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.

Don't put that there!

Why do so many OS X applications place data files that are not directly user-modifiable in the “Documents” folder rather than in “~/Library/Application Support” where they belong? This is annoying clutter. The Documents folder is for things that I WANT in there, things that I can edit, things I have created. This is not the place for files which are only meant to be manipulated by the application (itself) that created them.

Sadly, AppleWorks is guilty of this violation. It also appears that F10 Launch Studio is guilty of this. Bad.

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.

Batting .666 or so

My homey Brian is now a happy Firebird user. I showed him the handy Google search field and added the tab button to his toolbar. Why this isn’t in there by default is somewhat perplexing given how tabbed browsing is touted as one of the big reasons to switch from the mangler of web pages known as Internet Explorer. Hiding the feature away in the menus doesn’t make sense. Surely they can afford the space for the “New Tab” button?

While visiting his girlfriend, Brian installed Firebird on her laptop, but she isn’t using it because she says it is slower than IE. Hmm. I wonder if she was referring to starting up or actual page rendering. Because it is so deeply integrated in the system, IE spawns new browser windows very quickly, but I don’t think it is faster at page rendering.

I also installed Firebird on my father’s Windows laptop. He is glad to be rid of the pop-ups his co-workers are still dealing with.

I continue to be amazed with computer users coping skills – I go nuts if I use a browser that doesn’t have pop-up control built-in. Yes, I know about the free Google Toolbar. It is very nice of Google to fix Microsoft’s software for them.

Lost In Translation

Good setting, pacing, and casting.

The only scene in the movie that I found lacking was the filming of the television commercial. The Japanese director would give about a minute worth of direction, which the translator would relay to Bill Murray as such simple things as “Look from the right.” This is the stereotypical portrayal of foreign languages – a foreign character will give an extended monologue full of inflection that is then translated into English (sometimes in sub-titles) as “Yes.”

This:

??????????????” ??” ?

Becomes “No.”

(The string of odd characters was a line of Japanese glyphs, but either MT or MySQL doesn’t like Unicode. Phooey.)