Firefox 4 Maximized, First Blurry Look

Mozilla has posted a startlingly effective video argument for why Firefox 4s default preference will be tabs-on-top. For the first time since the Firefox 4 mockups, we now see a maximized Firefox 4, which uses the Fitt’s Law argument I’ve chimed since 2006 when I tried redesigning the Firefox interface myself:

firefox_maximized

Of course only Windows gets this benefit, since both Ubuntu and OSX have a menu there.

The Apple/Google Let’s All Be Friends Posts

It’s tearing me apart.

Seeing friends fight it out on Twitter. Over whether Android or Apple iOS is better, whether it’s okay for Jobs to kill Flash, whether it’s okay for Google to make mean jokes about Apple.¬†Can’t we all just get along?

Suouroy_rainbow2_GNU_FD_license

I don’t want us to agree to disagree. But I want us to not fight, also. Let’s see what we agree on:

  • Things were nicer when Google and Apple were friends
  • We both don’t like Microsoft
  • Competition is healthy for every platform

Right? See, friendships forming all around. Eyes tearing up yet? Let’s see if we can be friends some more…

What Google does well; like those of Christina Hendricks, their boons are undeniable:

  • Search
  • Sync
  • Free / open

What Apple does well is also clear as industrial touch-screen glass:

  • Polish
  • Fit & finish
  • Simple

Those of us who pick Android devices prefer the first three dots, those of you who pick iPhone prefer the second three dots.¬†Imagine if we didn’t have to pick a camp?

Chrome Webstore

Announced at Google IO is a Google Chrome web-store, no doubt created to bring good content to Chrome OS. You’ll be able to — just like on the iPhone app store — buy web-apps which are then installed in your Google Chrome browser or later this year, Chrome OS.

Thoughts:

  • They demoed Plants vs. Zombies. Which tells me the first Chrome OS hardware release will be a tablet, not a netbook.
  • Interestingly, Plants vs. Zombies was built in Flash, which kinda explains why Google chose to integrate the Flash Player in Chrome.
  • A Unity app was also demoed. Does that mean a Unity plugin is about to be included in Chrome?
  • So maybe Google realises their Chrome OS HTML5/JavaScript strategy may be a few years in the future, so they’re using Flash and Unity as transitory technologies for web-apps.
  • It’ll be interesting to see if the Chrome web-store will work in browsers other than Chrome. My guess is: yes.

Wishy Washy Ubuntu [Updated]

A little while ago, I posted that Ubuntu is getting a new interface design which includes window management buttons on the left. In addition to this, the close button is now the third button from the left, and minimize and maximize icons are up and down arrows.

ubuntu

This seemingly arbitrary redesign of a central UI concept — window management buttons — has received some flak in the community. Alex Faaborg mentions that the up/down arrows are reminiscent of scrollbar buttons. The community has called out the lead designer to explain the reasoning behind this new direction, and Ivanka Majic responds haphazardly:

After the internal debate and analysis (which went something like the picture below) we decided to put this version in the theme and to use it. I have had it running on my machine with the buttons in this order since before the Portland sprint (first week of February?) and I am quite used to it.

Is it better or worse?

It is quite hard to tell. The theme has been in the alpha since Friday. Now that you have had a chance to use it what do you think?

Personally, I would have the max and min on the left and close on the right.

Aza Raskin, creative lead for Firefox responds on Twitter:

It’s this kind of wishy-washy design speak (from the lead Ubuntu designer) that weakens our field in open source http://bit.ly/axDRbf

Eloquenter. Point: Aza.

Had you asked me yesterday, I’d have cared slightly less about the design of maximize or minimize buttons or even whether they’re left or right (exciting new platforms and UI paradigms intrigue me more these days and these traditional OSes now seem quaint), but this kind of — Aza puts it rightly — wishy washy design speak belittles the whole interface design process.

Not all UI designers think like Ivanka and the Ubuntu design team.

I don’t even care to discuss left or right or up or down. But I will say that window management buttons, minimize, maximize and close, are vital parts of an operating system. That doesn’t mean this is by any means a sacred goat that should never ever be touched, it simply means that when you do touch it, you’re walking on the razors edge (don’t look down, you’ll lose your head).

I’ve said this before: usability is not a Jackson Pollock painting.

If you were designing a faucet, would you switch the locations for hot and cold water? How about making a door-handle go up instead of down to open? What about the direction you turn a key to unlock? Should we drive on the left or the right side of the road? Should americans switch from the imperial system to metric?

Whenever you change a completely vital aspect of a system, do not justify the change by asking: “Is it better or worse? It is quite hard to tell”. That will not fly.

Anyone can make up wishy washy design speak. In fact, here’s a snatched-from-the-ether list of similar justifications:

  • “Steve told me to do it.”
  • “Our branding team told us we had to mess with the buttons in order to stand out from OSX and Windows. It was either left-aligned, close button third-from-the left, or centered buttons.”
  • “It started as a joke, but then we kinda liked it.”
  • “We wanted to be more like OSX, but without blatantly copying.”
  • “Oh right those buttons. What do they do again?”
  • “The close button is a destructive action, which is bad. So we placed it in a really awkward place. The shut down operating system button, however, we placed in the top right corner of the screen, right at the edge, you know, where Windows has its maximized application close buttons. We think it looks good.”

As long as we’re playing “make up an excuse”, there are plenty better ones to pick from.

[Update]: Here’s a super quick mockup, which should hopefully serve to illustrate that the new theme aesthetics could easily work without changing basic window management layouts.

ubuntu_min_max

Why The iPad Doesn’t Have Multi-Tasking

One of the things discussed about the new Apple tablet, other than its lack of Flash, is its apparent lack of multi-tasking. Multi-tasking, of course, being the ability to listen to music or radio while playing Flight Control. I’d like to talk about that, because I’m pretty sure I know why there’s no multi-tasking, and if you’ll let me attempt prescience for a moment, I’m going to let you in on the secret.

Multi-tasking doesn’t work well enough yet. That is also to say that when it does, Apple will feed a system update which adds this feature; to the pad and phone alike. It’ll be just like when you all got copy and paste.

I’m an Android fellow. I cannot accept the closed platform that is the Apple ecosystem. The fact that I’d have to open iTunes to get stuff on to my phone instead of being completely unrestricted1, is something I couldn’t ever imagine settling for. Additionally, I am enjoying multi-tasking on my Android phone today; I’m listening to podcasts via Google Listen while browsing Wikipedia, and it’s a bliss I’m sure iPhone OS users will appreciate soon enough.

Even so, the Android implementation of multi-tasking is an example of why Apple hasn’t done it yet. Gruber was boggled by the need for a task killer on the platform, and frankly — so am I. Which is key to this issue. A single-tasking platform closes every app when a new app is invoked. The robo-logistics are simple: “Home” means “Save & Close”. Because this is simple, it works. Transparently, easily, and without the need to peek inside the system to see what’s running and what shouldn’t be.

Both Android and iPhone OS are pioneering new ways to interact with computers (which incidentally is why I now prefer these OSes on principle, over Windows, Linux and OSX). The new trend is to tuck away the filesystem; to whittle down all the nerdy stuff. To make it feel obsolete and unnecessary. You don’t drop your music into a folder, you drop it onto your phone and then sort it using meta information such as artist, year, album and so on. You also no longer window manage. You don’t open an app, you enter Google Listen. You don’t close an app, you press “Home”. If you were playing a podcast, it keeps playing even as you enter the browser to explore Wikipedia. If you weren’t playing a podcast, the system cleans up any stray processes for you, so the system doesn’t spend memory that isn’t needed. It’s all very elegant, and once you get used to it, closing apps feels very 1990.

Except it’s not as elegant as it sounds. Because apps themselves decide when they’re done using your battery and not all apps are good citizens. Sometimes you’ll click “home” with the intent of not going back to your game of Robo Defence. But Robo Defence isn’t sure what you want, so it’s just paused your game. Which means goodbye battery. Which means you need a task killer, whose sole raison d’etre is giving you a neat list of which apps are running in the background and the ability to forcefully close them.

I’m sure Android will get there. Development is moving at a blinding pace; in fact things may already be better in version 2.1. In the meantime, I’ll be loving my Google Listen background process. Even if it means I need a task killer. Once Android grows up, I’m saying a fond goodbye to my task killer, and I will never look back. But I’m not a normal user. I’m not one to be impressed by Apples “only launch when perfect” ideology, I much prefer Googles “launch early, iterate often” approach. I’m also smart enough to understand why Apple postpones multi-tasking until they get it right. Which is when you’ll get multi-tasking on your iPhones and iPads.

[Update]: Michael points out in the comments, that the iPhone has been able to play podcasts in the background since launch. My bad example. Please appropriate “Google Listen” with “Pandora” and my example will make sense again.

  1. Incidentally, I currently use an Android file explorer app to connect to my NAS and copy things from over the air.  

Webdesigner #316: “Just Get A Mac” (Mac vs. PC Round 2, TwentyTen Edition)

Slowly, one by one, my colleagues are switching out their desktop PCs with portable Macs. Except for me. Consistently, I’m suggested to “just get a Mac already”, implying the OSXperience will change my life for the better.

Standard_Mac

Here’s where I think it will change my life for the better, and where it won’t.

Pros of getting a Mac

  • Coda becomes available to me.
  • The keyboard layout is great for PHP and Javascript with great locations for $, { } and [ ]. This is a big one.
  • Expose is great for switching between open apps.
  • Getting to the desktop, finding a file, dragging it to an app in the dock for it to open, works great. This doesn’t work nowhere near as nicely on Windows.

Cons of getting a Mac

  • The selection model is virtually useless. If you didn’t start your selection next to the right character, you might as well start over.
  • You can’t live with the dock, you can’t live without it. It pops in whenever you don’t need it, which is when you scale a window.
  • Scaling windows is a miserable pain, especially if you don’t have Cinch installed. Sure it’s “clean” that I can only scale in the bottom right corner of a window. But what the hell is up with that?
  • StrokeIt (systemwide mouse gestures) is not available to me.
  • Directory Opus (superb file manager) is not available to me (and Pathfinder is not an alternative).
  • Expose is horrible for switching to minimized apps, i.e. it can’t.
  • There’s no fullscreen feature, and maximize behavior is inconsistent.
  • Since there’s no fullscreen, there’s no inherent app background, so clicking the space between app panels invokes the desktop. Stupid stupid.
  • OSX creates .DS_Store files in every fricken folder everywhere, and I can only disable it for network drives.
  • OSX hides period-prepended filenames (as it should by default, but if I disable this feature so I can more easily edit a .htaccess file, my desktop becomes cluttered with other files I really don’t want to see).

For the record, I dislike both Windows and OSX now.

Microsoft, Apple, j’accuse!