Don’t Buy an iPhone on Friday

Thursday, June 28th, 2007

Yes, it’s the coolest phone yet designed, but smart techies are going to wait on this one. It’s a little expensive at $599 and $60 a month for service other companies charge $40 a month for, but that’s not why you shouldn’t buy one. The two-year lock-in to a poor network is an even bigger reason to stay away, but that’s still not why you shouldn’t buy one. The real reason is that the iPhone won’t be ready.

Do you remember the first iPod? the first Newton? the first Mac? These were also very cool Apple devices that leapt beyond what anyone else had done, and consequently didn’t work quite right. It took a few iterations not only to work out the bugs, but more importantly to work out the design flaws that inevitably arose when inventing radically new product categories and user interfaces. The iPhone is no exception.

Menu Icons Considered Ugly

Monday, May 28th, 2007

There’s a common but mistaken belief that proper user interface design requires lots of pictures and icons. In fact, it doesn’t. Many concepts and actions can be fully and best conveyed by text. While standard icons for directories and disks and the like can be helpful, custom icons for an application’s unique actions rarely are. The fact is, most icons are not self-explanatory; and if they’re not common enough to be standardized, they’re not common enough to be learned easily.

Nonetheless, many applications persist in creating pointless, incomprehensible toolbars. Icon design is hard. It is not something that just any art school graduate with mad Photoshop skills can accomplish. Icon design is about conveying an idea with pictures. not merely making a 32×32 bitmap look pretty. It’s hard enough coming up with a good icon for basic actions like cut and paste. Now try imagining one for “Analyze Module Dependencies” or “View Breakpoints”. There’s a reason Susan Kare gets the big bucks.

Lately, this trend seems to have seeped into menus, where text used to rule supreme. For instance, look at this File menu from IntelliJ IDEA 6.0:


Not only do the icons add nothing to the menu items. They actually make the menu harder to scan and read because the items are no longer left aligned.

Home means the Beginning; End means the End

Saturday, April 28th, 2007

While Mac programs usually have very consistent user interfaces, and most programmers religiously adhere to Apple’s human interface guidelines, there is one persistent glitch that continues to annoy us: the behavior of the Home and End keys. On a Mac, these keys should always, always, always move the cursor to the beginning and end of the document respectively.

Why VRML Failed and What That Means for OpenOffice

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Why was VRML an also-ran in the flood of new technologies introduced in the 1990s? It wasn’t fundamentally broken or a bad idea. It wasn’t worse than other technologies of the day like Java 1.0 and Shockwave. It certainly didn’t suffer from a lack of hype, investment, or development resources compared to the winners. VRML fail for one reason and one reason only: it didn’t run on the Mac; and OpenOffice is failing now for the same reason.

Burning AVIs to DVDs on a Mac

Friday, March 23rd, 2007

So you missed the latest episode of Lost. No big deal. It’s easy enough to find on BitTorrent, but now suppose you don’t want to play it on your PowerBook. It looks better on your 32 inch big screen TV. How do you get it there? The simplest way is to burn it to a DVD, but that takes some special software.

I’ve tried every open source media player and QuickTime component I can find for Mac OS X, and at this point in time I don’t think it’s possible to burn an AVI to a DVD with either Apple consumer software (QuickTime, iDVD, iMovie) or with open source software (MPEGStreamClip, VLC, Handbrake) or with any combination of the above.

However I have finally found a way to do this. (more…)