Thursday, September 29, 2005

Name change: interface design

As my posts have recently concentrated more and more towards interface design, I've changed the title of the blog to reflect this. I'll be moving my population genetics posts over from here to another blog soon. I may also be merging my other blog,, with this one.

I'll be announcing changes here.

Apple overdoing it

When Steve Jobs recently introduced the iPod nano, my first reaction was, "Oh my God, they're killing their own business." The iPod nano is an unreasonable proposition:
  • The device is too small to comfortably control - certainly not with your thumb!
  • The screen is too small to view photos - why bother making it colour?
  • Enough has been said about the scratching, which, unfortunately, holds for the iPod photo as well.
On the other hand, the iPod minis have just reached cult status and will probably undercut the nano sales.
What is most critical is that Apple have released too many products in too short a time - the mini, the shuffle, the nano (which also competes in the shuffle niche), and the phone - they're wearing out their customers, who will eventually become annoyed that they can't own the most recent thing for long enough before it stops being the most recent thing. The only thing that's keeping the iPod above the competition is the iTunes integration, same as with their computers and the operating system. However, the OS will eventually be hacked to run on other vendors' PCs, and as podcasts (which are also supported by a number of other programs) rise above bought music in importance, and internet radio services such as Pandora, LaunchCast and AudioScrobbler become important, iTunes, too, will no longer push sales of the hardware.

Edit: Ladies and gentlemen - I proclaim it official. Hot on the heels of the iPod nano scratches (and I thought my iPod colour was bad!), we have this report of Apple charging extortionate license fees. May the iPod rest in peace.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Interface design: the window title bar

Wow! Having installed the Windows version of iTunes 5 yesterday, I now have the second example (the other one being RealPlayer) of how the title bar and menu bar should be integrated for more efficient use of screen real estate and better usability. Others please follow! It makes sense. (Damn, I regret never writing down and publishing that recommendation way back then...)

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Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Why do we have menus?

We have menus in our user interfaces for two principal reasons:
  1. Because screens used to be smaller so that not all of a program's functions could be shown at a time.
  2. To reduce visual clutter.
As we started having a little more space, we started having toolbars, but some user interfaces, such as that of Blender, are deemed overwhelming in the amount of functionality that they provide at one glance.
The impression I get is that there is no silver bullet in interface design: toolbars can be useful, but icons are not always clear to decipher - Apple, for instance, introduced the "Show all" button with text in their System Preferences dialogue, apparently because this is easier to understand than any symbol they could come up with.


Thursday, September 01, 2005

Debian-based = desktop focus?

These days, a lot of people seem to be talking about MEPIS, Ubuntu, Xandros, Progeny, Linspire and Libranet, all of them Debian-based, and all of them thought of as more user-friendly than the original Debian*, or most other Linux distributions out there, for that matter. Bruce Perens was going to pull off the same trick, but it seems his more business-oriented UserLinux was ill-fated.

I've heard good things about MEPIS and Xandros - I hope that the new efforts to create strong standards within Debian will pay off in terms of interoperability and ability of users to easily change from one distro to another. For anyone wanting to get real work done, this is a very important efficiency question.

* Lycoris is the counter-example, being based on Caldera and having recently been acquired by Mandriva, the merger of Mandrake and Connectiva. (It seems, without me having any specific knowledge, that Mandrake started buying lots of companies after they barely survived at the mercy of customer donations. I find that to be slightly dubious business practice.)

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