O MS G!

Nod to Gruber on this one. Not sure whether to thank him or…or…or…just go ahead and tell rixstep that Gruber doesn’t like the font on their homepage or something. Funny how you can’t threaten bodily harm, but no one can press charges for sicking (good word) rixies on someone. Death by someone’s hand or death by a thousand annoying kindergarten insults written by ham-fisting a jumbo Crayola: I pick the former.

Anyway, watch at your own peril. Because not only will you see and hear field sales sloganeering going on, but late night infomercials for penis-enlargement, acne medication and fat loss pills have better production values and even better pitches.

Watch at your own peril. Yes, peril!!!!

<br/> <br/>

For my own efforts, I couldn’t make it through the entire thing, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if they got the UI guys to produce it. It’s not like they’re sequestered in their offices sweating the details on the Vista UE.

Oh, and one more thing: in the verse that addresses the ‘wait and see’ IT professionals’ attitude towards Vista deployment, the song’s answer to that attitude is “SP1!”. Pardon me for sweating the details myself on their behalf, but if those IT professionals have already waited until SP1, how does that combat ‘wait and see’ since, like I said, they’ve already waited. Already seen. And the adoption rates post-SP1 aren’t anything to write home about.

Meanwhile, IBM—yes, IBM—is giving their employees the option of having a Mac for their main computer. Early results of the trial? 86% of them wanted to keep the Mac they were given for the testing period.

I’m not sayin’…I’m just sayin’.

As for the video, are you embarrassed for them? You should be. Are you ready to shoot the messenger? You should be.

They should have called the video “Two Girls and One Cup of Vista”.

<br/> •••<br/>

P.S. Bruce’s butt is much hotter.

P.P.S. He’s flagging right, red. Some of you will know what that means. I do, but ew. But it’s apropros imagery for Vista. Double ew.

Geeks & Designers, Getting What They Want

In the list of things that are important by generalists, this is a thing that doesn’t even come close to appearing. A shampoo discussion among bald men is more important.

But, Apple released Leopard 10.5.2 today, and addressed something that many people bitched about when Leopard came out: the alpha (transparency) component in the Mac OS X menu bar (remember, Winders folks, the Mac menu bar is at the top of the screen, and is, I believe, the single biggest contributor to users’ increase in productivity vs. Windows).

And you know, I was one of the bitchers, too. It just flew in the face of that notion of productivity item, making it less prominent by blending it with the Desktop Picture (that’d be Wallpaper to you Windows folks). I didn’t like that the Desktop Picture created visual noise. Gruber didn’t like that it bollocksed up the idea of properly anti-aliasing the text of each menu title. Many others just didn’t like the change because it was, well, change. You know, the ironic ones.

Before 10.5.2, which arrived yesterday, and in the absence of third-party hacks to return the menu bar to its “beloved” 100% opacity, the menu bar looked like this:

<br/> AlphaMenuBar.png
<br/> <br/>

And now that you have the option to turn translucency on or off, setting it back to pre-Leopard looks like this:

<br/> OpaqueMenuBar.png
<br/> <br/>

Now, I never went looking for hacks, nor did I modify my Desktop Picture to have a 20px white band across the top of it: see, when you use white as the background in the area under the menu bar, it “reverts” to appearing solid white, but still doesn’t address Gruber’s issue. Apple restoring proper opacity does result in proper anti-aliasing.

So one of the first things I did was go to that System Preference Pane and turn off translucency:

<br/> SysPrefMenuBar.png
<br/> <br/>

I thought I’d feel that little rush of proper design mixed with bittersweet nostalgia. But I didn’t. I went back and thought about it, and the reason that I think—despite the apparent graphical insult and apparent UE injury—the menu bar has been diminishing its importance, instead moving slowly towards a region-of-interest-type user interface. Palettes nearby, contextual menus (which I hate, but they are there), larger displays, etc. This is completely a personal choice, and it seems like everyone would disagree with me, but I went ahead and set the menu bar back to translucent.

If all this sounds anal-retentive, well, it’s this kind of attention to detail that helps make a Mac a Mac: sustain the illusion of context and activity and try your best to get the UI out of the way of a user’s goal: the best UI is the one that never enters the user’s conscious thought, shattering the illusion.

So after wondering what the hell they were thinking, I find myself wondering why I hadn’t thought of that.

The Second Emendment

Via Gruber:

Beautiful movie poster for Taxi to the Dark Side, banned by the MPAA because it features a U.S. Army detainee in a hood. Which is something that actually happened and happens.

What a world. If any of you out there still think that the RIAA and the MPAA and all those front-and-center “entertainment” regulators aren’t blatantly censorious, you’re fooling yourselves.

I could propose a 28th Amendment to the Constitution, but why not bird two birds with one set of binocs?

The detestability of the NRA leads me to take liberties (while we can) with the Second Amendment:

A well regulated Truth, being necessary to the security of a safe State, the right of the people to keep and bear Delusions, shall not be be infringed.

It has an ugly, accurate ring to it, doesn’t it?

Seriously, in times like these, when even the current denizens Executive Branch even even stoop to selling a Police Action“War” with such rarities of truth, the fucking Motion Picture Association of America bans a poster (read: advertisement) because it shows an American G.I. in a hood, something “inappropriate for all audiences”. (from monoscope.com).

The MPAA’s official statement:

We treat all films the same. Ads will be seen by all audiences, including children. If the advertising is not suitable for all audiences it will not be approved by the advertising administration.

Thank God (of Biscuits) that the MPAA doesn’t get to review the national news before it goes out. We have FOXNEWS for that sort of thing.

People Who Write Lame Software

My full disclosure: I work for the company that this guy has been flaming at and he’s been doing it for a while now.

Disclaimer: Everything I say in response to this guy comes from years of experience with software development before I started working for Apple and in no way nor context am I disclosing internal specifics about my employer.

There was an old hypocrite who lived in a shoe. And by shoe, I mean glass house. And by old hypocrite, I mean, well, a lame, hypocritical stone-maker who throws stones.

Here’s a little background information on software development. Development is more than just writing a program. It involves interaction with ‘domain experts’, in other words, those people who will be using the software and who know best the tasks they need the software to accomplish. It’s also up to engineers who either have a background in the domain or at least do some seriously legwork in learning about the domain. This is the fundamental catch-22 that’s usually one of the most difficult parts of software development. Think of it as, say, a Tibetan historian trying to communicate with an American engineer alone in a room with no moderator nor translator. This stage is arguably also the most important. Software exists to enable or enact…people, businesses, teams, other computers..whatever. Software’s purpose is to accomplish something.

People usually pay far too little attention to this. From small developers to large ones: Microsoft doesn’t care about people who need to produce documents so much as they care about the marketing people who need add extra features bullets on their Powerpoint slides.

The software itself—that is, the final product that goes out to the public—often lives or dies mainly on how much care was spent at this stage of the game. The short version of all this: know your audience!

•••

There’s a piece of software out there called Xfile, written by a guy who also has lately been on a tear taking potshots at Apple for their lack of attention to his own needs. Does he file bug reports to Apple? No, he says, because they don’t pay attention to them. So instead he expects a large corporation to pay attention to his strident rants and ad hominem sarcasms and that’s the better way to get things fixed. Uhhhh, what?

Here’s how software product development works in every development house I’ve ever worked for:

  1. Create a proposal for a feature set based on what you expect the app should do.
  2. Speak to domain experts before and/or during this process.
  3. Prioritize those features, again using the expertise of the domain experts’ assistance
  4. Produce a schedule and have engineers write the appropriate code, designers produce the graphics, HCI/UE people approve or create workflow scenarios within the app
  5. Have QA people come up to speed on all these things and along the way, test and file bugs against each interim build of the app.
  6. Jettison features for which there is no time to implement or get working acceptably.
  7. Continue QA, including filing bugs against errors and broken features
  8. Along the way, all bugs filed into a database are reviewed by managers and engineers. When bugs are fixed, they are re-categorized so that the QA people can verify the fixes.
  9. Eventually, all high-priority bugs are fixed and decisions are made whether to release the software or not, with remaining bugs deferred until a future release (like Mac OS X was released as 10.5.0, quickly followed by a 10.5.1 version which included fixes for many of those bugs that were deferred from 10.5.0.

The point here is that there are so many people involved in a significant software product that all defects (bugs) in the software—and in the documentation, packaging, etc.—must live in a central repository so that they aren’t lost and so that anyone can access not only the bug itself, but information on how it can be reproduced, what its history has been, who has worked on it, what its priority is, etc. That’s the only way it all works. The bug database is god: if it’s not in the database, it doesn’t exist. period. This is a matter of logistics, not ideals. Of necessity, not convenience or excusability.

In many cases, it’s a user out in the field that has discovered a bug. And for reasons already explained, those users are encouraged to file the bugs through official channels. That almost always means filing the bug directly to the company, which adds the bug directly to the aforementioned database of bugs, which means they go to god, which means they end up in the only place they can possibly be found and tracked.

So this guy at Rixstep hasn’t gotten fast-enough satisfaction when he’s filed bugs, so he stopped submitting bug reports for the bugs that bug him. Completely illogical, unless he actually believes his cheap potshots posted solely on his own little website is going to be more effective in getting Apple to fix bugs than actually getting bugs entered into a bugs database. Then it’s not illogical, it’s delusional.

But I read most of these rants and found them a bit hysterical (unraveled, not funny). After a while I discovered that he puts out his own software, one of which is called Xfile. He touts it as a replacement for the Finder because he hates the Finder and its bugs.

Fair enough. That’s what official SDKs are for: writing software as a third-party. I even applaud him for it, did applaud him for it. Until I started on the path to obtain and install and use it.

The software downloads as you’d expect, and the Finder (irony!) uncompresses the file, leaving you with a folder. Ok, we’re still well within a user’s expected experience, all’s familiar.

But what’s in the folder? A bunch of applications, a “readme.html” file, and something called APC.framework.

Most of my friends don’t know what to do with a .framework item. Certainly my mom has no idea what the hell ACP.framework might be. Most Mac users might have heard of a framework, but only from a certain distance, thanks to Apple for shielding as much of the techie stuff as possible from a user.

But there’s that “readme.html” You have to drag the ACP.framework into the /Library/Frameworks folder and you have to create that folder if it doesn’t yet exist. Then you drag all the other contents (other than the framework and the readme.html) into your Applications folder.

Does the Rixstep guy know that the Mac comes with an Installer.app? Does he understand how to build one? The behind-the-scenes reasons why it’s preferable to build an installer package?

So I ran the app, cuz I’m a software guy and I happen to know how and why those steps exist (even while I fail to understand why I must perform them manually), and this is what showed up (click for full-size):

thanks for putting so many icons in the toolbar that you had to set it to Icon-only just so that they’ll all fit in the toolbar. And for moving, willy-nilly, the standard user folders from a sidebar (where both icon and text label can be shown) to the toolbar, a non-standard location for any Mac application. There’s no use of space to group icons by function or meaning. (see iWork’s Numbers app for an excellent example of toolbar icon grouping).

And thank you so, so, so much for the frequent modal nag dialogs that remind me I haven’t yet purchased it. Or are you going to blame the Dock for bouncing at me every time any app puts up alerts?

I should have asked you rixstep folks for the webpage wherein I could formally submit bugs, but hell, you’ll just ignore those because you believe that petulant, petty ranting on a blog is the better way to go to get your concerns addressed.

Rixstep doesn’t stop there with all the duplicity, they have a page with the incredibly misnamed “Industry Watch”.

A sample, about a well-loved and popular blog editor called MarsEdit:

Everybody loves MarsEdit - but that’s not the issue. A lot of people loved their Fords before those Firestone tyres started exploding. It’s not about what you see - it’s about what you don’t see. And the likes of the Macosphere are not good at seeing these things. Irretrievable tards like Jonathan Wight, Gruber, and all the people Malcor hates simply don’t have the chops to do a lot more than use good old MarsEdit to write more blogposts about everybody else’s blogposts and crisscross links.

This is about as productive as it gets there.

They did offer some help, tho:

Do not accept half-arsed half-baked pieces of shit software from the Landed Gentry of Mac Development™. They want you to sit down and shut the fuck up. They’re used to getting away with murder. Don’t do it. Don’t sit down, don’t shut the fuck up, don’t let them get away with it.<br/> <br/> There’s only one way you’re going to get quality software from this crew: by demanding it. They’ll never give it to you for free.

Ok, so here I go…

So the developer of MarsEdit left a few tiny and harmless files within the shipping application bundle? You fucktards at rixstep don’t even know how to build an installer package! When I tried to quit the POS that is Xfile, first I had to answer the nag alert one more time that I most certainly didn’t want to buy their lame-ass software.

Rix-dicks, your own back yard is a pestilent swamp. How’s about you dry that up and remove the that contagion from the world before you go taking unfounded and overblown potshots at people who actually write software that people love to use?

But hey, at least your terminal-window-with-a-toolbar “application” can count the number of files in a man-pages directory lickety-split! Well done you.

Kindle! Kindler! Kindling?

Everybody’s heard about the new eBook Reader (redundant switcheroony nomenclature I’ll get to later). It’s from Amazon. Go read the front page and like doing a techie nerdy form of a Highlights magazine, see if you can spot the Apple-inspired marketeering. The English language is a whore and there are many johns in marketing.

Kindle Has it occurred to anyone that the name itself, “Kindle”, seems threatening, ominous, dare I say Bible-Belt/Nazi? Within context, of course.

Anyhoo, Amazon is falling all over themselves to get it just right, and perhaps with good reason: they’re not introducing a product, they’re trying to disrupt with technology. Just like Apple is attempting with the tie-ins to Starbucks.

But there are a few things to note about the ability of this platform/pattern before everyone starts shouting from the rooftops that a New Way has emerged.

Rocket EbookI’m not bitter, because I rather enjoyed my time at Nuvomedia, Inc. They’re the ones that made the Rocket eBook (ReB), a reading device which shipped in 1998 or 1999, I forget. See, it wasn’t a ReB Reader, the device was the eBook, and you loaded electronic works onto it. That was the lingo back then.

So the first beef about Kindle is aesthetics. C’mon, look at the thing? Nearly no flat surfaces, all white, sort of flat-paint looking. The QWERTY keyboard isn’t really a QWERTY keyboard, it’s just a grid of perpendiculars with a QWERTY layout. Why couldn’t they just make it a QWERTY layout? There’s plenty of space down there. Speaking of down there, they should have put the main screen at the bottom and the keyboard on top, because unless you lay it flat, even a 10+ ounce device packs a moment-arm that’s gonna give you pain over the long haul. And before you ask, you know you’re gonna be typing with thumbs, so your view of the screen won’t be unduly obscured if the keyboard were on top. So, on looks? Fugly. Ergonomics: it’ll do, but “good enough” is a cuss word—well, cuss phrase—for UE.

Second, its positioning as a disruptive supply-chain. Nuvomedia pioneered getting endpoint to endpoint technology in place in order for the book publishing houses (far more draconian and backward and conservative than the RIAA, and you see what they’re really like) to go for it. The houses demanded a closed hardware device, so that content could be linked to a hardware serial number AND a standard Rocket login username/password so that the purchased content could be viewed solely on that one reader. The only new thing that Amazon is doing is providing the Kindle-exclusive-EVDO access for free. But Apple did the same type of thing already with the tie-in to iTunes and iPhones/iPod Touches. Not a new trail, but maybe better pavement.

With the ReB, you went to barnesandnoble.com or powells.com and you could filter on eBook formatted title availability. You purchased that title and when you got to the eCommerce “congratulations and thanks you page” instead of giving you shipping dates and tracking numbers, you got a URL. Click it and it downloads to your PC or Mac. I don’t know exactly what the workflow was for Windows, but on the Mac you clicked the URL and after it downloaded, the RocketLibrarian™ (with RocketWriter™!!!) launched automatically.

Now this is where I have to give special nod to Nuvomedia, Inc., beating Apple by a good two years in championing the “Digital Hub” concept. The ReB was a peripheral. Period. Just like iPod is now, just like iPhone is now. Just like Zune is now (except that the ReB actually worked).

The ReB device that Nuvomedia shipped, then VAR’d out to Franklin then sold outright to Gemstar was twice as heavy with a much smaller screen, but it was nine years ago, so adjustments need to be made for that. The screen was beautiful, what was called “half VGA” in those days, meaning 320 x 480 pixel screen. I don’t remember if it was monochrome (like the original iPods) or if it could do 4-level gray scale, but it was an enjoyable experience to use.

Now this is where I tell you that I was hired to design and develop the Mac version of the RocketLibrarian. I also ended up QA’ing and instructing the marketing person on the workings and expectations of the Mac community. She once asked me if she could have a current development copy of RocketLibrarian for Macintosh so she could test it out on her PC. I had to remind her that she had a PC. Then she remembered that she had a MacPlus in her closet at home and “would that work?”. Jebus.

So anyway, I found a partial screenshot of the app I wrote (the Windows version had several engineers, QA people and a team of marketers behind it, natch):

<br/> Rocketlibrarian <br/><br/>

Doesn’t the name of Amazon’s “iPod of Books” bother you? I mean in that sort of insidious way that digs under the sensibilities and kind of deforms things. Kindle. Kindling. Something that burns. Books.

What did they suppose they’d get out of naming a book device something like that? It feels menacing!

Couldn’t they have taken the tack that they’re actually improving on the book rather than killing than nominal, historial original? It gives me the willies—even moreso than the hideous design. And the free EVDO access is called Whispernet! Like it’s keeping a secret or something.

And there’s a bigger question here: is the idea of “digital” to provide nothing more than convenience (less weight, more readily obtained, a boon to the vision-impaired) and its value-adds are nothing more than the original round of eBook devices: bookmarks, permamence in access to the content when it’s not on the device, changeable font sizes. Hell, the ReB (through the RocketLibrarian software) could display the text in any font you had on your Mac or PC. This may seem like a shallow conceit, a feature whose value is mostly in adding a bullet point to a feature list, but having tried out various fonts on the ReB, I discovered that Georgia was far more appealing a read on that screen than any Times variant. Gruber doesn’t agree with me, but it’s actually pretty awesome when smart and learned folks can disagree and argue points.

Where’s the people aspect? Do you really think anyone’s going to own this thing and say “I love my Kindle!” or “I can’t stop touching it!” People get attached to their books. As objects. Involved reading is not only a visual and cognitive thing, but a haptic one: the feel of a cover, the dog-eared pages, the broken spine of that favorite book that you’ve read over and over. And there’s something about turning pages. And looking at where the bookmark (a thin piece of cardboard) is automatically gives you some affordance of how far you’ve read and how far you’ve got to go. Pacing is important, as much for story as for reading a story.

That’s something that eBook devices won’t ever do. The first round of eBook devices eight years ago attempted to compensate for all those things, but the consumers weren’t going for it back then.

They may now, with the more digital-age sensibilities, but no matter, it still has to be an object you want to touch, want to use, want to own. Need to become attached to.

So many others have known this, and for so long.

MT4 and AmazonMP3

The reason I got into all this “trouble” with the blog layout is because Movable Type 4 (the collection of scripts from SixApart that I used to create and maintain this blog) was too smart. Too smart for my own good, really.

If I hadn’t been poking around at CSS—in particular, the structural/layout aspects of it—I wouldn’t have recovered anywhere near as fast as I did. And while it was much easier to get up and running than previous versions, there’s still so much lacking in web apps that it sends me scurrying back to the comfort of native-application bliss (as always, I’m using ecto as my blogging editor).

I’m biased here, but that doesn’t mean I can’t objectively (and subjectively) justify myself when it comes to native applications. I avoid doing any form of creation within a web page if I can help it. Lots of people trundle along quite happily using LiveJournal (EL-JAY! ugh) or TypePad or Blogger or—eek!—MySpace, typing their blog entries into a web form and clicking that Submit button.

But all you have to do is click the wrong button once, or worse, go visit another website while you’re in the midst of writing a blog entry totally forgetting that to leave the page often times means losing the contents of that page.

So here I sit on BART (the train, not the man) typing away. Yes, I have an internet connection, but I’m not sure I’ll finish this entry (you know how I get) before it’s time to disembark at Union City for my weekly visit to the Korean Herb Doctor. Yes, I could close the MacBook Pro and when I opened it later, the webpage would likely be there, but perhaps not. Perhaps Safari will try to connect to the web before I have a chance to reestablish an internet connection and its display of an error message will be enough to lose whatever I type. Probably not, but the best software is that which removes doubt from the proceedings and provides a sunny path to your goals.

Which brings me to Amazon MP3. Yuck.

I tried. I really did. I spent a half hour trudging through the site in search of my old standbys. I was fully prepared to shell out the $8.99 or whatever to repurchase an album I already had just to compare things.

Well, there’s two million songs, and then there’s two millions songs you’d bother with. In searches for “Billy Joel”, I ended up with cover-band albums and tribute albums, and even some weird Asian group of tweens listed only by their Americanized first names. Among Kay and Bobby and Tom was a boy called “Billy Joel”. The sad part is that it was better than most of the alternative listings which were primarily karaoke tracks. At least the kids were singing original material.

Searching for other well-established artists turned up similiar disappointments. I finally ended up with an older Sufjan Stevens album, “Illinoise”, but not after downloading an ironic client application which was required for downloading an entire album at a time.

The client application was the best part of the experience, though. After downloading that and installing it—which required quitting Safari and relaunching it—the purchase started a download of a .amz file, which was the album’s bundle of resources: artwork, songs encoded as MP3s, but at 256kbps and with no DRM.

iTunes Store songs are encoded as AACs (MPEG-4) at 128kbps. Don’t go thinking that the Amazon downloads are twice as nice because they’re encoded at a higher bit-rate because AAC is a much more efficient codec than MP3.

You also end up with a song file that’s 60% larger than an iTunes song of a similar length. That means that if your iPod normally can hold 10,000 songs from iTunes (or your own CDs encoded with AAC), it can only hold 6,250 Amazon MP3 songs. If your iPod is a classic or “classic” iPod with a hard disk, that also means significantly poorer battery life because the hard disk has to spin up more often to access the larger song files.

But I saved a whole $1.00 and the music I have has no technical restrictions on copying as much as I want. But then, I have yet to bump my head against the technological restrictions of the FairPlay (iTunes) DRM, so that doesn’t mean anything.

What a chore. I suppose they’ll get better, but then so will iTunes. Yes, I’m once again biased, but my biases are out in the open.

At the end of the day, that half hour could have been better spent—on fixing the CSS & HTML of this blog, for instance—and I’ll take the comfort of a ⌘S and a local file anyday.