Laundering on the iterative wash cycle.

AIRSIDE -- When you next use your word processing suite, are you really using the extra features that persuaded you to buy the new upgrade in the first place? Would you have accepted easier use over new features as a purchase decision? When was the last time a software maker said 'Buy this - it's easier to use than our last version'? Thought not.

We're all software junkies. Your addiction is part of their business model. We all wait in anticipation of the next 'fix' - the new release. And they have us by the short and curlies - they stop supporting older software!

The thought came to me as I was using an ancient copy of Office the other day - it integrated so well into my 'modern' desktop. The heavy revolutions of new releases were completely lost on this piece of software - to no detriment I might add.

Doyen of the usability police, Jakob Neilsen, calls for 'good software'. A better user experience - and bug fixes across all new releases before the addition of new features.

And what does make for good software? BFG's new intake of students will ponder this early in their course. For something that we deal with every day of our lives, a wild array of answers might be forthcoming - especially from IT professionals. To the uninitiated, a difficult front-end often obscures powerful software to the acolyte. The presence of contextual markers that strike for ease of interactivity - navigational waypoints by which users can refer - are often completely absent in new software releases and Open Source programs.

A fundamental understanding of software and how people use it - interactivity - lends to better usability, and in turn - better software. The easiest and simplest user interfaces are notoriously difficult to design, made more so in complex software [read 3D]. To what extent is an intuitive interface the foundation for successful software, especially in a medium with which the user might have no previous experience?

Much front end design follows convention - a user expects to see 'save' under 'file'. But don't expect to see many tabbed palettes; UI real estate is rapidly being snapped up by the patent lawyers.

Of course software sells like soap powder - each iteration is new, improved, and hangs on a fashionable meme. No-one bothers to question what they have been sold the last five versions.

The truth is, like soap, all software does pretty much the same thing. New iterations usually seek to merge features from other bits of software as people change the way they work. A future version of Outlook, for example, might offer RSS aggregation and syndication, much the same as newsreaders allow you to do today. This time its centralised and sanitised for the corporate desk. 500 bucks please.

But the new features coming at you in the next release of your favourite program might be obtainable elsewhere. Anyone looking for true value for money [it's usually free] and a sharper edge to the way they work should look towards the Open Source movement.

It is here that you will find genuine stars, years before they hit the big time on the Microsoft stage. Here budding usability experts get the chance to pay their dues, design and implement. Good design and documentation skills are always in demand. Without the spin.

Just say no ;p

September 23, 2003 in newMedia Design | Permalink | Comments (0)

IE, Flash, and patents: here comes trouble

irish weblog
Interesting story brewing with respect to Microsoft's 'appropriation' of ActiveX controls - seamless display of varying types of content is at the heart of this - and Eolas say that they have a patent. The University of California are also plaintiffs in this case. Their take here. [Eolas, by the way, licensed the 'e' in their logo to IBM for the latter's e-business campaigns]. It's bad news for people like Macromedia - Flash content would have to be accessed in a brand-new Flash player window.

IE, Flash, and patents: here comes trouble Microsoft has again been told to cripple its market-leading browser in compliance with the Eolas patent lawsuit. IE/Windows will no longer be able to seamlessly play Flash, Quicktime, PDF, and other rich media formats. Other browser makers like Netscape and Opera may also be forced to cripple their browsers, making the web look like 1993 all over again. Clumsy, disruptive workarounds that diminish user experience might allow browsers to present rich media files, but site owners would have to pay for development -- and Eolas might sue anyway. The patent ruling will hurt everyone. Patents on the web are always bad, but this one stinks to Heaven. We find ourselves rooting for Microsoft.

[Source: Jeffrey Zeldman Presents: The Daily Report]

C-NET has more information.

Microsoft has suffered another legal setback in the patent dispute with software developer Eolas and is now advising Web authors on workarounds, as new details emerge of its plans to tweak Internet Explorer.

A federal judge last week rejected Microsoft's post-trial claim that Eolas had misrepresented the facts in the patent case, which claimed the software giant had stolen browser technology relating to plug-ins. The ruling came after a $521 million verdict against the software giant last month, and ends Microsoft's first attempt to challenge the result.

According to the Eolas website -

-- To create and develop the inventions that allow information technologies to enhance the quality of life for everyone.

Their tack will certainly enhance the quality of bank balances for web developers if this goes through.

Just like '99 all over again.

September 15, 2003 in Business, Civil Liberties, Interaction, newMedia Design | Permalink | Comments (0)

AskSam - Making Information Useful

I've started using AskSam to manage an upcoming project - I'm using it to handle a wide variety of research work and contacts for the project, the theory being that I have everything at my fingertips and not scattered around the hard drive.

As a lot of my research work comes, naturally enough, from the web, I can import this information straight into AskSam. Here's the best way to do it.

If you're on the windows platform, use CutePDF Printer to add the creation of PDF files to your printer list using this nifty freeware virtual PDF creator. If you're on OS X then you're fortunate enough to have the creation of PDFs built right into your print dialog box. Then, in AskSam, import your PDFs into the program by embedding them, and all your research work should appear within the AskSam file.

One problem that I have encountered is that AskSam does not import images in with my PDF import. Anyone know why not?

September 8, 2003 in newMedia Design | Permalink | Comments (0)