On Tuesday, the Microsoft hardware guys announced the Wireless Laser Desktop for Mac. Those of you who were at MWSF and stopped by our booth got to see the prototype. The folks over at Internet News picked up on the story: That's Right, Microsoft's Got Mac Hardware.
The article did remind me of something that I forgot: of the three original Mac developers, only Microsoft has continuously supported the Mac.
World, meet Bernard. Bernard, meet world.
Bernard is my new MacBook. He's replacing Ridcully, my four-year-old titanium PowerBook who's started having some kernel panics. I convinced myself that if I'm going to have to go through the hassle of reinstalling the OS, I might as well buy a new laptop and sell the old one. It looks like PBs that are around Ridcully's specs are going for about $700, which conveniently covers much of the cost of Bernard. It's like trading in your boyfriend, except there's actually a marked improvement between versions. ;)
So far (you know, two hours in), I'm loving the new screen. It's so much brighter than my old one! (Of course, my work PowerBook is also much brighter than my TiBook, since it's only a year old.) He is running warmer than Ridcully, but not so much that I've really noticed it.
More on Bernard later, after I've beefed him up with some more RAM and a bigger hard drive. Those are on the way, as is his foofbag.
This entirely content-free post is my 100th post to this blog. Happy round number to me!
She said yes.
One of my favourite pastimes as a member of the MacBU has been collecting conspiracy theories. As a result of the Boot Camp announcement, I've got a new favourite conspiracy theory. There is no Vista, someone claimed. Steve's gonna announce that they've been partnering with Microsoft all along, and Leopard actually is Vista. Now, I suppose I should say that, since I'm not the CEO of either Apple or Microsoft, I really don't know if this is true. But I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that my gut feeling is that those betas that we've seen of Vista aren't part of some massive cover-up. But you never know. I could be wrong. (And now the conspiracy theorists can say, 'but someone from MacBU said it was a possibility!'. Knock yourselves out.)
Last week, someone told me that I gave them a 'corporate answer' when they asked about the potential inclusion of a particular feature in one of our apps. And yeah, I did. I'm not trying to hide anything. It's that it's too early for me to say anything.
I know it seems odd to say that it's too early to talk about our software, given that Office:Mac 2004 has been available for a couple of years, you know that we're working on the next version, and the Windows Office team has begun to talk about their suite. We're on a different schedule than the Windows Office suite. Historically, we've released Office:Mac six to twelve months after the Windows version has shipped. They're at least a few months ahead of us, at least in terms of their ship date. This means that they're at a point where they can talk about what they've got coming up, and we're not quite there yet.
The reason that we don't talk about it when we're at this point in our cycle is that Stuff Happens. Remember, just a year ago, MacBU was happily tooling along, working on the next versions of our software, and then suddenly a whole new chip architecture was dropped on our heads. Some non-developers thought that this would be an overnight change, but that is not the case. (If you haven't yet, do read through Rick's entry on this subject.) This is an extreme example of a change, but it gives you an idea of what we face.
On a fundamental level, I think that Apple understands this, and thus plays their cards close to their chest. How many of you guys were awake at 5am so that you could see what was up Steve's sleeve at MWSF? I was. Would we have been willing to get up that early if it weren't for Apple's secrecy? But aside from raising excitement about what is to come, their secrecy also allows Apple to miss a deadline. If Stuff Happens to Apple, they miss a deadline, but the only guy who knows it is Steve Jobs. They don't have to worry about disappointing the public by not meeting a ship date or by having to remove something cool from one of their products.
For now, mum's the word. I'm excited about what we've got coming for you. I'm really looking forward to this release. Once we're at the right point to start talking about it, you won't be able to shut me up.
The 5th Avenue store is opening, and the pictures are pouring in. (Check out this set from last night, not to mention this thread over at Gothamist.) It appears that the new store is open 24 hours, just in case you have Aperture questions at 3am.
The design does look quite nice, but I have to wonder how they’re going to keep that glass clean. They’ve got to have an army of window-cleaners on staff.
A fair amount of my time is spent in the usability lab conducting a standard usability test: bring some users (usually ~10) into the lab, give them a set of tasks to do, ask them to think out loud while they’re doing the tasks, observe them, ask them some questions. But that’s not all of my time with users. Here in MacBU, we employ a number of other methods to learn more about our users, what they like, and what they don’t like.
One method is ethnography. Actually, to be more accurate (in case there are any anthropologists who read this), I tend to do ethnographically-informed studies. The difference is that I’m not observing a group for an extended period of time. I spend an afternoon or a day with any given person. For example, I recently completed a study where I observed highly-expert users of some of our software. I traveled around the country and observed them while they did their job using my software. For the most part, I was with an individual for about four hours. Unlike a standard usability study, I didn’t direct them to do anything in particular, I just asked them to use the software as they normally would, and to go about their day as if they normally would.
Ethnography gives you different data than a usability test. I use a usability test to find out whether a specific function (or group of functions) works for users. Ethnography, on the other hand, lets me learn things that I wouldn’t normally learn in my lab. I can’t necessarily generalise to other users, but I can discover ways that people use our software that I hadn’t thought of.
There’s an article about ethnography (although they’re talking about real ethnography, not my ethnography lite) at PC Magazine.
That article also mentions that Microsoft uses personas in various groups. MacBU is one of those groups. Personas are model users that typify a specific set of users. You name these personas, and in so naming them, you give them power to help you think about what you’re doing. If you were to ever sit in on one of our spec reviews, you might hear someone say, “I don’t think that John will get that”, or maybe, “Sam will be annoyed by that”, or even, “Mary’s gonna love that!”. As a user experience researcher, I get a warm fuzzy when I hear one of the other members of the team taking those personas to heart like that. It gives them the chance to think about the differing needs of our users in ways that they haven’t before, or perhaps simply haven’t been able to articulate before.
To learn more about personas, check out some of the following resources:
Another method is the RITE method. RITE stands for Rapid Iterative Testing and Evaluation. It differs from a standard usability study in that, instead of testing the exact same thing on every user, you make changes to what you’re testing between participants. The whole team (not just the user experience researcher) observes each participant, and agrees to the changes (if any) that will be made before the next participant complets the usability test.
Using this method often allows the team to discover more issues than they would in a standard usability test. Some issues conceal other issues. You also get the opportunity to test a potential solution. If it doesn’t work, then you try another solution with the next participant. And if all else fails – either you can’t agree upon a solution, or the solution is too hard to implement in the available time – the RITE method degrades gracefully back to a standard usability test.
What method we use employ at any given time depends on our available time, our resources, and the data that we want to collect. I like using ethnography when I want to gain a broad understanding of how users actually use the software. I also use it when I’m exploring potential new software to see how people currently solve a problem that I’m hoping to solve with my software. I like using RITE when I have a prototype that I can quickly update between participants. Our personas inform all of the work that I do.
And remember, if you ever want to see what kind of work that we do from the point of view of a usability test participant, you can sign up to particpate in our usability studies. Most of our tests are conducted in the Seattle and San Francisco Bay areas, but we travel to meet our users around the world. (And please, sign up if you’re in Hawai’i. I’ve been trying to convince my manager that there has to be a good reason to send me there. ;)
I don't generally link to non-geek stuff here, but some things bear repeating. Kristen Hersh wrote a great blog entry about loving what you do. Here's a quote:
[Vic Chesnutt and I] both go to the place "music" and each time we go, we don't know for sure that we're gonna come back. And then sometimes you do come back, but it's made you crazy or a junkie, or something.
So now, dear readers, I want you go forth and do something that you love so much that you're not sure that you're going to come back. And you should know that it's something that I'm doing right here, right now, with what I do for a living.