Leopard preview

Keynote presentations from the WWDC are always very entertaining to watch – even though the author of this Wired article thinks the presentation was uninspiring. I don’t think so.

The business numbers were impressive. Apple sales and market share is growing. That is a change. Apple always had a small market share. The machines were said to be unstable, expensive and slow. Gimmicks for design geeks and fashion victims. I think this image changes. The hardware is top notch, capable of runing Windows if needed and comes with a very robust operating system and pre-installed software. The other applications of Apple are offered at fair prices. The new machines are priced very aggressiveley. Apple is now offering the best price/performance ratio for those that want to run Windows (see this blog post). The Mac Pro is a bargain.

The only thing I found pretty low during the Keynote was the Vista bashing. I takes more to compete with the market leader than picking few screenshots and claim Microsoft is ripping off MacOS X. This kind of “comparative marketing” is lousy.

But in any case people have to admit that Apple does in fact innovate. If Time Machine is as easy to use as it seems, this really a breakthrough to fight loss of data on your drives.

The new feature I personally like most is iChat 4. It now allows lecturers to give live presentations to remote audiences with Keynote. Lecturers could be invited to give presentations without the need to travel to remote places. This is very attractive for higher education.

Screenshot of iChat 4.0 showing remote presentation with Keynote

How wonderful it would be if a presenter could stream this video to a QuickTime Streaming Server for viewing by a large audience?

Mnemomap

Tim and Simon from send|recieve presented a verly early alpha version of Mnemomap one week ago on the Webmontag event in Cologne (which happened to be the first one in Cologne I couldn’t attend). I am sure they’d love anyone to try Mnemomap and drop some feedback about it.

Screenshot of Mnemomap

The About page states:

mnemomap is a new way to search the internet. It combines technologies of social networking, search engines and other data sources to help you formulate search queries and find really relevant information.

The JavaScript Accessibility Problem

James Edwards from Sitepoint.com looks at AJAX and Screenreaders:

There doesn’t appear to be any reliable way to notify screen readers of an update in the DOM. There are piecemeal approaches that work for one or more devices, but no overall approach or combination that would cover them all.

The Mozilla Developer Center offers some information on the work IBM is doing in this area: Accessible DHTML. Also the W3C is working in a design for making dynamic web content accessible one day.

Mighty Mouse not so mighty

Tim Bruysten forgot his »Apple Mighty Mouse« after his presentation on Web Monday meet-up. I took it with me to hand it back to him later. I am using it now. And I have to say: I don’t like it.

I don’t want to go into too much detail, but generally the absence of physical feedback for the three different “buttons” requires the user to get that from the visual/acoustic feedback on screen. The presence of two more buttons is not visible and not haptic. So it remains a mental concept.

It is a nice object to explicate the notion of affordance.

Consistency in Design is (part of) the right approach

Jared Spool points out that consistency is a matter of dealing with user’s current knowledge – not with formal elements of the visual design. Unfortunatly he uses a very misleading headline for is article which is really not in line with the point he is trying to make. The headline is »Consistency in Design is the Wrong Approach« and he writes:

The problem with thinking in terms of consistency is that those thoughts focus purely on the design and the user can get lost. “Is what I’m designing consistent with other things we’ve designed (or others have designed)?” is the wrong question to ask.
Instead, the right question is, “Will the user’s current knowledge help them understand how to use what I’m designing?” Current knowledge is the knowledge the user has when they approach the design. It’s the sum of all their previous experiences with relevant products and designs.

And then he proposes to focus on current knowledge of a user during the design process and concludes:

Funny thing about thinking about current knowledge: when you’re done, your interface will feel consistent.

Wait! What was the headline saying? Wasn’t it talking about consistency being a wrong approach? He continues:

My recommendation: anytime someone on your team starts talking about making things consistent, change the conversation to be about what the users’ current knowledge is.

Well, finally what Mr. Spool is saying in his article is just that consistency is not a question of form, but rather question of cognition. But maybe a headline like »Consistency is about cognition and not form« wouldn’t have been “news” enough to attract readers. To spin headlines into something more flashy that will potentially catch the eye when it appears in a list of news items is a common practice among web authors. I’d say the message in the headline should be consistent with the message of the article to really allow users to decide if it is worth click (or an actual read) or not.

Anyway, the problem with current knowledge is, that it might not be the right question at all to solve the cognitive problem, because current knowledge is hypotetical most of the time or a statistical measure at best. So after two team members bang their heads about »consistency vs. current knowledge« you might consider to change the conversation to »learnability« (e.g. asking how »user’s current knowledge« actually could be established and how users understand new things instead of speculating there is something they already have understood). And suddenly you are looping back to formal consistency, because learnability also is a question of reinforcing things through similarity and repetition – especially if the signs used are kind of arbitrary (which is more often the case than necessary I admit).

So I think the conclusion suggesting that current knowledge is a better way to think about the cognitive issue is not a good way to address the problem. It is just one way to think about the problem (among two or three valid others).

I fully agree with Jared Spool in this: The idea of formal consistency can lead to a mindset that shortens out the conceptual implications. The constrain to just formal variables has become a bad habit. It’s like you can see that people talk about »look & feel« while actually just talking about »look« and not »feel«.

Update:

The article by Jared Spool has been linked by elearningpost and GUUUI.com.

Updgrade to Tiger

I upgraded my PowerBook to the latest Tiger release. In 20 years of working with computers I never experienced a system upgrade that was so easy.

After cloning the complete internal harddisk to an equally sized external one (with Carbon Copy Cloner) I did a clean re-install of MacOS X 10.4 Tiger. Tiger comes with a migration wizard that copies all data and settings (and it seems “all” really means absolutely everything – including bookmarks in any browsers, photo libs, music, desktop settings, aso). I opted against copying applications – I wanted to re-install just those I really needed. After the new mail application re-imported 90.000 e-mails I was set to go: I just had to copy over the applications I wanted to keep from the cloned partitions. No “re-install” necessary (installing and un-installing applications by simply moving its icon around is something I first saw in NeXTSTEP in 1994 by the way – something windows is unable to do up until today!). I never had to answer any mysterious system-related question or re-configure anything I had configured in the previous system. I hardly can imagine a simpler way to upgrade a system.

And in addition to that: The new system feels more powerful and snappy. The spotlight search engine allows me to manage the 90.000 E-Mails as if they were 900. I can find data that I didn’t knew I still had on my harddrive in a second. And again this system upgrade improved the performance of the user interface like the others did before.

Delicious Library

This application simply rocks: Delicious Library

You can hold a book with a barcode in front of your iSight camera and it automatically gets added to a virtual book shelf (with thumbnail, price tag and summary). You can then create and export sub-collections.

I would have bought this application for $40 instantly – if only the export function would be more than a tab delimited ASCII file and the “my info” information would be more powerful.

Update: There is an extension that allows simple export to HTML. It does not seem to support custom templates and shelves though.

Notebook conferences

I remember when there was a discussion about “Notebook universities” in and around some universities in my area. They were supposed to conceptualize how they would utilize notebooks. These concepts were evaluated to decide which universities get funding for WLAN and Laptop equipment. If I remember correctly the concepts were usually not very inspired. Few people actually had ideas beyond a more mobile access to learning management systems a.s.o.

Now with that in mind read this report by Flemming Funch from the BlogTalk conference:

Now, those of you don’t go to tech conferences, or who haven’t recently, might not be aware of how it works nowadays. In a conference that has a significant number of bloggers present it would now be completely unheard of if there weren’t an open WiFi network in the conference room. Which means, essentially, you open your laptop and you’re on the net. Which means that about one out of two people there has a laptop running. The lucky people who manage to grab a seat at the two rows of tables at the front can actually sit at a desk and are most likely to be able to plug in. And now, this is suddenly a different kind of audience. They look up people’s URLs right away, they browse the scheduled program, reference materials, check the validity of what people are saying, and share maps for the suggested lunch locatioin. There’s a wiki with information about participants, which anybody can update. There’s an IRC chat channel, so one can talk to each other, both people who’re there, and those who watch the live feed at home. People on macs (more than 1/2) automatically see other people there on iChat, and can collaborate on writing notes in SubEthaEdit. If people are bored with the presentation, they check their e-mail or browse the web for totally unrelated things. A bunch of people blog live right there. I.e. they write about what they hear, and have often posted about a talk before it even is done. Based on the trackback mechanism, others can see which weblog postings have happened that refer to the conference, right away, and will most likely have read it shortly after it appears.

And there is another report from Suw Charman on this:

Initially, it struck me that multitasking whilst at a conference is really bad for your concentration. You simply cannot IRC, Rendevouz, check links, edit a wiki and SubEthaEdit whilst also listening to what were some very information-dense presentations. You cannot simultanously process so many conflicting streams of data.
What’s clear from watching Steph and the others, particulary prodigious note-taker Lee, is that that doesn’t matter. By collaborating in a SubEthaEdit note-taking session you become part of the hivemind, so if you miss something, someone else will fill in the gap before you even realise that you have missed something.

Can you see my notebook university?

There is a company trying to make a business out of provinding tools for conference attendees: CoVision Inc. offers a system called Council. What happens at BlogTalk is a bunch of tech savvy adopters that just need a URL to get started with a cascade of interactions.

It is important to note that weblogging seems as much about writing as it is about checking out things and trying to improve the effect of your effort. Last year there was critizism by some, that people stare at their screens intead of listening to the speakers. I thought this was missing the point. I’d suggest to rethink the role of the speaker as being the origin of these cascades. As Thomas Burg wrote there have been 1000 users trying to watch the live stream in the morning (with just 130 attendees). Many more may even just observe the topic exchange channel or the BlogTalk Wiki.

By the way: There is a technology preview of Rendezvous for Windows. But of course without applications that use this functionality this will not help much.

Project Looking Glass fallacy

Sun released a public version of their 3D desktop Project Looking Glass. There is a demo video with Jonathan Schwartz (weblog), Executive Vice President of Software at Sun Microsystems, who claims:

The dominant company that provides the desktop doesn’t want to show you that [innovation on the desktop] because they do not want to do the work that actually reinvents the way things have been done. They want to keep it to the way things have been done for that past ten years. We think there are some deficiencies there.

Before making that claim he ran through a demonstration of the interface. Besides of the fact that his claim about (obviously) Microsoft not research 3D at the desktop is untrue, Project Looking Glass in the current stage is 3D – but that’s all about it.

None of the shown features improve productivity of end users. The window placement features barely help to avoid screen clutter and real world metaphors (like browsing through a pile item per item) seems to be exactly the interaction style the inventors of the GUI wanted to get rid of. The only good thing about Project Looking Glass is that it seems to be open source and potentially will be adopted by people with better ideas. But without a truly killing application (and I haven’t seen one in the demo) Project Looking Glass may not seem to be attractive enough for end users.

OS X Tiger preview

I just had a look at the WWDC 2004 keynote (did I see Francis Ford Coppola in the audience a couple of times?). The upcoming release vo Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger comes with a collection of features that in general appear to be focussing on productivity and efficiency. Spotlight – the instant searching – and Automator (Screenshot)- an application to pipeline AppleScripts visually – will make a great pair. And I don’t even want to imagine the productivity leaps that are hidden in Core Image or the H.264 codec. iChats multiparty conferencing is great, but I’d have loved to see screen sharing and being able to give remote presentations with keynote.

I don’t know if I will ever be able to work on that 30″ inch display, but I am sure that such a screen will change the way layouts are done on a computer (I pass an Apple dealer once in a while I am will need to have a look at this beast…). Unfortunatly the 30″ inch version will never pair with PowerBooks, because a special graphic card is required to run a screen with 4.1 million pixels (and it can even drive two of these giant displays with weird cables).

What I am wondering is that Apple again integrates functionality that is currently making a living for some small developers: Dashboard is clearly a Konfabulator clone. It is like a deja-vu of Sherlock 3 becoming a Watson clone. Dashboard and Sherlock are “stolen ideas” and cause a threat to small developers that need to be fearful if Apple is going to steal their tool on the next OS release. This is especially amazing because neither Sherlock 3 nor Dashboard seem to be killer applications: they are more like fancy examples of interface add-ons. An insider comment claims Steve Jobs may not have seen Konfabulator (but in fact Jobs is claiming Konfabulator stole the idea from the older Apple MacOS in the first place).

Safari RSS (and it is not called “Safari ATOM”!) is different: while it may to some degree kill NetNewsWire Lite I do think that it could be more dangerous to OmniWeb & other commercial web browsers. Brent Simmons (author of NetNewsWire) comments on this. NetNewsWire Pro may even increase sales, because everybody will learn about RSS and Atom.

Interesting stuff also can be found in the sneak peek page for Tiger Server: there will be a weblog server integrated in Tiger based on Blojsom – apparently a JAVA based Bloxsom clone.

So we’ll see a new release of the Microsoft Windows in 2006. That’s two years from now. In contrast to Tiger, the hardware demands for Longhorn seem to be dramatic: for a full Longhorn experience you need hardware that has yet to be produced. But by 2006 I will probably already comment on the first releases of of Tiger’s successor which may still run OK on my 2003 17-inch PowerBook (as Panther does right now on my 2001 15-inch PowerBook).

Former Microsoft employee switched

Here is a little story of a former Microsoft employee that switched to MacOS X:

I worked for Microsoft for eight years. I’m a long time Windows loyalist. […] Now that I can see them side by side, it’s obvious that the Macintosh provides a brighter display experience than the PC. It’s a more aesthetically pleasing visual experience. It’s less cluttered, and feels less stressful to use than Windows. The Mac just doesn’t get in your way the way that Windows does. […] Apple’s innovation will be an inspiration and guide to Microsoft employees for some time to come.

Contextual, Process-Centric and Community-Driven

ZDNet recently published a Meta Group report by analyst Mike Gotta that suggests collaboration is a business strategy, not a tool strategy.

Through 2004, organizations will rein in tactical collaboration products (instant messaging, teamware, and Web conferencing) for companywide deployments, driven by architecture needs, product standardization benefits, and shared infrastructure flexibility. By 2008, “contextual collaboration” – enabling organizations to embed collaboration into production applications – will span customers, employees, and partners, creating time-to-market, problem resolution, and travel displacement efficiencies as part of an overall service-oriented architecture-based knowledge worker infrastructure strategy.

Included in the report is this prediction:

By 2005, we expect a sales automation application to be connected to a process orchestration engine that has a rule set that defines semantics around creation of a “virtual sales war room” when a sales process reaches a certain point. For instance, upon receipt of an RFP, a team workspace would be automatically instantiated and populated with a task template, documents, RFP response templates, buddy lists, discussion forum, and a common project calendar. Embedded collaboration services such as “presence” (knowing if someone is online) will increasingly become a core piece of metadata associated with application and content objects. Users will be able to right-click on an object within an application to obtain contextual information, such as an account name to obtain a pop-up list of contacts (e.g., salesperson, account team, service representative), and would be able to escalate from that profile information into a screen-sharing or document-sharing session (e.g., to clarify a question or response related to the RFP). This design model is different from earlier collaboration efforts that focused on people and not how people work within processes.

The end of filesystems

What users will see in the next few years is a replacement of the filesystem storage paradigm with a database storage paradigm. Microsoft is working on it and Apple seems to develop something similar as well. Oracle already stretched their database to accommodate some kind of filesystem like access – which is not aimed at turning a database into a filesystem but rather to offer a transition path.

Replacing the filesystem with a database will allow content to be managed based on wider attribute sets and mostly independently from the file format. It will be possible to look up content on your drive similar to SQL queries. Finding files and/or content on hard disks will be much faster then today – and it may require a lot of more capacity per content for the metadata.

The new Windows version codenamed “Longhorn” is supposed to be finished two years from now – but we can already see that the database paradigm fundamentally changes the basic principles of standard user interfaces: the on screen items are less about managing files but rather about managing tasks. Files (or objects) will always be related to other files, contacts, tasks, dates, places, and so on. The graphical user interface will become object oriented.

If you knew me for longer you’d know that I have always been a supporter of the idea to hypertextualize the desktop and offer users more ways to describe context and relations. The database paradigm is a technological prerequisite to achieve this and to finally realize Ted Nelsons familiar vision of a hypertext OS.

More critic on Nielsen

Andrei Herasimchuk wrote an open letter to Jakob Nielsen in response to this Alertbox story:

[…] Mr. Nielsen, I respectfully request you stop posting articles like this. You do yourself and the usability field a disservice by speaking in terms that are vague, not backed up with research data, and filled with hyperbole. Further, until you learn more about what it takes to be a designer, and what it means to design a product with your own two hands, I respectfully request you stop trying to dictate any design agenda as some subset of what you view as the usability agenda.

A very good take on the “guru arrogance” Nielsen seems to have arrived at.

Later in the article Andrei confronts Nielsen:

Redesign UseIt.com with your own two hands. Do the work yourself. Make it readable. Make it pleasing to the eye. Fill it with content that inspires people to do better in their own work. Take the time to employ some basic typography principles. I’ll even let you borrow my copy of Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst. Create a pleasing color palette. Create some simple, yet elegant informational graphics. Go take a few photos.

A coincidence: I once did a project with students, to redesign useit.com. The results are still online: Redesign 1 and Redesign 2. It was a 1 week introductory workshop on “Navigation”. I think the students did quite well for a first time.