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.

What’s In A Name?

With regard to link element title attributes, three useless letters, usually.

The more sites that provide multiple syndication feeds, the more important it is that blogs provide useful names and aggregators be smart about using them.

Firefox

  1. Firefox's built-in syndication menu
  2. Firefox's feed addition dialog
    Firefox tries to be smart, automatically suggesting the page’s title as the Live Bookmark name. As you can see in the Step 1 image, I selected the “sidenotes” feed, not the main post feed as the suggested name implies. This could be mildly confusing to users: did I choose the right feed? Is this an application bug? Assuming the page’s title does work in the vast majority of cases, but causes problems on sites that provide feeds for posts [Atom and/or RSS], comments, photos, links, etcetera.

OmniWeb 5

  1. OmniWeb 5's built-in syndication menu
  2. OmniWeb 5's feed addition dialog
    OmniWeb uses a feed’s title attribute as the suggested feed name, but I usually have to type in a name because it is just “RSS”, the title automatically generated by most weblogging software.

As of version 7.54u1, Opera can aggregate feeds, but the auto-discovery process is pretty lousy; it requires the display of the site navigation bar (View menu -> Toolbars -> Navigation bar) which does not allow you to choose among multiple feeds. If there are multiple feeds, clicking the Newsfeed button displays the source of the first feed and adds it to the built-in aggregator, but there is no way to access the other linked feeds other than the ever joyous process of copying and pasting them from the page source. Opera does not support the “feed:” scheme. More feedback headed for Opera…

For existing sites, adding feed title attribute text is a simple, one-time change that clarifies things a bit for browser subscribers and might also be helpful to future Safari 2.0 users. Not having access to Safari 2.0 builds, I have no idea how it determines a feed’s name.

Looking forward, I’m going to contact weblogging software developers in hopes of getting automatic link title generation into their future releases and browser developers to encourage them to improve their naming logic and auto-discovery processes.

On an unrelated note, Cougar Mountain pumpkin cookies are great. If you are in Seattle between now and March, get some. Warming them for 10-15 seconds in a microwave makes them even better.

Explorers No More

Over the last year or so, I have helped or encouraged seven people from among my friends and family to move from Internet Explorer to Firefox.

Most of them were tired of the lousy user experience (primarily because of pop-ups) provided by or possible because of Internet Explorer’s fabulous security and "features", but only my fellow computer geek/jazz musician friend Nick had already independently sought out an alternative.

Nick was using a mixture of Opera (60%) and IE (40%), but has now set Firefox as his default. He likes Firefox’s simple interface (something you have to work to achieve in Opera) and the search field. I gave him a walkthrough of Firefox’s built-in syndication support (via a Skype call), but I’m not sure if he is regularly using it. He still occasionally uses IE for the Windows Update functionality, which only works with IE and because he likes the ability to move from using a window for local filesystem navigation to Web browsing.

Also, my bass player friend Burt has switched to Firefox, but I cannot count him among those I upgraded; a friend of his installed Firefox when he helped Burt put his PC together. Another geek fighting the good fight.

After upgrading my mother to Firefox, her company’s IT manager asked her, with some disbelief, “you don’t get pop-ups?”. Given that he is the company’s all-purpose computer guy, upgrading him could help spread Firefox through the company.

Firefox bookmark management

Searching

  • The search facility should search all bookmark fields rather than only the Name. Users might not remember what a bookmark was named, but they might remember part of the URL or description. Otherwise, relabel it “Search Names” for clarity’s sake.
  • The search field could be placed in the toolbar as a scope-controllable (All [default], Names, URL/Address, Description) rounded input box to fit better with other OS X applications.

Properties

  • The Properties sheet should be implemented as either an inspector that dynamically updates based on selection or an item-specific info window. Forcing users to focus on an item (the sheet) that doesn’t require action is annoying and inconsistent with pretty much every other OS X application.
  • The Properties sheet (or window) should not have a default button because the Description field allows the Return key to be used within it, meaning the colored button doesn’t activate by hitting it when that field has focus. This appears both in the Bookmark Manager and when accessing the properties information by control/right-clicking on a bookmark toolbar item.
  • The Properties command label in the contextual menu does not use ellipses. Whether or not they should be used at all is debatable.
  • I’d really like to be able to set the update interval and notification method for more than one bookmark at a time. One by one is incredibly tedious. As in OmniWeb, there ought to be a way to set defaults for both for new bookmarks.
  • I’d like to see an option for Firefox to automatically scrape and input a page’s meta name=”description” into a bookmark’s Description field. I’ve already suggested it to the OmniGroup – hurry and you might beat them! 🙂

Miscellaneous

  • Control/Right-clicking on the Bookmark manager’s header row should allow the user to toggle columns, not summon the contextual menu for the item selected in the window.
  • The Tic-Tac widget should toggle the toolbar’s visibility, not the status bar at the bottom of the window.
  • As with Properties, the Preferences window should not be implemented as a sheet. Preference changes apply to the entire application, not just the window the sheet is attached to. The current design is a no-no according to the HIG. Furthermore, the vertical alignment of the sections is at odds with nearly every other OS X application.

Branding Mozilla

I agree with Steven Garrity’s document claiming that Mozilla’s various projects need a substantial overhaul in the visual branding department. For OS X, along with adopting the Apple recommended guidelines for icons, the Pinstripe themes by Kevin Gerich should be made the defaults for both the SeaMonkey and the Firebird/Thunderbird (once available) packages. This will supposedly be happening soon with Firebird. Currently, opening any of the XUL-based Mozilla applications without one of these skins is a jarring experience, just about diametrically opposite to that of OmniWeb.

While the latest release version of Firebird is very good as a browser, it is not very good as a Mac application, largely because the Aqua UI guidelines are loosely followed (to be fair, Apple is guilty of this at times). I know that due to developer and OS makeup percentages, Firebird for OS X will always be a second class citizen. I doubt that it will ever fit as seamlessly into OS X as OmniWeb, Camino, or Safari. Despite this fact, I would like to see Firebird continue to improve steadily and will be submitting suggestions and bug reports.

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.