August, 2008

  • Canadian UX Blog

    UX Improvements in IE8 Beta 2


    Scenario1: when you browse the web for some foreign food, you come across words you don't know. You want to find out what do they mean quickly in your own language.

    Scenario 2: you'd like to keep up with your friends status on Facebook. Instead of going to Facebook homepage and logging in, is there a easier way to subscribe to any update changes and be notified when your friends' change their status automatically?

    Scenario3: tabbed browsing is a great innovation but it also generates its own usability problems when you have many tabs open at the same time and some of them are from the same domain. Something like the picture below. Don't you wish there's a way they can be grouped!


    Scenario4: when you search in a web or browser search box, wouldn't it be great if the search starts to work immediately as you typing in the search term. This way before you finish typing what you want to search and hit "enter," it can already preview visually the suggested results for you. You can choose the result you want and finish your search much faster.


    Have you encountered these scenarios or figuring out your own shortcuts to do these day-to-day web browsing activities? What about a single solution for all these scenarios? Let's look at the UX improvements in IE8 Beta 2 then.

    You probably heard by now that we released IE8 Beta 2 for public download on Wednesday. I started to use IE8 Beta 1 earlier this year after the MIX announcement and found it was a great platform for developers and designers to build standard compliant websites and learning about integrating Web Slices and Accelerators (use to be called "Activities") into their web projects. However, I didn't see Beta 1 generating excitement in everyday users. IE8 Beta 2 is all about improving people's everyday browsing experience. The IE team blog has a great series of posts talking about IE8 Beta2's "Better Everyday Browsing" features. (post1, post2, post3) I've borrowed some of their screenshots and definitions to talk about the features according to the scenarios above. My teammate Jean-Luc David also interviewed a Senior Product Manager on the Internet Explorer team focusing on how IE 8 is important to Web developers.You can see the video here.

    UX improvements

    • Accelerators (Scenario1): "Copy-navigate-paste is old. Accelerators are services that you access directly from the webpage in the context of what you’re doing, letting you bookmark, define, email, map and more with a simple selection.Some Accelerators provide previews so that you can view the result without having to leave the current webpage. Clicking on an Accelerator opens a new tab with the full result."  This is a great example of how web services can connect together seamlessly and help users to accomplish their activities faster and easier. In the picture below, the user wants to know what does "Kimchi" mean. He/she just need to highlight the word. An "accelerator icon" will appear, he/she can click on the icon to get a list of web services. Hovering on the "Define with Encarta" will preview the definition of "Kimchi." 


    • Web Slices (Scenario2): "A Web Slice is a subscription to part of a web page; when an update is available, IE8 bolds the title of the Web Slice so you know there’s something new to see." I've included a description from one of my colleagues talking about using Facebook Web Slice in more detail.

    Web Slices – you can keep up with frequently updated sites directly from your Favorites Bar. If a Web Slice is available on a page, a green Web Slices icon clip_image001will appear in the upper-right hand corner of the browser. You can then easily subscribe and add the Web Slice to your Favourites Bar in IE8. When new information becomes available, the Web Slice will “glow” for a second or two and then remain bolded. When you click on the Web Slice in the Favourites Bar, it previews relevant information (a slice of information) from the web page. Clicking on the preview takes you directly to the site for more information. The web slice I use the most is a facebook Web Slice. It allows me to easily tell when my friends make updates because the Web Slice is of the “Status Updates” area on my facebook site. Give it a try.


    • Tab Grouping (Scenario3): "IE8 opens keeps these pages grouped together and color codes them. As you close tabs in a group, IE takes you to the next one in the group; similarly, if you open more tabs from the first site, IE appends them to the group rather than adding them to the end of all the tabs. With this, it’s easy to read and use all the related pages together."


    • Visual Search Suggestions (Scenario 4): "New to IE8 beta 2 are Search (text) Suggestions and Visual Search Suggestions which are wired into the Search box. As you type in the Search box, the selected search provider can offer query suggestions and display search results right in place! Not only can the search provider provide text suggestions, they can include images as well. This way you can dynamically narrow down your search results quickly and get single-click access to the web page without having to leave the Search box." In addition to live preview search suggestions from your search providers, the search box also gives the lists of previous searches and the matching sites you've visited in your History. All these great search suggestions are in one place for you to quickly find what you are looking for.


    I've just mentioned a few UX improvements for IE8 Beta 2 here, there are many more improvements which enhanced people's performance greatly such as the Smart Address Bar and Find on Page as well as provide users a more safe and private environment to browse the web. These are all UX designs coming from tons of user research. I'll post more detailed posts on IE8 UX in future posts.  Like Office 2007, I see IE8 growing to be another great UI innovation for our flag product. It's in Beta now and is working in progress, we love to hear your feedback!


  • Canadian UX Blog

    Live Mesh is in Canada!



    All my sister blogs (IT Manager, CanDev, and CanITPro) have shared the great news that Live Mesh is now available as Technology Preview in Canada without a sign-up wait list. So, you don't have to wait to try out the cool software-plus-service technology. Here's the official description of Live Mesh:

    Live Mesh is a “software-plus-services” platform and experience that enables PCs and other devices to “come alive” by making them aware of each other through the Internet, enabling individuals and organizations to manage, access, and share their files and applications seamlessly on the Web and across their world of devices.

    I can't wait to try it when I'm back in Canada from vacation. To see what the Live Mesh platform is capable of, check out the Channel 9 videos.

    What I'm excited about Live Mesh from an user experience perspective is that we are hiding the complex solutions for file synchronization and sharing, data and device management, efficient collaboration between people by provide users a very simple interface to interact with and administrate their digital life. Everyone is facing more and more problems with information overload, handling different types of data from Internet, mobile devices (camera, cell phone, PDA, etc.), to computers (laptops and desktops) at work and home. I like how Windows Live Mail can bring in all my emails to one place, how Windows Live Photo Gallery can publish to both my flickr and Windows Live accounts to share my photos, and how Facebook keeps me updated with my friends status. If a solution can bring all these specialized solutions together, it'll make my life much easier. I love the fact that I can access and synchronize my information anytime and anywhere. Note: it's more than anywhere on the web but potential on any web connected devices as well. Live Mesh shows me the promise with its platform capabilities. Lastly, I like how the description on the Live Mesh homepage puts users at the centre. It's also how the fundamental platform architecture is designed according to this white paper. Good example of user-centred software-plus-service platform.

    Although Live Mesh is still in its early Tech Preview stage and the earlier adopter will probably be tech savvy individuals who owns multiple computing devices, I'm looking forward to designers and developers innovating on the platform so that average computer users can really benefit the technology and make their everyday life easier.


  • Canadian UX Blog

    Microsoft Surface as a Line of Business Platform


    By now many people have seen the capabilities of Microsoft Surface.  If you haven’t, you can check it out here.

    While it has generated a great deal of buzz for being innovative and compelling, most of the press around it has been focused on the consumer aspect of the platform (for example, being used in select Sheraton Hotel bars as a way to order drinks without a waiter or as a new kind of kiosk).  There hasn’t been much press about Microsoft Surface being an innovative way to deliver line of business applications, but those types of applications are coming out of the woodwork now.

    Guy Barrette found this amazing video of a great application built in WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) for the Microsoft Surface platform.  In a nutshell, it is an application that allows a doctor to view a patient’s anatomical information (stored in the cloud in Microsoft’s Health Vault) as well as powerful visualization of the data.

  • Canadian UX Blog

    One World One Dream - Watching Olympics in China


    DSCN1670It's the best time to be in China right now and I'm so happy to spend my summer vacation here with my family and friends. Hope you enjoyed the opening ceremony. The picture on the left is the front page of my hometown(Suzhou) newspaper saying "this is a historical moment, which fulfill our dream for 100 years." Being Chinese, it's a truly moving moment for me.

    From the experience design point of view, I really liked the story telling techniques throughout the show. In particular, the opening  video showed traditional paper making and brush work. What's brilliant is at the end of the video, we saw a scroll of paper, which then transferred to the huge physical paper scroll that was the main platform of all the performance followed. The experience was  very continuous for viewers as it moved from a look at traditional Chinese culture to the modern China. Of course, during the show, we got to leverage the fact that we have 1.3 billion people. :-) The 2008 drummers countdown at the beginning to the 2008 people forming a peace dove at the end, show China's love of harmony and unity.

    Enjoy the games! - cheers, Qixing

  • Canadian UX Blog

    Design Student of the Month - Benjamin Coe


    There are a lot of creative students in Canada who are doing innovative work to improve people's life through interactive, visual, informational, and other aspects of User Experience Design. I invited them to introduce who they are and share their work with you. To nominate a Design Student of the Month, email us. The Design Student of the Month for August 2008 is Benjamin Coe! Congratulations!! Let's hear from Ben.


    Who's Ben?

    I grew up in Fergus, Ontario, a small town close to Guelph. I attended the University of Guelph and completed a Bachelor of Computing Honours degree in 2007. I am currently pursuing my Master's degree in Computer Science at the same University.

    I am interested in Natural Language Processing, Philosophy, Human Computer Interaction, and Cognitive Science, and I look forward to applying my research in these fields to User Experience Design. I would like to develop deceptively simple interfaces that leverage an ability to understand language and to 'think' beyond the capabilities of current systems.

    What cool stuff is Ben doing?

    My research primarily involves computational linguistics, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence. I'm very interested in applying cognitive theory, AI and web-ontologies to a field that currently uses mainly statistical approaches to information processing. I'm interested in showing how this technology could be practically applied to web applications, creating intelligent systems that the average Internet user can help build, train, and maintain -- at the same time benefiting from their capabilities.

    In my spare time I have been developing a massively multi-player online game, which has been a very interesting (if not yet profitable) experience. Hack Wars, which has 5,000 registered users, has been a valuable learning experience, teaching me about managing online communities, developing complex parallel applications, security, and other user-centred issues directly applicable to my field. Hack Wars is a virtual hacking game which incorporates aspects of programming and web-design, essentially giving players access to a pseudo operating system.

    Please see my list of work in the video below.

    What are Ben's plans after graduation?

    I have been considering continuing my education at the doctoral level, but I would also be very interested in running my own company offering high-performance computing solutions for research and industry, having learned a lot from courses on the subject as well as from running Hack Wars. Having friends with a similar ambition has also made me interested in moving in this possible direction.

    Want to learn more about Ben?

    My Online Game at

  • Canadian UX Blog

    Silverlight Training in French


    One of our great partners out of Quebec, RunAtServer Consulting, has just created a great, three-day course on Silverlight 2 and they will be conducting it in various cities in Quebec.  The details of the course can be found here and here, but it is a very in-depth course for those of you interested in building really solid and compelling RIAs (Rich Internet Applications) with Silverlight 2.

    The dates and locations of when and where they will be conducting the course are below for your reference:

    • September 3-5, 2008 (Montreal)
    • November 5-7, 2008 (Quebec)
    • November 19-21, 2008 (Montreal)
    • January 26-28, 2008 (Montreal)

    I've worked with one of the principals of RunAtServer Consulting (Laurent Duveau; his blog is here) and their knowledge of Silverlight is very deep.

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