Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cement Finishing as a Development Methodology

In one of my iterations, I worked for a cement finisher. We would pour slabs, driveways and basements. We would prepare the forms and the reinforcing, and when ready the concrete would arrive, and we would pour and finish the surfaces.

When the prep work was getting close, we would hear the announcement that the concrete would arrive in 30 minutes. The pace quickened as we tried to get everything done. The truck would arrive, the first concrete poured as everyone ran to complete the last of the preparations. Maybe. Concrete hides all, so the important stuff got done. Utter madness, process driven by the demands of the product.

On the 19th, a hard freeze was imposed for KDE 4.1. A flurry of last minute features are stuffed into the repository. Utter madness prevails until the panic passes and the loose ends get fixed up.

And the important part. Once it's done, everyone gets a cold one. A humble suggestion for naming the next beta: KDE4.1 beta2, Exposed Aggregate edition.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Usability and More

I'll explain a bit. It's very simple.

I use tools every day that most readers here wouldn't know which end was up. The are eminently usable because they allow me to do the job I'm paid to do. New and better ideas are always heavier or more fragile. Neat ideas that end up sitting in a box. They were designed by someone who doesn't use them.

In fact, 'usable' tools are designed to allow inexperienced people to do basic work. A fine goal, but not mine. Thankfully I still have the ability to choose my tools.

To suggest that people who use a piece of software extensively are somehow unqualified to have an opinion on how it should work strikes me as misguided.

That gets to the crux of the matter doesn't it. Satisfying new user's needs will more than likely make the software unusable or less usable for an experienced user. Is it possible to have it both ways? No, because catering to the new user involves controlling or limiting the experience. And I can't run apt-get install kde-for-experienced-users. There is only one.

The tendency is to satisfy the new users. I realized long ago that my needs and desires in software don't correspond to the interests of those who want to grow markets. I have stated before that software leaves me as it 'progresses', as it attempts to gain a wider audience. In other contexts they lost my purchase, but there were many more willing to pay. We will see if the same thing happens here.

We want their feedback, but we also want to do what’s best for them.

Sorry. I've had opinions about 'Usability' and free software. This cements it. Count me out.


Friday, May 09, 2008

Dragon Player & Skanlite

What a nice video player. Simple and clean. If you open the application it asks whether you want to use a file or a disk. If disk is selected, it opens the dvd you have in your drive. Files open fine. If you close the app while watching a file, and reload it, it knows where you left off. Very nice. There are few settings available, you can view full screen or window. I believe it uses Phonon, and gives us an idea of how useful and nice these abstraction layers are.

There are a few bugs left to sort out. I tried an mpg and it crashed for some reason. The full screen/windowing signals are confused sometimes. All in all, very nice.

A simple scanning application in extragear/graphics is called Skanlite. I've got an inexpensive canon LiDE25 flatbed scanner. Remember to plug the scanner in before loading the app. It has all the scanner configuration selections, with reasonable defaults. You can do a quick preview scan, which shows the scan as it comes off the machine. Nice. The icon meanings are a little confusing. I knew there must be some way to scan with such an application, and finally found the right button by pushing most of them. The DPI editing is a bit flakey. I would do the preview at a bit lower dpi for speed sake, and put the settings back to default after preview scanning. I tried scanning a document at 625dpi. The app became unresponsive during the slow scan. Eventually a window popped up with a full dpi representation of the scan,ie. quite useless unless I have a monitor 8.5*625 wide and 11*625 deep. It saved the png eventually (quite slow for some reason.) and gave back the application.

My understanding is that there is a udev hook in SANE available. I expect that Solid will eventually handle scanners. Especially if someone like me writes it. hmm.

A slight quibble with the menu. How to handle the description and application name? This is a classic case of catering to new users and those familiar with KDE. The menu shows the description, and on mouse hover, shows the application name underneath, with the icon at the left. Under Sound and Video, I've got a Audio Player (amarok) Media Player (helix player) Multimedia Player (mplayer) Music Player (juk) Video Player (dragon) and Xine. The descriptions are more confusing than the application names, at least in this instance.

There is an issue here. Descriptions are fine, but fall flat quickly if there are more than one similar application. One of the benefits and gifts of the free software community is the abundance of choice. Don't like amarok? There is Juk, or banshee or ??. Also, the application isn't some anonymous entity out of the ether. Someone spent their time, usually freely, to write something for me. How dare I tear away any recognition of their specific work and gift by renaming it?

Otherwise there are two options. Restrict choice, or have the user hover over bland and unappealing names to find out what they are actually about to run. Any time restricting choice is offered as a solution I suggest the paradigm is fundamentally broken.

I look for applications by name and the descriptions get in the way. For me.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


No, not a political slogan

The headings in the menu are changed. Multimedia is now Sound & Video, Development is Programming, Accessories, System Tools.

We now have a cashew or whatever it's called taking up space on the limited and valuable real estate that makes up the panel.

Cookies and KWallet work again with Konqueror. Konqueror is getting better and better. A few crashes last week seem fixed.

Now to update to Qt 4.4.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]