A fantastic description of what is wrong with some companies in how they create things.  I’ve been really disappointed with a number of products I’ve tried or even purchased recently because so much of it had a half-assed feel.

It’s not that the NFC-based, phone-to-object interaction didn’t work. Of course it did: it had been engineered perfectly. But what it hadn’t been was designed. Those responsible for imagining the interaction apparently wanted to protect users against the (edge case!) contingency of someone making off with their phones and running up a huge vending-machine tab. They failed to understand that, for low-value transactions like this, at least, the touch gesture is a useful proxy for consent — and that if someone’s got physical possession of my phone, I’m likely to have bigger problems than whether or not they order a few cans of Coke with it. A designer committed to the user and the quality of that user’s experience gets this in a way only the rarest engineer seems to. Designers are also, by training and predilection, inclined to design for the usual, where engineers are taught a kind of rigor that compels them to account for, and overweight, low-probability events.

This example really sums up the issue with a lot of companies.

Read more at http://speedbird.wordpress.com/2011/02/19/nokia-culture-will-out/

Lets get something out in the open. I’m really picky, particularly with consumer electronics. I expect something to work as advertised, intuitively, smoothly and without crashing. I’ll quickly dismiss a device over things others will quickly get over. The Western Digital TV Live Media Player is one such device that got great reviews that I simply couldn’t stand. It was advertised as a product that could play virtually any file format either through an attached USB device or through a network connection. What I found was it “could” do some of those things but only some of the time. It repeatedly crashed, treated the same file different based only on the file extension and in the end, the product was a nightmare to own and I quickly sold it.

So anyway, lets talk about Android. Recently the on call phone that is passed around between myself and two of my co-workers was replaced by a Droid2 (which I pushed for). The Droid2’s hardware is top notch. It has a high quality feel to it and a great, to my eyes, screen. I haven’t had much time with the camera so I really can’t say much about it.

Android on the other hand is a mixed bag and as my co-workers pointed out today, this is where my picky tendencies just get out of control. I find many parts of the Android OS to look fantastic, especially when not in motion, and have a polished feel, while other parts just feel half-assed. For example, waking the Droid2 from sleep quickly fades the screen into view which looks very elegant. You are then offered two basic options using the same motion, just in different directions. Pull the tab on the left to the right and you unlock the phone. Pull the tab on the right to the left and you toggle between vibrate only mode or sounds on. These are great except the animation of either tab looks rather poor. Once the phone is unlocked, the lock screen fades away to reveal the default interface, which again looks great and is very smooth. This disparity between how the screen fades so smoothly and poor unlock animation breaks the continuity of the experience. The two bits feel like different parts when they should feel as if they’re all one part melded together.

As a long time iOS user, if there is such a thing, there are other parts to the Android experience that really stick out. One of them is text input. So far, I have yet to find a text entry box that brings up the keyboard by default. For example, open the Gmail app and compose a new message. The keyboard won’t show unless you tap the To: field even though the To: field is focused by default. Another example. Add the Android News and Weather widget by doing a tap and hold on the a screen. Once added, attempt to manually add a location. You will be faced with an all black screen with a single text entry field that has focus and a magnifying glass to the right of it. There will be no keyboard even though clearly this is the only text box and the only thing to do on that form is enter text. Touching the already focused text box will cause the keyboard to appear allowing you to enter text. If you then click the done button on the keyboard the keyboard goes away and then nothing happens. You have to click the little search icon instead. I find this incredibly irritating.

Another surprisingly jarring thing is that list views aren’t able to scroll past either ends. The ability for a list view to scroll slightly past the top or bottom of the list provides a visual cue that you’ve reached the top or bottom of a list of items. On Android, the scrolling simply stops but you don’t always know that it has stopped because it is out of items or because it isn’t registering that you want it to scroll. In other cases where the entire list contains just enough items to fill the whole screen, you again can’t really tell if it isn’t scrolling because there are no additional items, or if the screen isn’t meant to scroll or if the hardware isn’t “getting” your gesture.

Speaking of scrolling. Android’s response to touch is great except for initiating a scroll, either up and down or left and right. It seems to take almost twice as much distance for Android compared to iOS to realize you want to scroll a list view or move between screens. Once Android begins scrolling, the animation looks poor and full of judder. Again, this distracts from an otherwise pleasant experience.

All that said, this phone is far superior to the previous phone that was Windows Mobile based. Windows Mobile wasn’t great then and compared to what is available today was positively atrocious. I think Android has come a long way in a short amount of time and I hope Android can close the experience gap with iOS in future releases. Until then, I consider Android versus iOS to be like Windows 7 vs OS X. While I prefer iOS or OS X, having to use Android or Windows 7 isn’t a step backwards, it’s just a different way of doing things.

So a friend pointed something out to me on the OpenSSH website.  They’re complaining that a number of large companies have never donated a dime “despite numerous requests.”

The first line of their site reads as (emphasis theirs):

OpenSSH is a FREE version of the SSH connectivity tools that technical users of the Internet rely on.

The very last line on the same page reads as:

In the 10 years since the inception of the OpenSSH project, these companies have contributed not even a dime of thanks in support of the OpenSSH project (despite numerous requests).

Tacky.

Meanwhile, the changelog for this open source program contains a number of entries from a few of the mentioned companies. Isn’t this how open source software is supposed to work?

Ran into an issue while trying to get 64 bit Coldfusion running on Snow Leopard. Somehow Adobe’s installer can’t deal with the fact that the java binaries are symlinked in OS X so you have to manually remove the symlinks and then copy the binaries over. This page documents how to do it. The only thing I did differently is instead of simply deleting the symlinks I created a directory and moved them into that. This way I can restore the system back to normal.

I just can’t get over some of the stuff on Microsoft’s PC vs Mac argument page. Some of it is true, like the lack of Blu-Ray support. This is something that really irritates me about the Mac platform. Some of the other stuff is just simply stretching it such as the following:

Working smoothly.

Things just don’t work the same way on Macs if you’re used to a PC. For example, the mouse works differently. And many of the shortcuts you’re familiar with don’t work the same way on a Mac.

This statement really makes me want to wipe OS X off my laptop and install Windows 7, it really does. Then again, it really is amazing how I managed to adapt to the mouse and keyboard shortcuts.

But in the end, the thing that really makes me scratch my head is why the page exists at all, or rather, why it’s just so thin on real reasons to use Windows 7. Yes, Apple has been running a negative ad campaign for years poking fun at Microsoft and most of the time I thought they really did hit some of the weak points in Windows. Despite all of that, Apple still openly advertises that you can run Windows on a Mac and they even go so far as to provide the tools to do so. Their tools resize the OS X partition, create a new one for Windows and provide all of the drivers needed to get Windows running. You can then dual boot your Mac system between OS X and Windows. Point is, they’re not afraid to admit that sometimes a person really might want or need to run Windows for whatever function and they provide the tools to do so. Microsoft should be playing on this and attempting to convince people that they need Windows for whatever reason and that a Mac’s can also be a great PC.

Instead we have Microsoft making some incredibly weak arguments on how Windows 7 is superior to the OS X. Some of them are valid and some of them are simply wrong. Either way, Microsoft is primarily a software company and they shouldn’t be pissing on a potential platform. Microsoft has had Office on OS X for years but lets face it, it lags behind the Windows version and has never felt like a proper Mac application. The current 2008 version is incredibly slow even on the latest Macs. While Office 2011 may be set to change that it’s just too early to tell.

Where I work we’ve had a long standing problem with the roadmap view in Trac with the Agilo plugin. We were seeing a “ticket 0 does not exist error” and after finally finding the right keywords to search with, I found my answer. Turns out that if you’re using PostgreSQL as your database backend, any Sprints that have a ‘ in the name will cause the roadmap to stop working. The fix is to simply rename any Sprints so they don’t have a ‘ in their name.

I’m not a fan of this at all. I think there are far too many legit uses to bitorrent.

FCC's Net Neutrality Plan Blocks BitTorrent: “master_p writes ‘The FCCs formally issued draft net neutrality regulations have a huge copyright loophole in them; a loophole that would theoretically permit Comcast to block BitTorrent just like it did in 2007 — simply by claiming that it was reasonable network management intended to prevent the unlawful transfer of content. The new proposed net neutrality regulations would allow the same practices that net neutrality was first invoked to prevent, even if these ISP practices end up inflicting collateral damage on perfectly lawful content and activities.’

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

(Via Slashdot.)

A while back I installed Windows 7 on my work laptop so I could give it a real trial. Since installing it I’ve been using it to some capacity almost daily and now after a couple of months I thought I’d write out a few of the things Windows 7 gets right and a few of the things that could use some fixing.

What Windows 7 Gets Right

Windows 7 is a big improvement over Vista. It boots quicker, introduces a remixed taskbar, better window management, fixes a number of interfaces issues that Vista had like managing wireless networks and it makes Windows Explorer much more useful. And, while there are a lot of tests out there that show Windows 7 isn’t actually faster than Vista, Windows 7 certainly feels faster and that is arguably much more important.

Start Up and Shutdown
Improved start up and shutdown speeds have been a selling point of most Windows releases since Windows 95 but no release has ever really delivered on that promise. If anything, better start up and shutdown speeds have been because of hardware improvements over the years, not the OS. Vista promised to bring with it improved start up and shutdown as well but it would seem the engineers had trouble actually delivering on that promise once again. Instead, Vista cheated by using sleep and suspend to mask the amount of time it took the OS to start up and shutdown. So, once Vista had been booted up choosing shutdown would put the computer to sleep or suspend. To truly shutdown or reboot the computer the user had to visit a secondary menu.

Of course, Windows isn’t the only operating system promising better start up and shutdown speeds but it wasn’t until this year that someone was finally able to really deliver on the promise of faster start up and shutdown. When Ubuntu 9.04 arrived, it shattered the status quo delivering start up times that seemed much more inline with the amount of power modern computers offer. While Windows 7 doesn’t seem to quite match Ubuntu’s speed it does seem that Microsoft was able to actually improve things enough that they no longer had to rely on the tricks that they used in Vista. Clicking shutdown now causes the OS to actually shutdown.

The Taskbar
The Windows taskbar isn’t something I’ve felt was an issue. In fact, I’ve always thought it was just fine. I’d typically expand the bar so it was a bit taller and put the quick launch icons under the application buttons. In Windows 7 however Microsoft has dramatically changed how it works and the end result works very well. It is clearly superior to the taskbar model it replaces by offering real time previews of running apps or even Internet Explorer tabs by simply hovering over a running application’s icon. From there you can hover your mouse over a preview and Windows will make all other Windows transparent so you can see the full version where ever it might be on your monitor. You can easily pin new applications to the taskbar by dragging them or right clicking the icon of a running application and choosing “pin to taskbar.”

There are however a couple of issues worth pointing out, both of which could probably be fixed in an update or service pack. Installing an updated version of an application will break the icon on the taskbar. It simply won’t work until you remove the old icon and place it there again. The other problem is that using the taskbar beyond it’s obvious functions is difficult to discover. Clicking the application icon always displays the running application, but what if you want a new window? The secret is to hold down the shift key while clicking the application icon. This will cause a new instance or window of the application to launch instead of simply showing the running version. If you want to launch an application and run it as Administrator, hold control and shift while clicking the application icon. Microsoft would do well by providing some way to educate the user on how to use the new taskbar.

Window Management
Microsoft is always being accused of stealing features and ideas from Apple and sometimes I believe they do. The new taskbar for instance is very dock like but does add an innovative new twist to the idea. But in the case of window management Microsoft has, for once, truly one upped Apple and Apple should really consider implementing a similar if not exactly the same set of features.

Windows 7 introduces several new ways of sizing windows automatically. A user has always been able to resize a window by dragging it bigger on any corner or side of the application window. Windows 7 however now allows you to simply drag the entire window to a sort of hot spot to resize it. Drag a window to the top of the screen and Windows 7 will maximize the window. Drag it to the left or right and Windows will resize it to the full height of the screen but only 50% of the width. This makes it extremely easy get two applications side by side on a single monitor.

Interface Tweaks
One of the things I simply couldn’t get over in Windows Vista was how poorly implemented the wireless network interface was. In fact, the entire networking interface was overly complicated. While most of the networking interface is just complicated as it was in Vista, the part that you’ll use the most is much improved and now works exactly as it does under OS X or Linux. You simply click the icon and choose an available wireless network.

The Explorer was another item in Vista I found awful. It was cluttered and confusing. Windows 7 again seems to have taken one from the Apple playbook and Explorer is now much more usable. A number of sensible default shortcuts are available on the left side and you can easily add more. Over all, Explorer feels much less confusing and cluttered.

What Windows 7 Gets Wrong
Despite all of the things Windows 7 gets right, there are a few things that simply don’t work or just aren’t useful. Below I’ve listed a couple of my biggest Windows 7 gripes.

Aero Peek and Show Desktop
Of all the new features of Windows 7, Aero Peek is arguably the most pointless. Placing the mouse in the lower right corner causes Windows to make all of the windows translucent so that you can see through them and see the desktop. This is great, except now that I can see the desktop I want to be able to access what is there. Moving your mouse away from the bottom right causes all of the windows to become opaque again. In order to actually access what is on the desktop you have to click the bottom right corner. This causes all application windows to simply go away, as if they’re minimized. Why bother with Aero Peek at all?

Also, show desktop is still a broken feature when compared to Exposé on OS X. Clicking show desktop causes all application windows to go away. If you click it again all application windows will, usually, appear back where they were with the right application in focus. If you click an application icon before clicking show desktop again, the whole “set” is lost. You can’t return your desktop they way it was unless you now manually click each application icon.

Aero Shake
Another new feature is Aero Shake. Aero Shake mimics an OS X feature that allows you to hide all other Applications. The problem with Aero Shake is that it is an awkward gesture. You activate Aero Shake by clicking and holding on the Window you want and then shaking it for a bit. In theory it seems sound and simple, in practice it feels awkward.

Another issue with Aero Shake is that it reveals a key difference between Windows and OS X. Under OS X, an application is NOT the same as the window. It’s entirely possible (and very useful) for an application to be running but not have any visible windows. When an application has focus in OS X you can hide that application by pressing command+H or by choosing “Hide ApplicationName” from the application menu where ApplicationName is the name of the application. The opposite of that is similar to Aero Shake does. From the same menu you have the option to hide all other applications, leaving any windows that belong to that application still visible.

Windows however doesn’t differentiate between a window and an application because in Windows, the window IS the application. This makes Aero Shake, aside from the goofy gesture, less useful in my opinion.

Conclusion
Windows 7 is what Windows Vista should have been. If you’re Windows fan then Windows 7 is something to truly be excited about. If you’re an XP user and you’ve been hanging on to it because of all the bad things you heard about Vista, wait no more. Especially if you bought a Vista “capable” or “ready” machine and then downgraded to XP. If you truly need XP for compatibility be sure to pick up at least the professional version and then download the XP mode package from Microsoft. XP mode is a preconfigured Windows XP system running in Microsofts VirtualPC and the end result is fantastic. You can upgrade to a modern Windows system and still run apps or hardware that will only work under XP.