used to sort your bookmarks, allowing you to put your frequent visited sites at the tops of menus without having to manually arrange them.

If you have four sites with a five-star rating, how could you specify what order you wanted those four to appear in? iTunes handles this by simply ordering them alphabetically, but this takes a bit of control out of the user’s hands.

The type of list building and sorting that is available in iTunes playlists would be useful in many other applications, but it is dependent on there being a meta-data infrastructure. You can’t build a list based on nothing! Bookmarks themselves have very little meta-data by default – the name of the site is about it. If Apple would adopt and get involved in the expansion of XBEL as a cross-browser bookmark format, things might improve.

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.

Improving Firebird defaults

While I think Firebird is a great browser, there are several things that could improve initial user reactions to it.

My biggest question is why are the much-touted tabs hidden away from the user? The “New Tab” button isn’t on the default toolbar and the first window is configured to display a single page. These defaults are not bad, but they do not show off one of Firebird’s biggest advantages over Internet Explorer, the aforementioned tabs.

I suggest that the first spawned window contain two tabs, both displaying sections of a tutorial on using Firebird (such as the Firebird Features page). In the first tab, the user would be walked through the process of opening links in a new tab and opening/closing tabs. The second tab could have information on using bookmarks, configuring toolbars, and other customization options.

The default bookmark toolbar ought to have a folder of popular (standards compliant!) sites that would show users how they can set up folders of sites and easily launch them simultaneously with the “Open In Tabs” command found at the bottom of the menu.

It is good to see that the developers of both Firebird and Mozilla have sites detailing the advantages of the respective projects, but I think it would be more effective to show and tell rather than just tell.

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.