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November 19, 2012

Windows 8

Filed under: Usability,Win8 — see @ 11:24 pm

I wanted to write a bit about Windows 8 for quite some time now but never came round actually doing it. While reading Nielsens Alertbox on Windows 8 I remembered and actually have a reason now to write something, mainly to address some points in Nielsens rant – ok, it is none ;) but some stuff in general too.

 

I have noticed quite a few reactions to Windows 8 until now:

In the beginning (maybe end of 2011/beginning of 2012) most were hostile, later on hate came to that…

Magazines like c’t magazine (maybe one of the leading german computer magazines?) printed pages over pages of basically rants about a system they never even tried properly (as it was not finished at the time). I don’t want to go into details but in my humble opinion they seemed kinda biased at the time. Everything a certain other company did (even the very minor and even to long time OS-X users lame Mountain Lion update) was great, everything MS did was not so.
Strangely enough this has changed in the latest issues. They now are critical as they are supposed to be (and which in one reason I like the mag) but not “ranty” in the sense of almost unfair and biased anymore.Actually Windows 8 seemed to have grown on them?

BTW, haters are to be seen elsewhere too of course. ZDnet seems to have a lot of writers on anything MS does and some like Win8, some just hate it. (Commenting on all the writers of all the online mags and blogs and if all the stuff they write is actually just for the sake of writing anything is another topic ;) .

Even reactions of people I know were partly “hate”. Ironically enough mostly from Windows users. Mac users were actually quite open and somehow interested (not that they would switch but still).

Other reactions by some people I know were simply “ignorant” – not in a negative way though.
I myself have not really  looked into any upcoming version of Windows until at least Service Pack 1 was out.
That is not since Windows 95 ;)
Exception was Windows 7 to which I upgraded almost immediately (not that I disliked Vista much, but Win7 seemed and was mature enough).

And then Windows 8. I got a Windows Phone in 2011 and immediately liked the UI. So guess because of this excitement actually installed the first version of Win8 I could lay my hands on (Consumer Preview in about April 2011?) in dual boot with Windows 7 on my main PC. I did not use CR that much (CR was an early preview) but the later version from I think May/June I gradually used more and more until with the general availability of the RTM (actually even earlier) I hardly ever booted into Windows 7 at all anymore.
So I guess I have used Windows 8 for almost 6 months now. Not exclusively as I still used Win7 (almost daily) at work but still. I actually updated to Win8 at work now too though ;)

 

So I think I have a bit of experience with this new Windows. And NEW it is. So I thought I comment a bit on the issues Nielsen writes about in his Alertbox.

  1.  The double nature of Win8 is jarring at the beginning
    True. At the beginning…
  2. Lack of multiple Windows?
    Desktop still works with multiple windows, just as before (more on that later). And actually there are at least two possible windows in Modern-UI. But true, it might not be the easiest thing to do this. But especially compared to e.g. iPad/Android tablets this is a great and welcome improvement (even if maybe used by more advanced users only).
    BTW, browser apps actually almost only have a single “screen” and not a lot of people complain about this. There would be the option of multiple browser windows at the same time, but almost no one I know uses this setup. There also are tabs in most browsers, but one could simply see multitasking on tablet OSs as this.
  3. Flat style:
    Maybe Nielsen is right, the “extreme flat” is basically a reaction to the extreme skeuomorphic style of especially iOS and maybe both are just too extreme. OTOH, I think MS did not have the chance to go the middle ground… And actually partly think this IS a matter of taste and actually I like it a lot :)
  4. low information density:
    True, but not necessarily bad. And mostly dependent on the app…
  5. Overly live tiles:
    Definitely true. But this totally depends on the app and the live tile it provides. Of course most app providers go over the top (like every website goes over the top with the homepage ;) and maybe MS should at least point this out during app submission (they should not reject apps for this, there are other companies whose name should not be spelled out ;) who would do this but I do hope MS does not). OTOH you can always disable a live tile, again, maybe an average user does not know this or won’t bother.
    AND: I think live tiles are generally the best thing since sliced bread. Ok, ok, not really ;) but still they are verrry useful (if done right like Nielsen points out, e.g. apps like Calendar, Mail etc) and are a big improvement over static icon-filled screens with no real value. I guess there always will be the typical offender with a massively annoying livetile but the same could be said for icons. I think tiles are simply the next evolution of app icons.
    Maybe comparable to static images vs video or a static JPG vs GIF. For some purposes the static version is better (and should be used static) but for some purposes (and especially with all the communication stuff like messaging services, email, social stuff etc) a live tile is just the thing to do (again, if used properly). With tiles you have the choice.
  6. Charms:
    True, they are hidden. A friend of mine did not even find the search in the Store app. And it took me some time to find out how to shut down my PC or print from the Mail app. But actually the charms are very useful once properly understood. I especially like the “Share” charm which makes better (than simple copy&paste) inter-app communicationpossible at all.True, maybe search and esp Devices (used e.g. for printing) need getting used to. But once they are, they are much faster and easier to use than app specific stuff.
    Guess a bit similar to websites where certain things have become almost the norm like the logo in the top left, search in the top right for the exact same reason they are the way now in the Charms bar. And the difference of a website or a single app to an OS feature is that people will get used to the feature just because no app can do different (unlike a website which may screw up almost any best practice – sorry for the use of this terrible term ;)
  7. Gestures:
    Yes, some are complicated. The most complicated (open tasks view) has two simplifications though: Use ALT-TAB if you have a keyboard. Use swipe-in from the left to quickly switch between all open apps.Actually multitasking on touch seems generally hard. Android now has an explicit button for it (copped out ;) . iOS double click and endlessly swipe through a lot of icons (no app preview) is actually worse.So I guess gestures on Win8 could be improved on and maybe we see this in Windows 9 or even in “Blue” already? But again, once you used to the gestures, they are real time savers (on touch at least).
  8. Terrible for PCs:
    Actually I think this is not true. Windows 8 could simply be used like Windows 7. Use the desktop only, maybe even install a start button replacement app (you won’t need one, just try without).
    This is actually the point where I think Nielsen is missing something. Maybe some Modern-UI apps are difficult to use on a non-touch PC. Yes, but there is always a desktop replacement. Windows 7 was complete(!) and Win8 did actually not remove anything from it (again, forget that start button!).Also, maybe people should try a touch PC. I am already happy without one but see e.g. Jeff Atwood’s interesting posts about touch laptops/replacement
  9. One Windows Everywhere:
    Nielsen says: “wrong”. I don’t think so. Just ignoring the fact MS could not simply have developed a completely new and totally unrelated OS (like Apple did with iOS in 2007) now, no one including me would have been interested.
    Nielsen totally ignores the interoperability aspect (or would the term network effect?) of different devices. The web was and still is so successful because it runs everywhere. And yes, the web also has a lot of usability problems, also and maybe because it runs everywhere…E.g. synchronization seems one of the most interesting and also hardest problems and having the same OS (or at least very similar, see Win8 vs WinRT) is a step towards it. And yes Windows 8 is far from perfect. But the direction is exactly right and a needed innovation.

Maybe to summarize a bit.

I think Windows 8 is at least as useful and productive as Windows 7. An average user maybe needs a week to come up to speed with it, but then would even be more productive than with Windows 7 (Windows 8 has quite a few improvement like improved startup time, native opening of a VM or ISO images which is very useful, an improved file explorer including improved libraries and even slightly improved taskbar, etc, etc). The average user probably won’t use much of modern UI (on a normal non-touch PC) but will use the desktop maybe for 95% of the time.
The new Start screen is in this scenario just a glorified Start menu (if using desktop apps only there would even be no live tiles but just program shortcuts just like in Windows 7).

But Windows 8 does add some stuff too and there are already quite useful and impressive Modern-UI apps which show even with keyboard and mouse new ways for programs.

On a touch PC (laptop, all-in-one, touch-monitor or whatever) Windows 8 mostly uses the same programs and apps, but more importantly the same services etc. And compared to other tablet OSs, Windows 8 usability is IMHO already better, just new and needs more time getting used to. I think like Windows Phone the Windows 8 UI is not learned nor liked in 5 minutes. It gets appreciated as you use it. And an OS does not need to be learned in 5 minutes if it is useful in the long run. (For if an OS needs to be liked in 5 minutes is  maybe a problem for marketing, but that is another topic altogether…).

Windows 8 with touch is even better. Or maybe a hybrid laptop is the best machine.

Anyway, there is no real reason not to use Windows 8. The very average user won’t upgrade anyway (he never does) but when getting a new PC/machine/laptop/device Windows 8 is an improvement over Windows 7 even a very average user will be happy with it I believe.

 

October 3, 2012

Touch handling in Windows 8 JS app

Filed under: CSS,HTML5,Javascript,Win8 — see @ 9:12 pm

Documentation for handling touch in Windows 8 style (Metro ;) apps with Javascript is not really sparse but nevertheless or maybe because of that a total mess. Lots of decriptions of classes (random links…),  some blog posts, a few samples which all seem very complicated and a few (better) pointers can even be found at StackOverflow (where else ;) .

Guess as until now I only used wrapper libs like Zepto or a few jQuery plugins for mobile touch handling (mostly iOS) which abstract the hard parts away I expected the code to handle a simple swipe left/right to be simpler.

After playing around a few hours, being lost in the depths of the Microsoft docs I came up with this:

 // define GestureRecognizer
 var recognizer = new Windows.UI.Input.GestureRecognizer();
 recognizer.gestureSettings = Windows.UI.Input.GestureSettings.manipulationTranslateX
 recognizer.addEventListener('manipulationcompleted', function (e) {
   var dx = e.cumulative.translation.x
   // **actually do something, left or right defined by dx > 0 or < 0**
 });

 // actual element which feeds the GestureRecognizer
 var processUp = function (args) {
   try {
     recognizer.processUpEvent(args.currentPoint);
   }
     catch (e) { } // translateYfails ?!
   }
 var swiper = document.querySelector('.swipearea')
 swiper.addEventListener('MSPointerDown', function (args) {
   try {
     recognizer.processDownEvent(args.currentPoint);
   }
     catch (e) { } // translateYfails ?!
   }, false);
 swiper.addEventListener('MSPointerMove', function (args) {
   try {
     recognizer.processMoveEvents(args.intermediatePoints);
   }
     catch (e) { } // translateYfails ?!
   }, false);
 swiper.addEventListener('MSPointerUp', processUp, false);
 swiper.addEventListener('MSPointerCancel', processUp, false);

All in all and in the end almost logical. You preprare a GestureRecognizer and feed it with events from a DOM element. This actually seems capable of doing lots of much more advanced stuff but for a simple swipe left/right gesture seems almost overkill. I wonder if there is something simpler?

In addition I do not understand why the recognizer feeding methods like recognizer.processUpEvent do actually raise an exception if in the above case a up/down swipe is used. One reason is that the element actually has a normal overflow, so the normal scrolling works there. This is the reason the recognizer is set up to only actually handle manipulationTranslateX gestures. But why the additional exceptions?

Anyway, the above seems to work (at least on my desktop and the simulator with both Mouse and BasicTouch mode). Not the simple stuff I have hoped for but maybe I did it all too complicated? Any hints are very much appreciated :)

November 2, 2010

SSDs

Filed under: Life — see @ 10:38 pm

When I build my current PC in spring I got a small SSD (Intel 40GB) plus a big standard HDD. Actually this runs really well. Very quick bootup (about as fast as an ipod touch startup…). And why you wonder why I write about this, just to maybe win a new and bigger SSD at Netbooknews.de ;)

Would be nice to finally get a netbook and add the SSD to it :)

August 7, 2010

HTML5 canvas API chainable (jQuery like)

Filed under: HTML5,Javascript — see @ 7:01 pm

While playing around with HTML5 canvas (with jQuery on the page) I noticed the rather tedious writing of

canvas = $('canvas')
ctx canvas.get(0).getContext('2d')
ctx.dothis...
ctx.dothat...

So I thought a jQuery like chaining syntax would be nice. Only first try but it seems actually quite simple. Code I came up with:

function jqContext(canvas) {
	function jqContext(canvas) {
	/* Canvas 2D Context wrapper allowing jQuery like chaining */
	var self = this
	self.context = canvas.get(0).getContext('2d')
	
	// wrap properties of context chainable, without argument
    // returning current value, with argument setting value
	$(['fillStyle'
	   ,'font'
	   ,'strokeStyle'
	   ,'textAlign' ,'textBaseline'
	   ,'mozImageSmoothingEnabled'
	]).each(function() {
		 var property = this
		 self[property] = function(a) {
		  	 if (a != undefined) {
		 		 self.context[property] = a
				 return self 
			 } else {
				 return self.context[property]
			 }
		 }
	})
	// wrap methods of context
	$(['arc',
	   'beginPath', 'closePath'
	   ,'drawImage' //?
	   ,'fillText', 'strokeText'
	   ,'lineTo'
	   ,'moveTo',
	   ,'fillRect', 'strokeRect', 'clearRect'
	   ,'stroke'
	]).each(function() {
	    var method = this
	    self[method] = function() {
		    self.context[method].apply(self.context, arguments)
		    return self			
	    }
    })
	// wrap methods of context NOT chainable
	$(['createLinearGradient'
	]).each(function() {
	    var method = this
	    self[method] = function() {
		    return self.context[method].apply(self.context, arguments)
	    }
    })
}

So now I can write:

c = $('<canvas></canvas>').appendTo('body')
c.css({
	width: 800,
	height: 400,
	border: '1px solid #ccc'
})

x = new jqContext(c)
x
.strokeStyle('#f00')
.strokeRect(0,0, 100, 100)
.fillRect(40,50, 100, 100)
.clearRect(70,50, 80, 100)

Don’t know if worth the effort and only a test (not complete at all obviously) but fun ;)

UPDATE: Improved the class a bit, calling a property wrapper with no value returns the current value now, also added a few more methods…

February 21, 2010

(pirated) usage of stuff (DVD and BD and other)

Filed under: Data,Death,Film,Usability — see @ 1:49 pm

Reading “buying DVDs vs pirating them” reminded me again that I wanted to rant about this stuff  (again…).

Using DVD as a normal innocent user is a pain (for more see article):

  • handling constrictions preventing the user to skip stuff like unwanted trailers, REALLY unwanted trailers about “copy is a theft” (WTF, I bought this DVD!), long menu animations and the really annoying “warning, do not copy” signs in up to 50 languages or more!
  • region code bullshit
  • not easily (e.g. officially forbidden by law in Germany and elsewhere) being able to make a backup copy (DVDs are delicate, I had a few ones lasting 2 or 3 years only :( )
  • lots more…

Using BDs is about the same if not worse as copy protection handling via HDMI is just unbearably slow.

CDs with copy protection (which seem to get out of fashion finally) and their specific problems (incompatibility with cars, computers, even security problems – I somehow recall a rootkit there) are about the same category. The music industry seem to have (painfully)  learned a bit from the past years but still seem to not fully understand what their customers want :( There are hardly any hidef music downloads available despite more and more users would be able to use and enjoy them (ranting about MP3 music downgrading and people being educated to accept this crap is another story…)

Even stuff like the iPhone could be added to this. Otherwise no one would have developed Jailbreak in the first place…

All share the same annoyance: Having to deal with constrictions which are not technical (these would be understandable even for an ignorant user) but are purely arbitrary.

Mostly I am annoyed that when I do use this stuff normally (no ripping etc) I am being cheated. Pirates have the better experience. And a good experience is what all the media are made for in the first place, are they not? So somehow producers force people to cheat on them which in turn makes producers feel forced to add more constrictions – vicious circle.

Producers seem to ignore what people want but focus on what they the producers need. This may be ok upto a point but totally ignoring the demands of the consumer is just plain stupid.

I don’t think ranting about this stuff will help at all but what can you do?

More and more people seem to not buy CDs anymore, rip their DVDs or even BDs, Jailbreak their iPhones (I guess roughly half the men I know do this, BTW, iPhone seems to be male only anyway…) etc.

But pirating is not my preferred method and actually I wonder why people in the creative business especially (to which I count designers etc but also IT people, who understand the difference between a technical and arbitrary constriction even better) use some kind of pirating which they would strongly argue against when dealing with their own “creations”…

Solution? Highly unlikely to happen but a producer should research what a consumer wants and offer a product which fulfils these wants without destroying the experience. I still naively think the better product will win…

(pirating) usage

February 6, 2010

On office organization?

Filed under: Design,Life — see @ 9:15 pm

Due to the fact that office layout at work has changed recently I was forced (being quite annoyed by the change actually) to think about how a middle sized (web)agency could work more efficiently (smaller agencies probably just sit in one big office and bigger ones have bigger problems anyway ;) .

How to place people into offices influences how they communicate which influences how they work together and in the end if they work efficiently or not. Things to consider:

  • people in a fixed project team (working more or less exclusively on that one project)
  • people having a variety of different projects
  • skill groups (specialists like the visual design group, the conceptual design group, the development group (which might again be devided in backend programming, frontend development, and maybe a dedicated flash group),  the management group (project managers and the like) and maybe other specialized staff like business development, PR, HR and accounting and possible teamleaders of any group
  • human factors

Leaving more organizational groups like accounting etc out of focus and concentrating on the majority of groups in a webagency (people working on projects at hand) I guess there are more or less two questions:

  1. how to make inner project communication and work efficient (the project team)
  2. how to make cross project and skillgroup communication possible (for the smaller projects with no dedicated team or people having multiple projects)

It seems question 1 is mandatory to answer as any company needs to finish any given project on time, budget and quality just to survive…

“Classic” agencies (especially) which mostly work on certain “accounts” seem to have fixed teams on any given account and so answer question 1 simply by putting all people working on an account together (which sometimes has the side effect that if an account is lost the whole project team is suddenly out of work and sometimes simply “lost” too – but that is not the point here ;)

Any agency not working in separated “accounts” but instead where most people work on several projects more or less in parallel has a problem there as there simply are no “projectteams” to place together.
(There is an additional  problem with fixed project teams. They tend to separate themselves from the other projects both on the personal and the work level. In the long term this is quite a dangerous problem for an agency.)

An idea how to solve this would be to place smaller projects dynamically into temporal “work” offices as long as the project lasts. (Preconditions of course are free dedicated office space (which sometimes would be double booked or in calmer times not needed at all and so somehow wasted) and you need all people to be mobile (mainly meaning they got a laptop and not a fixed PC)).
Again this does only work for short “peak work” (like pitches for new projects or code sprints etc) but not if projects actually are worked on in parallel. I do think however that dedicated space for short term concentrated work is a good idea.

Still you end up having to place all people into something that answers the two questions above. (Also I think to have fixed working place is good for a lot of people just to be able to concentrate on a task like e.g. a design or a complex Java application programming.)

Question 1 of inner project communication actually does not seem to be such a problem after all. I would argue that even if a project team does not work in one room they can work  together efficiently. They might schedule  regular meetings and they might work dynamically together in adhoc work teams simply by grouping in an office for some hours. Actually question 1 does more or less answers itself as the people involved simply HAVE TO communicate just to finish the project. (Of course you need to look into details e.g. if it would be good to place two people near each other who work close most of the time anyway. So I think small adjustments should be sufficient.)

Question 2 how to enable cross project and inner-skill group communication is a bit harder. It does not simply happen by itself as there is no need to do so.

One might think this communication is simply not needed at all and could be neglected completely.
But without communication here syndicated skills and knowledge transfer does not happen either! Any solution for a specific problem will be invented over and over again which simply kills efficiency naturally…

Also experience shows that cross project and inner-skillgroup communication actually is hard to achieve by outside means. Dedicated skill meetings can only help up to a certain level as day-to-day work is different to what you can present and discuss in a meeting or workshop. I think natural work side by side gives at least a certain amount of group communication.

So I think there are a few options to place people together.

  • place people of a skillgroup (including skillgroup teamleaders) together in dedicated offices as they naturally (implicitly) learn from each other despite not being on the same project
  • maybe mix members of different skillgroups into “knowledge groups”. I think you need to have at least 2 of every skill group in such a knowledge group (e.g. 2 visual designer and 2 conceptual designer) because of point 1. Knowledge groups instead of simple skillgroups have the advantage of cross skillgroup communication but may have the same problem as project teams (see next point). This cross skillgroup communication may better be handled with in actual explicit projects and not in the implicit communication talked about here
  • move dedicated project teams near to each other but not in a single office (problem of separation)
  • project managers are better off in separate offices (due to noise issues of phone calls alone)
  • have temporal office space available for “peak work” which would then provide for project (or cross skillgroup) communication

You still have the problem which people of a skillgroup (or multiple skills) to place together. But there also are a few options you have:

  • simply ask people what they think! (You might find out mondane stuff like if somebody likes to sit in a small or big office and possibly cannot fulfill any wishes but at least you know possible problems)
  • look which people worked well together in the past (in projects or in skillgroups). Some people just work together nicely while others simply cannot be productive together. This is a human thing and should not be underestimated but is a problem which normally can be avoided quite easily.

The problem of office organization definitely is difficult. Therefor you have to be careful with any change and also that you keep the balance of good inner- and crossproject communication. Also optimizing in details might be the best idea. On the surface minor thing like office layout might have other results than expected. There are the problems described above. But also any reorganization results in a reorganization of all the human relationships too. And these may take a while to adjust again (or might not adjust not at all in case you need to change again)…

December 25, 2009

notes about the iPod Touch

Filed under: Design,Usability — Tags: — see @ 7:42 pm

I guess I am what you would call an “Apple-Loathing” person ;) Anyway I had the chance (luck or doom is another question) to try an iPod Touch 3rd generation. Main idea was to use it as a highend remote control for a stereo streaming system but of course I tried other stuff and following some notes about the experience :)

  1. 1st impression after receiving it (from Amazon, quickly as always and at a good price point): The iPod in a glass coffin and it is small – the package that is. In contrast to almost all other technical stuff I ever got the actual content size compared to the containing box is not the usual 1:10 or 1:20, it is more like 1:2 which is actually quite nice. If you like the coffin design is a matter of taste. Nice but a bit too fairy-taley for mine ;) . Anyway…
  2. Unboxing: Getting the iPod out of the coffin is not that easy. You have to look on the drawing on the box as I did not wanted to break the box. Despite being a designer myself I think the whole contents of the box is almost a bit overdesigned. E.g. The “notes” (of course as with all modern equipment no printed manual) in a couple of languages is bind in a small paper clip which resembles the plastic packaging around the complete box. But I guess I am quibbling…
  3. Size: The size of the pod is somehow strange. The screensize is ok but somehow the pod does feel a little thin. I do not have small hands but not very big manly ones either ;) but it does not feel comfortable. Maybe also due to the chose material it always feels “slipping away”…
  4. What is a bit annoying though is the missing charger. Only a single cable connecting the (of course) proprietery iPod connector to a standard USB connector. I knew before but iPods can only be charged via a computer unless you buy a standalone USB charger. I guess Apple sells these too (probably for a horrendous price) but I know you can get them for a couple of Euros. Still this should be included in a product at this price point. Guess about the same annoyance as the Apple specific Mini-Displayports on modern Macbooks where Apple does rip-off people by selling e.g. a MD to VGA adapter for 69€…
  5. itunes: To actually use the iPod you more or less MUST install iTunes and if you want to use any apps or buy any music you MUST have an iTunes account. Getting one is suspicously easy AND Apple wants a telephone number (WTF?!). Also without a credit card you are lost. I don’t mind paying by CC but I know hardly any shop where you give your card details first and not later like on the first purchase. iTunes makes it much too easy to buy stuff. If you are not very cautious you might buy stuff without even realizing it. I prefer any shopping to be a bit more safe for my own sake.
  6. Affilate Marketing: I know a lot of products come with bloatware or whatever you’d call it preinstalled. iPod being no exception contains a Nike app (or whatever it is, I don’t care) and also as early as during the registration process you get ads which I find rather distracting at that point. Probably sign o’ the times but still VERY annoying…
  7. Grease: After exploring the pod a bit I noticed that after hardly ten minutes it looked like I had owned it for a year and used it during any meal I ever had… You could argue that I may have very greasy hands or that I sweat a lot (I would deny both, hell I am a desk jockey after all) but the amount of grease on the chromium backside is not nice at all. I somehow expect a glass touchscreen to get a bit smeary after some use but the back of the pod looks just awful after only a few minutes. Probably the same idiotic idea like other manufatures use highly polished surfaces on almost all products these days (DVD players seem to actually want to adduct dust or look at net/notebooks with black high polishesd surfaces where you place your hands etc etc). Looks good if you don’t use it at all, actually only if you don’t unpackage it either. This sucks…
  8. Touch (not really iPod specific): Actually the pod is more of less the first touch product I used for a longer period of time (apart from having used Wacom tablets for some years which of course is different as “touch” and view are separated) so certainly am no expert on it. On first use it is highly addictive to scroll and tap on the screen (as seen by loads of teenagers or managers sitting anywhere playing with there iPhones or other touchphones) and actually is fun. Nevertheless the general problem with touch esp on smaller screens is that you can only touch OR view the stuff under your finger ;) For example longer lists you may want to scan are actually more difficult to scan via touch than e.g. a mouse with a scroll wheel. The iPod’s initial purpose was a music player where you have long lists of music albums etc. so exactly where you need to scan something quickly… I guess for a mobile device it is quite good but depending on what you want to do another device (small netbook?) may be a better idea. My initial idea using the iPod as a (rather expensive) remote control mainly at home does work but I wonder if another device would be better…
  9. Flatland (as termed by Bruce Tognazzini): I only got about 5 apps in the appstore yet but already notice the exact problem Tog describes in his Flatland article. Look there if you want to know more, it really is quite interesting
  10. UI: Generally the UI is ok but not great. Somehow I miss more settings to fiddle with (and yes I know, most people may never view the initial settings if they don’t have to…). E.g. rearranging the apps on the home screen is easy enough (press an icon until all icons shake and simply move the apps around). But why can’t I move an app to the special bar at the bottom (this can be done but only via iTunes which is strange enough). And the general problem with small devices and typing is still present. I always feel kind of amputated. Typing the WiFi or iTunes password (mix of chars, numbers or even special chars) with 1-2 fingers is just pain. I have not used a Blackberry or other phone which has a “fuller” keyboard but heard they have a better typing experince (I guess not great either though). I guess for any longer text (or even shorter but specific ones like passwords and the like) a touch keyboard is always inferior compared to a real keyboard. Also I somehow feel the handling of the iPod is not coherent or seamless. I e.g would like that a tap on the battery status would show me the detailed status but not so. Also I find the single actual button (the home button) rather cheap in it’s feeling. When mainly using the touch screen but being forced to use the home button for some action it does kinda feel akward…

All in all I actually feel about the iPod Touch as I expected. Some nasty Apple stuff (iTunes, ads and the like), and on the other hand the handling which is not bad. Maybe I am even a bit disappointed as I expected a bit more from the touch experience.

(I guess all stuff is highly subjective so don’t start any flame wars but feel free to make comments of course. I will never be an Apple fanboy but despite some people’s assumption I don’t just hate anything from Apple and hope I have not ranted too much ;)

October 8, 2009

cssutils 0.9.6final release and …

Filed under: CSS,cssutils,Python — see @ 12:53 pm

Yesterday I finally made a final release of cssutils after five alpha and four beta releases in about 10 months. This shows I sadly could not spend much time on it but actually this release has some nice stuff I think:

  • serializing is much improved (like 0.0px gets 0 now and so on)
  • some IE only values are at least parsable (alpha(…), expression(…)) and so these sheets can be minified with cssutils now
  • a complete rewrite of CSSValues (which still need a lot of work though)
  • Jython and GAE compatibility
  • added extensible CSS profiles (even someone used this for a start of a SVG profile)
  • implemented @font-face and http://www.w3.org/TR/css3-fonts/ spec (not complete probably but at least all stuff should be parsable now)
  • lots of both reported and internal bugfixes
  • lots of minor improvements…

Maybe I did this release now mainly because I wanted to start a little bit of new stuff and get this “out of the way”. Also a single (final) release in a year is the minimum I guess.

For 0.9.7 I plan some new stuff. For a long time there has been a big discussion about CSS variables and some people think they are even evil (to which I partly agree). On the other hand there seem to be quite a few CSS preprocessors (lesscss, hss, clevercss, etc) springing up so there seem to be a certain need for it. Also there is the CSS Variables spec which I think is even implemented in Webkit. So I thought why not add something like this to cssutils. People need not use it but if they want to, why not put it in this lib too ;)

So I guess I will implement the CSS Variables spec and maybe something like mix-in classes which I guess would be an extension to this and also seem to be quite useful.

A simple WSGI based CSS handler which would resolve both – variables and mix-ins – on the server would be nice. In the past I mainly used web.py but maybe I’ll try out a few other “mini-frameworks” (not sure if they like being called that but in lack of a better name) like e.g. werkzeug or bobo. If you have any preferences or suggestion please write in the comments (I prefer smaller frameworks and not bigger ones like Django for now but the results would certainly be very easily adaptable).

In addition to this (which may or may not lead to something) CSSValues still have to be reworked.

Also there is going quite a bit in the CSS world currently (the mailing list has become very lively in the last one or two years). So I guess I pick a few things which I think may be useful in the near future (and also will not take too much time to implement :) and add them to the next release.

July 6, 2009

@media 2009

Filed under: Design,Usability,Web — see @ 9:30 pm

I have been to @media 2009 in London last week (or more exactly the week before). Again after @media AJAX 2007 a really, really good conference for web development. I did not except so much design related stuff, speakers nor attendants but actually that was a true bonus. Talks I expected nothing from were among the best (interesting, inspiring and entertaining). The 1st day was more design related with the second  with the focus more on technical stuff including usability etc.

Following just a few links to the presentations I could find online. Sadly not all seem to be available (or I am just not search-capable enough :) .

  • Andy Clark‘s “Keynote” which was really good (and presenting a workflow I strongly agree with, have agreed with for years and sometimes are even able to promote and use). Unfortunately I cannot find the slides…
  • Simon Collison on Process. Even transcribes are available: http://www.colly.com/comments/media2009_the_process_toolbox/

    http://erskinelabs.com/post/the-process-toolbox-part-one-project-backbone

    http://erskinelabs.com/post/the-process-toolbox-part-two-collaboration

  • Jon Hicks on Icon design (and much more!) The most surprising and one of the best talks for me. Not just “fancy icons” as I expected at first but much much more interesting stuff, sorry!
  • Dan Rubin on Designing Virtual Realism (actually not what I expected but certainly not bad)
  • Mark Boulton on Typography/Fonts for the Web which was really good and true. Mark speaks as engaged and inspiring as hardly anyone I heard before. Sadly no presentation found yet :(
  • Jason Santa Maria on Thinking Small (for website design). Nice (not as good as his designs which is no criticism because that would make him about  the best speaker ever…) but no slides either yet :(
  • Douglas Crockford on Quality most which (the lack of) was (sadly) too true (at least from my limited experience).
  • Chris Wilson on the Web Platform which unexpectedly (for me) was also about typography and fonts on the web. Good talk! No slides found yet though :(
  • Molly Holzschlag on HTML5. Shown was e.g this and a jolly talks with HTML5 itself was presented too. I expected an a bit more agressive talk after that post of her a while ago (can’t find it anymore?) but it was interesting new material about HTML5 after all. I just cannot find any more material of the talk itself…
  • Andy Budd on Guerilla Usability Testing: Good but probably as I have seen and experience a lot in this area nothing really new for me here. But again no slides found…
  • Robin Christopherson who himself is blind gave a talk on new stuff for a more accessible web. Very interesting and for anyone never seen a blind person using a laptop a revelation in itself. Definitely something I need to look more into even as I know quite a bit in this area already…

All in all a very broad spectrum of topics but just deep enough.  And therefore very recommended!

If anyone knows where to find the missing slides please let me know or put it in the comments. Very appreciated.

May 2, 2009

Blu-ray blues…

Filed under: Death,Film,Usability — see @ 12:20 pm

I do like watching movies. I used to go to the cinema very frequently (there was a time in which I went more than 200 times in a single year). I totally passed on Video as the quality never was good enough (and I also never had the money to buy a decent TV and VHS at the time ;) . And VHS just was not anywhere near cinema quality.

When DVD came out (and became affordable) I got a player and also a projector with which a cinema like experience at home was almost possible. I did not get any high-end player nor projector but still the experience has been worth it and it is affordable. Also starting at that time I like watching movies in their native language which is a real problem in Germany as most films are dubbed and not just subtitled. This is the main reason I do not go to the cinema very often these days. At home I can see movies in their native language (it takes a while until films are released on DVD etc but this time has been getting less and less recently and I think almost bearable now). See also An Epic Fail which is very interesting.

So naturally after HD came about I was thrilled. Even better quality! No way to afford a full HD projector yet but 720p projectors have been quite affordable for some time now and even on these HD makes a difference (depending on the quality of the film of course ;) .

I watched the dreadful battle between HD-DVD and Blu-Ray which is one of those needless but self-destructing things in modern technology it seems. In the end HD-DVD (being the better technology it seemed) lost. But as BD-players were still much too expensive and I did not want to get a noisy power-hungry monster like the PS I waited. HD-DVD players were in sale and the price was as low as a middle class DVD player and so I got one of the last ones. The player was good enough or even better than my old DVD player so it replaced it.

Films on HD-DVD were quite cheap as well (at least not as outrageously priced as BD still sometimes is today – a movie for 30€?!) and near normally priced DVDs (which is somewhere a movie ticket for 2). I got about 5 or 6 movies which I sometimes already had on DVD but all of them were worth the (now sometimes doubled) investment. Very crisp and clear image, films like 2001 are just made for HD. Also the menu system was nice. Nothing too fancy but menus popped up quick and just on top of the film (so a quick change in e.g. subtitles etc was easy). Also for most films each extra showed its duration which sometimes is very interesting. A making-of has a range between maybe 5 and 200 minutes and knowing that beforehand is nice. Of course the player had some drawbacks. It was dead slow until a disc was finally running, sometimes upto a full minute. But all in all the experience was enjoyable. The main stuff – the movie – in good quality, extras were good and easy accessible.

Of course I knew HD-DVD was a dead technology but as the price I paid was hardly more than what I would have paid for the same stuff on DVD it was totally worth it.

Then, I think this year, BD-player prices finally came down to affordable ranges and also movie prices finally came down. Also the range of movies available on BD is high enough that not only last years blockbusters are available now but also classics like Kubrick films, the Bond movies, and generally movies which are not in their kindergarten age but like Planet of the Apes are from the sixties and older. Even some Hitchcock movies are at least announced.

So when a very nice offer came along I finally got a BD-Player. New generation but very decently priced and a player which had good reviews in every magazine and online review.
I don’t think the player is bad and I also don’t think that my player does anything very different than other players on the market (ignoring high-end ones for now). I guess any player from any brand is at least similar. Sometimes a bit slower, sometimes a slightly better image but all in all exchangeable. So my problems with BD are not with my specific player. (One point: My player does not have a subtitle button which I would like to have as I need about 5 clicks to change this. Very annoying).

But I think BD has problems…

First, reading a BD is as slow as reading a HD-DVD. This will improve with new models but it is painful. During the player reading a disc for the initial time it flickers between funny images like a complete blue screen, a wobbly black and green one and other stuff. This is the same when I start up my PC but I want a home consumer technology to hide this.
It seems handling the HDMI HDCP handshake and handling the BD copy protection the player is so busy that it simply is unable to show anything decent.
Also the “Reading” message is shown as frequently as the typical “LOADING” on any PC-game or modern Flash based websites…

So the player is slow but the real problem is that EVERY TIME I press the button to go to the main menu it takes time. It seems the menu has to be read from scratch every time. HD-DVD was much better there, menu popup was almost instantly there.

Generally the menu system is really strange. I guess any publisher does his own menu so there are no best practices yet. So any publisher makes his own mistakes how to structure and navigate the menu. (BTW, no BD I have seen until now had duration information on any extra feature which HD-DVD discs had and which I liked – maybe it is just coincidence). The possibilities in designing a menu for BD are much higher than for e.g. DVDs but with this power also comes a higher responsiblity (sorry for this overused quote ;) . It seems hardly anyone tests if a menu is usable at all.

Two examples:

On X-Men 1 the extras have lists of parts or subfeatures. These are “scrollable” with a click but they do not rotate which is annoying in a list of 12 items and you are at the bottom but want to the top of the list which then takes 12 clicks. Also going back to the menu takes about 3-5 second every time I am finished watching 1 extra which is most tiring when I have like 30-40 extras all in all…

The Zodiac BD menu is much simpler (basically a one screen menu like a sitemap which is actually good) but navigating this menu is not self explaining. The Menu has 3 columns which you navigate up/down by using the cursor up/down keys on the remote. I would expect the highlight cursor on the screen to move to the top of the next column if I am at the bottom of the column before. But that does not work. I have to use the cursor right and left keys to move between columns. Ok, let it be so. But I also have to be on the proper height in a column to move to the left or right! If I am at the bottom on col 2 I cannot use cursor right as the right column has no selectable items at this point… (BTW my player locked up totally once while navigating the menu which is really strange given such a simple menu with no animation or any other fancy stuff. I had to shut the player down completely which took about 30 seconds as it did not wanted to shut down. I am patient so I did not pull the power cable but I wonder what would have happened…)

Another problem is the handling of buttons in the menus. It seems most menus just use the cursor and ok buttons on the remote. The remote also has a “Return” button which is used in the player setup menus. So I expected to be able to use it in disc menus too. Returning from a deeper level of the menu to a higher would be a reasonable function of this key I think. But all I get is a player message “This function is not available at this time”. This seems to be a standard message if a key press it not supported (Also e.g. when trying to get to the menu during the dreadful legal message screens after some movies which are shown in 10-30 languages. But this is a DVD problem too…). But I get this message on almost any second press of a button which is just strange. I simply do not feel comfortable with such a control. And I guess people not familiar with technology generally just think the disc is broken…

These are all minor annoyances. But should a new technology not be better than an older one? Watching a DVD is quite simple, menus are basic but simple to use, menus are generally quick and also loading of a disc is quick. BD is generally slow, sometimes unbearable. And why? One reason is the copy protection which makes the player so busy it cannot even respond at times. And it is known no copy protection is safe forever (not even years) so a IRONY:”feature” I don’t want and does not help anyway does even annoy me?
I don’t copy movies, I do buy them. But I have to live with a handicapped technology. I did not even mention region codes…
The usability problem of dics I guess will not be solved as it would force publishers to test any new menu. Website usability has improved over the years (still not perfect of course) but I think BD menu usability is not even recognized as a problem yet.

In former times products were developed for a need and to help the customer (at least that is what I think). BD just seems to cause problems and being able to watch a movie in good quality is just a side effect. The greatest fear I have is that it will even get worse in the future (BD+ copy protection is on the way but what madness will the next technology after BD have)…

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