Updated: 11/19/05; 12:33:58 PM

 Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Windows Programmer working at HP Develops Mac Software in 1 Day (and it shows!)
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[ Click on the toolbar image to see the full Monty ] -- Ok, so that's a totally misleading headline and I have no idea if the HP programmer who developed this particular application is actually a Windows programmer or not but he/she certainly is no Mac programmer (or at least not one who even has a passing familiarity with Apple's Human Interface Guidelines). Check this out:

Had to scan a quick image so out comes the HP ScanJet 4600 (the little see-thru flatbed scanner) which is nothing fancy but for quick scans, it gets the job done nicely. It comes with it's own proprietary software called HP Director and HP Gallery which wouldn't be so bad except it installs itself into your Dock and automatically adds itself as a program that automatically starts upon boot wether you want it to or not. Did I mention that you can remove it from both locations except the next time you reboot your Mac, it automatically installs itself back in both locations. I can't think of any software that I've come across on the Mac that does that - ever but on the Windows platform, they have a name for software that does that: Spyware & Adware (along with a few tasty viruses). So far, HP's batting 0.

Aside from that extremely annoying aspect of the software, if you just it for basic 1 button scanning, it works fine. One the scan is complete, it brings up a little scan manager application and if you double click on your scanned item, it launches it in year another program called HP Gallery which lets you perform very basic photo operations, rotate, print, save, etc. I don't think that I'd ever used this app before but right away my eyes jumped to the toolbar, shortly before they started to burn (a feeling I frequently get when forced to sit in front of a Windows machine).

Now obviously I'm being picky but I've seen toolbars that were designed better than this by first day Visual Basic programmers so you'd think that a company the size of HP could pay just the smallest amount of attention to that portion of the program where users spend the majority of their time? Guess not. Just a few observations:

  • Save icon: What is that!? Perhaps a floppy disk, no no wait, isn't that some sort of Jazz/Zip disk that we used 10 years ago or so? Hmmm...and when exactly was the last time that you saved a scanned document to a floppy drive anyway? So after spending a moment playing 'Guess that Media Type', I clicked the icon and something happened - what I'm not exactly sure since the application gave no visual feedback of any kind. Hey, where is my file anyway? A few clicks later, it was finally located in Applications : Hewlett-Packard : HP Photo and Imaging Software : HP Scanjet Software : Scanner Output : -- Of course! Why didn't I think of that, it's completely logical! It's not like we have common folders such as Users / Documents or anything like that, silly me.

  • Zoom In / Zoom Out: So the first o images are 'photo-realistic' then we're presented with two bitmapped Windows 3.1 Styles icons. It's not like Mac OS X is capable of doing anything special when it comes to icons right?

  • Miscellaneous: Just looking at the rest of these icons, it's more of the same, only on the main toolbar, the print icon is no longer a photo-realistic image but instead a bit-mapped image (who needs consistency when you are an HP programmer). Despite the other visual goodies, my personal favorite on these toolbars is the fact that this is softare written for Mac OS X, the folder icon is a bit vintage, try OS 9 and before to be exact but what sets it off so nicely is that on either side of the vintage folder icon is glossy aqua icons from the Jaguar area. Way to mix it all together HP.

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So what's my point? HP's a hardware company anyway right? Who cares if they build ugly software. Well, my own take on this is that anyone who considers themselves a programmer of any caliber should be embarrassed to call this code their own. It really makes me wonder that if you can't be bothered to pay attention to something so blatantly obvious as the user interface, it really makes me doubt the capabilities of the code that I can't see deeper in the application. What really got to me was that a multi-billion dollar company like HP would actually ship crap like this out the door when a student taking programing 101 in a community college would get an 'F' for sure. As much time and effort that it takes to making a really polished application, like what we're used to seeing all day in Mac OS X, when you come across something like this, it's really a wake up to remind us how good we really have it on the Mac platform. Sure it's not perfect - but it truly is light years beyond what everyone else is doing. HP, just go ahead and stick to hardware. Oh, and I think Microsoft wants the programmer that they loaned you for this assignment back.

5:56:32 PM    
What the !@#% is Microsoft doing with Vista?
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Some interesting observations about the new interfaces that were shown off at this weeks PDC.

You know how in a lot of films, like Star Wars Episode I, there are a bunch of mostly serious characters, and then there's some guy who tries to be normal but just ends up making a fool of himself, all for comic relief? Think Jar Jar Binks.

Now imagine Microsoft is Jar Jar Binks. I would say that Microsoft is trying very hard to get Longhorn (or Vista, rather) out the door in a timely and organised manner, but in clear conscience, I really can't. I really just can't. Yesterday, there were a few screenshots posted on various sites of Office 12, running on Vista Beta. Needless to say, I'm starting to get very discouraged about the future of the Windows users interface. Think about how messy it is now, and imagine it about twice as bad. Wait, don't imagine, because here are a couple of screenshots:

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2:24:04 PM    
Microsoft program manager switches to Firefox
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You have to give this guy major props for going public (along who how many millions of other people) with news that is obviously not going to win him a lot of friends around the office.

Truth be told, it's stories like this that actually remind me that there are still individuals within Microsoft who can manage an independent thought and don't necessarily drink the companies Kook-Aid 24/7. When Scott speaks about the things that drove him away from Internet Explorer, he certainly knows of what he speaks as he was a program manager at Microsoft from 1994-2003 and he worked on Internet Explorer versions 1.0 thru 5.0. Scott gets into some details about why he switched to Firefox, including:

  • IE is a ghetto. There are specs I wrote for UI features in 1998 that are unchanged today, 7 years later, in a world where browser usage has changed dramatically. I’ve watched bugs that I fought to have fixed in 5.0 become regressions, appearing in 5.01 and surviving in 6.0. Even though it’s the product I was proudest of, using it now makes me sad - it’s been left behind. I do read the IE blog now and again - smart folks are working - but there’s nothing for me to install.

  • Bookmarks work. The Favorites UI model in IE is the same one we built in 1997, when we knew most of our users had 20-40 favorites. It was made to be super simple and consumer friendly as most of the population was still new to the net. This UI is effectively broken today, designed for people that don’t exist. The Favorites menu and Favorites bar show links in different orders, the organize favorites dialog is just weird, multiselect doesn’t work: favorites is a sad forgotten place. This was by far my greatest frustration with IE, even though I’m responsible for much of the original design.

  • Firefox has quality & polish. IE 5.0, for its time (1999), was a high quality release. Really, it was. Joe Peterson, Hadi Partovi and Chris Jones fought hard to give the team time to do lots of fit and finish work. We did fewer features and focused hard on quality and refinement. Firefox feels to me like what IE 6.0 should have been (or what i expected it to be after I left the team). It picked a few spots to build new features (tabs), focused on quality and refinement, and paid attention to making the things used most, work best. The core UI design is very similiar to IE5: History/Favorites bars, progress UI, toolbars, but its all smooth, reliable and clean.

  • They made a mainstream product. One of the big challenges in designing software is balancing the requests of earlier adopters in the community, with the needs of the majority of more mainstream users. After playing with mozilla on and off I was afraid firefox would be a built for programmers by programmers type experience. It’s not. I don’t know who in the firefox org was the gatekeeper on features and UI, but I’d like to meet him/her/them (seriously). They did a great job of keeping the user experience focused on the core tasks.

  • Security isn’t annoying. The press makes security into such a huge deal, but I’ll be honest. I don’t want to think about security at all. I’ll do what I need to, but mostly I want the system to take of it and stay out my face. Nothing in FF makes me feel safer explicitly, I just don’t deal with as many warnings, settings and other details. I know from the PR that security in FF is better (even if only because it’s less targeted by spyware, etc.) but I’m pleased that the product doesn’t remind me of how safe I am all the time.

You've got to respect it when someone like this makes a switch to an alternative browser like Firefox. How many of us can say that we've personally worked on software that millions of people (literally) use every since day (even if it is a bloated piece of crap) so kudos to you Scott. If he thinks Firefox is all that, I can only imagine what he would think after spending a week in front of a modern Macintosh.

12:56:08 PM    
Behind The Development Of The iPod nano
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SMALL PACKAGES: To give it a profile that's skinnier than a pencil's, Apple's engineers reconceived the iPod virtually from scratch

Kanye West is doing his level best to rock the house, but it's not an easy house to rock. He's onstage at the Moscone Convention Center in San Francisco, it's 11 in the morning, and his audience is largely white and overwhelmingly nerdy. West rips through All Falls Down and Gold Digger, but he barely gets a head bob out of those people. When he raps, "If you aint no punk, holla 'We want prenup!,'" not a single, solitary soul hollas back.

West is there to add some razzle to a press event held by Apple Computer. Minutes earlier, Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPod Nano, the absurdly tiny, unbearably sexy successor to the iPod Mini. To be fair to West, it's a tough act to follow.

It's amazing that the Nano even made it to the stage. The story of the Nano started nine months ago, when Jobs and his team took a look at the iPod Mini and decided they could make it better. On the face of it, that wouldn't appear to be a fantastically smart decision. The iPod Mini was and still is the best-selling MP3 player in the world, and Apple had introduced it only 11 months earlier. Jobs was proposing to fix something that decidedly was not broken. "Not very many companies are bold enough to shoot their best-selling product at the peak of its popularity," Gartner analyst Van Baker says. "That's what Apple just did." And it did that while staring right down the barrels of the holiday retail season.

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5:28:11 AM    
Microsoft's never ending source of innovation
I used to attend the PDC and always enjoyed watching them roll out their 'amazing new innovations' but seeing it from the other side, it just amazing how blatantly they consume the works of others and claim it as their own. I wonder what amazing new innovations Microsoft has up it's sleeve next, I'd better get back to my Mac and see what they'll copy next. Steve must be laughing his ass of this morning. The biggest R&D budget in the world, with (apparently) a boat load of smart people and they resort to simply copying of the work of others. I'm just happy to see that Arlo Rose made out well in the end.

Have you ever wondered how new technologies get developed in Microsoft? Wonder how a cool idea goes from incubation to release? Well, we’re excited to announce that we’ve started a blog designed to bring you closer to the process with the Gadgets blog and we’re kicking it off at the PDC.

What are Gadgets? Gadgets are a new category of mini-application designed to provide information, useful lookup, or enhance an application or service on your Windows PC or the Web. Examples might include a weather gadget running on your desktop or on your homepage, an RSS Gadget that pulls in your favorite feeds, or an extension of a business application providing just-in-time status on the pulse of your business.

4:49:01 AM