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!

Motorola Milestone (European Droid) Mini-Review

A few weeks prior to the holidays, I splurged on a Motorola Milestone, which is the european version of the US superphone called the “Droid”. I’ve now had the device for day to day use for a couple of weeks, and I’m now ready to tell you that while it’s certainly a great device, it’s not without its flaws. Which deserves a review. For the remainder, I will be referring to the device as the Milestone, but to my knowledge the only difference between the Milestone and the Droid is that Milestone is 3G, has a different boot logo. Plus, “pinch-to-zoom” works in the browser.

The Milestone is gorgeous. It has a really nice rubbery matte feel on the bottom, and the glass is clear, sharp and totally droolworthy. It’s a quite heavy device, more-so than you’d think, which is actually good; it makes it feel as sturdy as it seems.

Certainly, Google Android, the mobile operating system running on the device, is what propels the Milestone to greatness, and make no mistake, this is a great device. Aside from simply providing a super fast and smooth experience, the Google account integration means after the initial setup phase, you already have your your email and your calendar available to you with no extra work. I upgraded from a Nokia phone that was so old that I had no way to export and import my phone-numbers. Which, as it turns out, wasn’t a problem as Android simply imports your contacts, so most of the phone numbers I’d already entered. Which is so great. So, so great.

Daily Use

The phone was purchased to be a sub-sub-notebook on the road, a place to gather my meeting appointments and todo-lists, quickly access email, calendar and some maps. For all those things, Milestone with Android is incredible. I’ve been positively surprised at every turn; this is built smart. Everything works, everything syncs. You can’t not love this.

Transferring data to the device is as easy as connecting the device it to your computer and copying stuff to the SD-card in the phone. Which is such a hammer-punch to Apples brass ones. The sheer bliss it is not to have to open iTunes just to copy music to the device makes Apples handcuffs seem like a mindbogglingly stupid decision. If you add to that the ability to multi-task, for instance editing your calendar and to-do list while listening to a podcast, you’re really looking at a device that’s gunning for great.

The real question is, whether it’s Android I love, or the whole package.

The Good And The Bad

The really great:

  • The Milestone is gorgeous, and not in an “urban hipster” sort of way
  • Sliding out the keyboard is a clickety pleasure
  • The super hi-res WVGA screen is delicious
  • Pinch-to-zoom in the browser works superbly (this is a Milestone-not-Droid feature)
  • While Google Maps features turn-by-turn navigation, you also get “MotoNav”, which’ll further make your Garmin and TomTom obsolete

Aside from this bulleted list, there are some awesome apps on the market which I’m told aren’t available on other platforms. Such as Google Sky, which is like an overlay for a starry night, telling you which stars you’re looking at with surprising accuracy. Also, Google Listen, whose mobile podcasting subscription features rival that of iTunes’ (whose podcasting features have been its sole raison d’etre on my PC).

The not so great:

The capacitative buttons. At the bottom of every Android phone you’re likely to find contextual buttons: back, context-menu, home, and search. While useful1, it’s a problem that they’re in a capacitative glass area that’s part of the screen. Which means if you’re holding the phone in landscape mode and navigating or otherwise dragging the screen content, you’re extremely likely to accidentally activate one of those buttons. Which doesn’t happen a lot, but is really annoying when it does.

Another thing is the fact that most europeans can’t yet purchase paid apps / full-version apps in the Android Market. I’m told this has something to do with carrier billing and Google Checkout not yet available in my country, both issues I don’t care about. I can pay Visa, PayPal, whatever — just let me pay damn you! I shouldn’t have to do the Android equivalent of jailbreaking your phone (“rooting it”) just to buy the full version of Robo Defense!

Going on, I know I should’nt expect much from a mobile camera, but this one doesn’t impress me, despite it being a whopping 5 megapixels.

Most importantly, and probably the biggest detraction from the Milestone is the slide-out keyboard itself. Engineering a phone with a slideout keyboard, I assume, is way harder than building one without it; so there had better be a damn good reason to do so. And yes, using the physical keyboard is better than using the onscreen one. But only a little bit. All the buttons are more or less flat, meaning the difference between using the slideout keyboard and the onscreen keyboard in landscape mode is very little. And very sad. Add to this a directional button thingy to navigate, select and click (the gold thing on the image) which simply never does what you want it to. The bottomline is that the decision to add a slideout keyboard seems like an afterthought. Unfortunately, because I’m a big fan of tactile feedback.

Another thing is the fact that when I walk around with the Milestone, the keyboard will more often than not slide out just a little bit, enough to annoy me (and to activate the screen consuming a few minutes of power) — it betrays the feeling of sturdy; something which can also be said of the battery lid, which hasn’t yet fallen off on its own but feels like it could.

It’s Still A Great Device

The best way to describe the Milestone is that it’s my favourite new device of 2009, despite its qualms and flaws. Most of its troubles feel trivial compared to what you do get, and the rest of the issues are software things Google will probably fix, if not in Android 2.1, then in some undecided future.

That said, the recently rumoured Nexus One seems like the Milestone/Droid without the keyboard troubles, which is simply a phone that’s just a little bit better. If it becomes available to me, I’m selling the Milestone and getting one.

Google Android 2.0 rating:

Motorola Milestone hardware:

Overall:

[Update]:  US Droid phones now have “pinch to zoom” as well.

  1. Pressing and holding the “Home” button invokes an alt-tab-like app switcher