Daily Archives: December 6, 2007

Thoughts on Internet Explorer 8 ‘announcement’

I really try to avoid copying and pasting content from other sources whenever possible, but in this case I don’t think I could have said it any better. Whilst you could argue a Mozilla developer commenting on Internet Explorer is obviously biased, but I think he cares about Internet Explorer as much as any Microsoft enthusiast would and shares the same doubts. I however have used a different picture to illustrate the point. Asa Dotzler says,

Dean, over at the IEBlog, introduces the world to the name of the next IE release, “Internet Explorer 8” and not much else.

He closes with “please don’t mistake silence for inaction.”

I don’t think people were mistaking silence for inaction, Dean, and talking down to them like that does your efforts no good service.

You all shipped IE 7 more than a year ago and presumably wrapped up major development on it 3 to 6 months before that, so I’ve got no doubt you all have been working on IE 8 for at least a year and a half. Your IE blog audience can figure that out too.

It’s not the lack of action that people are concerned about. It’s the lack of communication.

What your silence for the last 18 months of IE 8 development tells the Web developers of the world that you don’t give a shit what they’ve got to say about it.

If that’s they way Microsoft is going to continue doing business, then so be it, but don’t pretend that it’s something it isn’t. Don’t treat the people at your blog like children. They won’t appreciate that.

Yahoo Messenger for Vista finally launches

Yahoo Messenger for Windows VistaBetter late than never is overstated, what took so long?

A preview version of exclusive Yahoo Messenger for Windows Vista is finally available today after almost 12 months of radio silence. Hard to believe this application was announced all the way back in January at CES 2007. During the same amount of time, Microsoft has delivered five versions (3 beta, 2 final) of Windows Live Messenger.

However above all, the new Yahoo Messenger is possibly the first real mainstream application to take advantage of Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and a number of Vista APIs for which I salute them for adopting new technology.

Comparing this preview release to the original conceptual design by Frog Design shows a number of subtle interface modifications but also a major disappointment.

Changes to the interface include the application windows are now encapsulated inside Windows Aero Glass frames. On one hand, this satisfies Microsoft’s Vista user experience guidelines which suggests all windows use the standard frame, but on the other seem rather quirky because the application has two harshly different styles of transparency.

The major disappointment is the lack of voice, video and sharing capabilities which were widely fanfared and demonstrated at CES. These features simply don’t exist in this version which leaves this client nothing more than just a fancy text instant messenger. The official blog states explains these features and more are coming in future releases which I hope isn’t on another 12-month cycle.

Yahoo Messenger for Windows VistaOne of the major roadblocks for WPF applications has been performance and it looks like this application suffers the same fate. On a dual-core system with a more than plentiful graphics card, this application can’t even render the emoticon popout opening and closing without obvious pauses. Generally when anything animates, CPU usage flies right up and performance hits rock bottom.

Along with the client is also a Sidebar gadget that allows for easy access to favorite buddies, a.k.a. people you want to stalk. Unfortunately I couldn’t get this gadget to even load, where it would just display a red cross like an image failed to load in Internet Explorer. I gave up after several tries.

For more than 12 month’s work, this application is an embarrassment. It looks great with a lot of fancy graphical wizardry, but there’s not much here. Unless they fix the performance issues and add back the features which were exciting, it is simply not worth switching to from Windows Live Messenger or even Yahoo Messenger 9.

Update: I’ve heard some indication that Yahoo Messenger and presumably WPF runs better in Vista SP1.

The “double-decker” Windows taskbar

To the untrained eye, Ammunition’s Longhorn PC concepts last week might look nothing more than standard industrial design renders. But if you stared at it long enough as I did, you’d notice the Windows Longhorn screenshot on the monitor shows a taskbar is nothing like anything you’ve seen before. Since there’s no official name for it, I’ve dubbed it the “double-decker” taskbar.

I’ve finally been able to track down the screenshot in its original form.

The “double-decker” Windows taskbar

The story behind this is that during the Longhorn development process, Microsoft designers were toying with the idea of integrating what we know now as the Windows Sidebar into the taskbar itself.

To accommodate this, the taskbar became separated into two-levels where the application switcher was moved to a transparent row by itself on top. This freed up an incredible amount of screen real-estate on the taskbar itself which then could house Sidebar Tiles (as it was known at the time because each ‘gadget’ would dock as a rectangular tile).

The idea behind this was to avoid stealing another edge of the user’s valuable screen real-estate, which unfortunately is a sad reality for Vista Sidebar users today. Instead, it would have resulted in a fraction less vertical space but a more widescreen workspace which is more desirable.

The “double-decker” Windows taskbar

And it made sense to put it in the taskbar because it’s also where a lot of the notifications are already displayed. In fact, you could even replace most status icons in the notifications area with Tiles to provide a richer user experience. For example, instead of an Outlook icon you can have an Outlook tile which displays a list of unread emails. The Messenger icon can also be replaced by a contact list as well as minified versions of chat windows. If this had been realized, the taskbar would have become much more powerful and informative than it ever has been.

Unfortunately as anyone who’s familiar with Fitts’ Law would know that by moving UI objects away from the edges of a screen is essentially removing its infinite width. Fitt’s Law states because the cursor stays at the edge no matter how much further you move it, you can easily acquire these targets by moving the cursor in the general direction. Therefore by moving the application switcher away from the edge would have been drastically increased the effort required to toggle between applications. This was just one of the design problems that ultimately killed the idea.

Concepts like these are interesting because never before has Microsoft publically showed any interest in evolving the taskbar which remains a legacy of the innovation in Windows 95. Of course this now proves a lot more goes on behind the scenes that doesn’t get nearly enough as credit as it deserves.

Raiders of the Lost ArkSometimes I feel like Microsoft maintains a warehouse like the one in Raiders of the Lost Ark where it keeps all the abandoned ideas, which is unfortunate because outsiders can never understand what it takes to create the final product. As I’ve been told, thousands of concepts like these were created for Longhorn which resulted in Vista.

At the same time, people who look at these concepts can also be quick to criticize Vista. But the reality is, Vista is easily the highest quality user experience of Windows ever shipped. And that is the direct result of the same designers who put in years of work into Longhorn/Vista. Sure, some ideas had to be sacrificed but they’ve really pushed the boundaries of the Windows user experience and that’s just not for this release, but many releases to come.

The UX enthusiast site to read – uxevangelist.net

Stephen Chapman is one of those people who know every pixel of Windows inside out, inverted and flipped horizontally. If you think I’m a Microsoft snoop, he might as well be snoop dog. I wouldn’t doubt if he knew more about the design of Windows than the Windows chief Sinofsky himself. Which is why his new blog, uxevangelist.net is the Microsoft user experience blog to read.

Stephen is known to provide some of the best insights into the development of Windows over the course of “Longhorn”. Before contributing to the UX enthusiast community AeroXP, he wrote a blog called UX.Evolutions which some of you might be familiar with. It was later abandoned, but in its heydays, it was the best insight into all things user experience-related about Longhorn.

If you’re not already convinced, just check out some of the rare Microsoft concepts he’s posted to his Flickr account.


MSX (Microsoft Design) was pretty serious about Aero Glass.


A Vista taskbar mockup with alternate styling. I still reckon this one looks better than RTM.


A Vista start menu mockup with slightly different styling. Nice detail in the reflection of the user icon.

Now go check out the rest of his gallery and blog yourself.

Microsoft’s metapaper, “Outlook on paper”

Some people might call me a patent scavenger, but I prefer the term “opportunist”. I sift through dozens of new Microsoft patents every week so you don’t have to. And trust me, I’m doing you a favor. A recent set of patents filed by Microsoft reveals a pretty innovative idea that I think is worth realizing. Whilst the patents refer to it indirectly, it doesn’t take a lot to fill in the blanks. They call it “metapaper“, I call it “paper Outlook”.

Personal information manager (PIM) software like Outlook to schedule events, manage tasks, contacts and communication can be extremely helpful. In fact so helpful people often carry devices such as laptops with them just to have access to this information. Sometimes this can be an inconvenience in certain locations. Which is why some people will print out their schedule and tasks list to take with them instead. This is where these patents come in.

Metapaper

By utilizing a printer and scanner, metapaper enables a new way to interact with PIM software. Instead of just an output with your schedule and to-dos, the paper also becomes an input.

The main difference between your current Outlook printout and metapaper is a printed indicia in the corner of the page, as shown by the datamatrix barcode (1103). Now when you annotate this page and scan it back to your computer, the printer will automatically recognize the identifier and send the contents to your PIM software for OCR processing. The example above has a new appointment (1403) and task (1405) annotated which will be automatically added to the user’s schedule.

Whilst this example is as far as the patent goes to describe the functionality available, I can easily imagine a few more. For example, you could complete tasks by annotating a tick next to the task, or even a strikethrough. You should also be able to reschedule events by drawing an arrow from the event to a new day. There’s also plenty of uses for this technology beyond just PIM software, like tracking changes in Word.

Metapaper

In addition, the patent also describes new capabilities on printers, specifically wireless printers, where it can request print jobs instead of just receiving them. Instead of dealing with the software on the computer, the user could instead press a button on the printer for a predetermined print job which the printer will then request from the computer. Theoretically, multiple users should be able to print a range of preconfiguered metapapers (ex. weekly, monthly schedule) from the one device.

Paper-less office? Hold that thought. 😉