April 30, 2003
So with iTunes 4, you can now listen to music shared by other iTunes 4 users. This is a good thing.
Well, kind of.
It is until you want track information via a script....
See, the problem is, there's no entry for a shared track in the iTunes AppleScript Dictionary.
This causes problems when you try to get track info. Now, there's no real reason for this. The data is there, otherwise, you'd never be able to tell what a track was until you played it.
Internet MP3 streams don't have this problem either, and they're just as virtual as shared streams.
So, either it completely escaped everyone's mind, or no one thought it important enough to deal with prior to releasing iTunes 4.
The Apple AppleScript site information for iTunes only mentions iTunes 2.0.3, so no love from that.
Which, when you think about it is a problem too. Apple is not sending out signals that make me, or other long - time scripters really happy about AppleScript in Mac OS X.
But that's another rant.
Anyway, there are two scripts that just broke because of iTunes 4, and I've fixed them.
enjoy| Comments ()
April 9, 2003
This application allows you to add file sharing keys to the current logged on user's main keychain.
It can only work with that user's keychain, (I'll update it when AppleScript Studio can actually debug AppleScripts.) It also can't set the application associated with the key, (this is a limit in Keychain Scripting, and I can't yet work around it.)
But, if you have to preset a few file shares for a user, it's pretty handy. Since it's an AppleScript Studio application, it only runs in Mac OS X 10.2 or later.| Comments ()
April 6, 2003
The Computer Community is still too sensitive
So having read a rather fascinating article on the 'joys' of upgrading, (sidegrading?) from Windows 95 to Linux, what I found most fascinating wasn't the article but the response to it. Since the article was mentioned on Slashdot, I scanned the responses there, and found that reaction mirrored the one at LinuxWorld.
I'd say that 90% of it was variations on “It's your fault.” The other 10% were centered on the theme of “Linux is still too hard for newbies to use.” Now, some background on the author, (from the article), shows that he/she is not clueless, but rather a technical writer who also has experience with user testing. So this is a person who is not afraid of computers or computer manuals. The author also just wants to do work. In other words, no geeking. Start install, finish install, do work. Maybe install an application or two, but not much more. No kernel configs, no settings/.conf file editing. Just do the install and be done with it. This is not an unreasonable expectation. I've been a geek since the Commodore Pet, and that's what I expect from things. Just work. If I want to drop into geek mode, let me make that decision. Don't force it on me. If I have to hack install scripts, conf files, etc., I'm already in a bad mood, and minor faults that I wouldn't care about suddenly become shining examples of incompetence. But what did the author want? Well, not much really.
A decent GUI.
Use existing hardware.
Now, the author did have some old hardware, but isn't that a huge selling point for Linux? Freedom from forced hardware upgrades? More efficient use of smaller boxes? Seems like I've heard that a lot.
Existing software has to remain usable. Now, he does allow for the use of other OS equivalents. Obviously Word isn't running on Linux. But I can also take that to mean that they don't have to abandon Word, or Word files for something else. I can't actually run Adobe Golive on Linux, but it remains useful on Linux since it's an HTML/Web site tool.
A bit of incompatibility with legacy Office documents is OK. Well that's realistic. Not expecting perfection, just not an insane amount of work.
Has to be able to edit documents created by other computers running Windows. Well, yes, that's logical too. You need to be able to exchange and modify data to get work done. Telling the other person to “drop Windows” isn't going to be a very useful attitude.
Finally, because the author recognize that a dual boot system is what is needed, then the ability to easily set up a dual boot system. Okay, again, logical. I need a, ergo, a is a requirement.
So nothing here is out of the pale, or overly picky. I'll skip ahead here to the end of the article. You can read the details, but if you are a real Linux fan, it will probably make you mad. Which is fine, it should, although probably not in the way you think. The conclusions of the article were quite interesting, not just because they mirror much of my own opinion on many of Linux's problems.
Test before releasing. Well, no OS vendor has a perfect record here. Apple, Microsoft, Linux distros all have bugs that sometimes really make you wonder just what the heck the people who released the various OS's were thinking.
Just because it's a GUI doesn't mean it's a good UI. There's more to a good UI than icons and windows. Unfortunately, no one in the Linux community seems to be willing to say the word “no” to any feature, so what you get is in the end, an infinitely configurable UI. This is not as good as it seems, because that usually means you have to configure a lot of things to get to a decent starting point. It's better than it used to be, but even KDE and GNOME still feel like they were designed by a troop of engineers. Artistic engineers, but engineers. Microsoft makes the same sort of sin, only rather than pandering to the geek, they pander to the user. Everything has some doo-dah wizard, tool - tip, or helpful cartoon character that, while interesting, don't ever get around to being actually helpful. Changing the long user name in Windows XP is far harder than it should be. Not surprisingly, Apple seems to do the best here, since that's what Apple does, is make computers easier to use. The others try to, but it's an after effect. “Well, we got all the features, now let's make them usable.” Sorry Charlie, you never really will. Usability has to be there in every decision. Only Apple understands this, and it shows.
The Interface comments end up, oddly enough, a checklist for OS X:
“Root versus Users: Don't show me things I can't use. If I don't have permission to mess with something, don't show me the menus and dialog boxes used to mess with it unless you also give me a way to log in as the user with correct permissions.” Check, Mac OS X handles this, even in the “Get Info” window. Windows sometimes does, sometimes doesn't. Consistency counts.
“Feedback to user lacking: A ”busy“ indicator is needed for all software. It's often too hard to tell whether it's working or dead.” Windows is no shining example here. If something takes a while to launch, you'll never know it, as the 'sorta busy' indicator, (another shining example of bad UI), doesn't stay running until the application finishes starting. Annoying as it may be, a bouncing icon in the Dock is a consistent way to say “Hey, I'm starting, hold on a sec.”
“Menu systems: Eliminate duplicate occurrences of package listings.” Classic problem in Linux UIs. They just can't stand to not show something from every angle. This doesn't increase anything but confusion.
“Eliminate redundant branches (Games/Amusements/Toys; Text Editors/Word Processors/Office Applications), because it makes finding software harder than it should be.” The more terms you have, the more misinterpretation of the term you have. I keep Office in a folder called “Word Processing” It only makes sense to me, because I put it there. You are better off being too simple, ala Mac OS X's “Applications”, or Windows “Program Files” than trying to be too cool with categorizations that get too cumbersome to use.
“Why are menu systems six (or more) layers deep in some installations? I often fill the screen with pop-outs before I get to what I'm looking for.” Windows does this too, Mac OS X far less, (only four levels). But once you get to about the fourth level of a menu, you're not saving much time over a dialog box. By the fifth or sixth level, you're behind. I'd say that if it takes three menu levels, just give me the dialog.
“System defaults: How about one spot per user to set the defaults for all software (sound, fonts, etc.)?” Windows is better here, but Mac OS X is the best. Again, this is not a geek need. It's a human need. Non-geek humans to be accurate. Just give them one place to do all this, and make the name reasonably meaningful. Having too many options means you are far more likely to need multiple tries to get the right one.
The author brings up a lot more points, but you get the idea. Don't get me wrong, Linux is a really solid server system, and a solid OS for people who need it. But it's just not yet set up for the average grammy or uncle Bob. Windows isn't much better, mind you. Mac OS X is probably the closest, but wouldn't work for the author, since one of the conditions was that they didn't want to have to get new hardware. I agree with the opinion that just buying a new box with Linux preinstalled would have been easier, but that wasn't the point of this test. It was to see how hard it was to upgrade to Linux. I would expect that a new box with a preinstalled OS won't have upgrade problems.
The other big problem with Linux is the Linux community. It's not that they aren't helpful, because by and large they are. It's certainly not a knowlege issue. The real problem with the Linux community, (shown with perfect clarity in the responses to the article, both at Linuxworld.com and Slashdot), is that it's terribly insecure, and really bad at handling criticism. Okay, that's the Mac community, the Windows community, and almost any other OS community. We're all far too offensensitive for our own good, and it sometimes means we don't help people correctly. I mean, I read the article. I saw where the author took probably the most painful possible route, but then, isn't that where you find out where the most work is needed?
I expect that under ideal circumstances Linux installs as easily as any other OS on the planet. Under ideal circumstances, so do Windows and Mac OS X. But what the author did, moving older hardware to Linux isn't unreasonable, (that is after all, one of the 'strengths' of Linux, a point that bears repeating.) The article looked like a well done, honest attempt to just do what should be a fairly simple thing that turned out not to be so simple. I would sincerely hope that the folks at Red Hat, Debian, Suse, etc., are taking this criticism more constructively than the posters at Linuxworld.com and Slashdot. I really don't think the author is a troll, an idiot, an April Fool's joke, or anything like that. I do think the author brought up some legitimate concerns that should be listened to without foaming, salivating, or yelling. Maybe if the geek community ever gets to where it can handle criticism in a mature fashion, computers will finally become the non-fear inducing tools they should have been years ago.| Comments ()
April 3, 2003
The OS X Finder and the newbie
There is one comment in Gruber's response that I find interesting:
Well, that's likely a function of being a nerd. Non-nerds don't really sit around and debate UI. But it brought up a totally informal, non-rigourous, yet, pretty valid example of the fact that for a true computer newbie, the OS X Finder is not nearly as bad as you would think from Siracusa's article.
I happen to know someone whose first few months of computer use were Mac OS 9, followed by Mac OS X, and they took far less time to be comfortable with Mac OS X.
My 9 year old son, Alex.
Who never really got the Mac OS 9 Finder or setup. He could work with it, he could get it to do what he wanted, but rarely without the request for tech support echoing throughout the house: "DADDYyyyyy!"
In the end, I found it easier to just set up a bunch of aliases in a folder called "Alex" on the desktop, and tell him just to use what was in there.
Then around April of 2002, I set him up with an account on my G4 Tower, running Mac OS X 10.1.X. No password, and I showed him where he could find the apps he liked to use. That was it. I locked him out of the dangerous preference panes, and other than that, didn't really show him much about Mac OS X at all.
About two weeks later, I take a gander at him working...and was blown away. The desktop was different, the Dock was up on the side, and hidden, he had all kinds of pictures and apps that he liked in the Dock, three games going...
By himself, with no help from me, he had figured out where stuff was, and how to make it work. Customization, you name it, that was his desktop. Alex is a smart kid, (of course, every parent's child is smart), but he's not a computer nerd. He likes them, they're useful, but not as things unto themselves. Rather, the computer is a means to an end, and nothing more. If it isn't working right, the call for tech support goes out.
Yet, if we accept all the 'spatial Finder' arguments, then Alex's experience should have been the inverse of what it was. He should have needed far more help with the Mac OS X Finder. But that wasn't the case. In fact, by far, I'll bet right now that the amount of trouble someone has with the Mac OS X Finder, the more time they spent with the Mac OS 9 Finder.
This is not to say that all the complaints against the Mac OS X Finder are just MacMac whining. They aren't. There are still positional bugs that annoy everyone, including me. But that's a bug, not a design decision. I think that integrating pop - up windows into the Dock would be an excellent idea, and avoid the continual problems the Mac OS 9 implementation had if you were changing screen setups a lot. I'd like to see proxy icons become more useful for inter-application drag & drop.
But the number of people who do 'get' the Mac OS X Finder who aren't nerds are not insubstantial, and should not be glossed over. Remember, the Mac and the Mac OS have never been for nerds. They've always been more for newbies, and from what I have seen, Mac OS X does a better job of dealing with newbies than Mac OS 9 did. (please don't bother with a case by case example. For everything about Mac OS X that confuses a newbie, I can show you a thing in Mac OS 9 that is just as silly.)
Which brings us to the central problem with Siracusa's article, and ones that support the Mac OS X Finder in similar ways. They are only relevant if your work habits and methods are similar to those of the person who wrote the article. If you work in a significantly different manner, then a lot of the article loses validity. I don't think that copy and paste of files is a sign that Satan is making UI decisions at Apple. Snip, a huge chunk of Siracusa's article gone. I don't think that he thoroughly defines what he means by 'spatial' because looking at the dictionary, everything is spatial. Snip. I don't buy that the Mac OS 9 Finder was particularly 1:1 about things. Snip. I don't buy that the Mac OS 9 Finder kept you from knowing about paths. Snip. I also am really doubtful when an author invokes the name of Tog Almighty, as though they were following the one true path.
Of course, your experience will differ.
john| Comments ()