go ahead, mac my day

a Macintosh girl in a Microsoft world

November, 2006

  • go ahead, mac my day

    sitting in the middle of an us-versus-them debate


    One of the things that I like about being a blogger and reading blogs is that you get to watch a debate unfold in interested and unexpected ways. I've been following the online debate over the Windows Vista shut-down button.

    If you haven't seen it yet, the whole thing started with Joel Spolsky complaining about the button. He suggests that the multiple features that are there can be replaced with a single b'bye button. He's got a long and involved discussion of why he thinks that it should be that way. Next into the fray was Moishe Lettvin, an ex-Vista dev who was part of the team who worked on that, and he explained its development from his perspective. The latest entry is Arno Gourdol, an ex-OS X developer, who blogged about the design of the OS X shutdown feature.

    I disagree with both Arno and Joel on this point: there needs to be more than just a b'bye for everything. I mostly like how OS X currently has it. The option to log off is important to me, since my home Macs are shared. And I like having a shut-down option, too, since my Mac Mini is under my desk and I don't want to crawl around to turn it off. I'm not sure if I like having the option for fast-user switching be in a different location than the other login type options, but I'm not unhappy with where it is. I do like having my username in the upper corner, since it reminds me which account I'm logged in on.

    Sitting, as I do, at the crossroads of Microsoft and Apple, this whole kerfluffle is interesting to watch. It's an excellent insight in how different companies, with different processes, different goals, and different people, approach the exact same problem. Apple values simplicity above all else, and Arno wanted it to be even simpler than the three options that are given to users. In Vista, it looks like they're trying for the best of both worlds: two buttons which will satisfy 99% of users, and then a series of additional options for that extra 1% who want things just so.

    It's also interesting to read about Moishe's experiences on the Vista team. My experiences here in MacBU are entirely different. I don't think that there's anything in MacBU which has 43 people touching it. There's only ~180 of us, so I can't imagine what would get fully just under 1/3 of us doing something to it. And while I do go to a lot of meetings (moreso now that I've got an open position, but that will be better once we get someone hired in), I certainly don't have weekly meetings on any single feature. App, yes, but not feature -- and a quick catch-up on what's happening in each app is quite useful for me. There's not lots of different layers between me and someone else working on the same feature or application. When we're deciding what needs to happen in our apps, we don't have to wait months to figure out what's going on. We do have some coordination to do with other teams, such as the WinOffice and the Windows OS team, but it's nothing like what Moishe describes.

    Where do we in MacBU fall? Do we aim for absolute simplicity, or all of the options you could ever want? We're somewhere in the middle. We can't go for absolute simplicity, since compatibility with WinOffice is important to us. But we do value simplicity, and try to simplify our features and interface to be in line with Apple design principles. We have to make trade-offs to serve our users, and we haven't yet found a way to be everything to everyone. But we're hard at work on the next version, and the one after that, so maybe we'll get closer next time 'round.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    the spam that keeps on spamming


    It's the time of year for the spammers to ratchet up their efforts. I blame all of the spam in the world on my father, who actually bought me a miniature remote-controlled car from his spam a few years ago. If he hadn't made that mistake, we wouldn't have spammers. Just like if no-one bought that junk on infomercials, that scourge on society would go away.

    As much as I whinge about spam, it's occasionally at least a little bit entertaining. (As are infomercials, since you can entertain yourself for a couple of minutes with thoughts of who would actually buy that kind of junk.) I always glance through my Junk Mail folder before emptying it, to ensure that there are no false positives in there, and to see if there's something that makes me laugh.

    My spam these days seems to consist of mail-order brides, *ahem* male prescriptions and enhancements, and a few 'buy Microsoft Office for $199!' things. But one of my spams today takes the cake. 'Need a gift for your father?' shouts the subject line. I do, in fact, need a gift for my father. The gift suggested is Rogaine. What kind of daughter do they think I am? 'Dad, I noticed your hairline is receding, have you ever considered doing something about it? It really looks bad.' I'm sorry, but I just can't do that.

    Dad, I tried, but if I don't get some assistance soon, you're getting ties for Christmas. I'm not giving you a three-pack of Rogaine, no matter what my spam suggests.

    Edited to add: At least I'm not the only one getting some amusement from my spam. DocBug is too: At least the spammers feel sorry for us ....

  • go ahead, mac my day

    Q&A: backing up Entourage


    I wasn't sure if anyone was actually reading today, but the first question has already arrived. It is:

    I have a client who uses Entourage with an Exchange server. What is the best way to backup emails that reside on the exchange server and take into consideration that she's a mac user?

    I think that the one of the best resources for Entourage users is the Entourage MVP site. If you're not familiar with it, MVP stands for Most Valued Professional. It's a Microsoft thing: these are non-Microsoft employees who are expert users of our applications, and they like helping out other people. They know the apps backwards and forwards, and they can make the apps sing and dance. In short, MVPs rock.

    On the Entourage MVP website, they have a page all about backing up your Entourage data. That looks like a pretty thorough list of the back-up options in Entourage, so I think it will take care of you.

    If you have more questions about backing up Entourage data (or, for that matter, anything else about Entourage), check out the Entourage public newsgroup. There are lots of Entourage experts there, including many (most? all?) of the Entourage MVPs. You'll get great responses to pretty much anything you ask.

    Another useful thing for you is the Office:Mac 2004 resource kit. It provides all sorts of guidance for using all of the Office apps, including guidance for users in Exchange environments. It's possibly the single most useful Office document that you'll find. There's a lot of Entourage information in there.

    There are, of course, lots of other Entourage resources out there. The best ones are linked on the Entourage MVP page.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    go on, ask


    It's a quiet holiday week. Many of my co-workers are taking some of their vacation time this week. My hallway is remarkably silent. Me, I'm here all week, since I'm burning through all of my vacation time in December.

    So here's what I'm going to do this week, blog-wise. Ask me a question, and I'll do my best to answer it. There are questions that I can't answer, but I'll at least tell you that I can't answer them. Remember that I can't talk in any detail about the next versions of Office or Messenger yet, no matter how much I'd love to.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    Apple, you evil temptress


    Clearly Apple is trying to tell me that it's time to upgrade. They announced today that they're teaming up with six airlines to deliver iPod integration. Seats will have iPod power connections, and video content will be delivered to the seatback display.

    The press release doesn't say whether the airlines will make this available only in first class, or if it will be available to those of us who have to travel in cattle economy class. That's probably up to the individual airline. Sadly, it's not going to be available until mid-2007, meaning that I can't give it a go on my upcoming 14-1/2 hour flight to Sydney on United.

    So maybe it really really is time to upgrade. I still have my trusty old 2G iPod. It's still happily buzzing along, and I'm stuffing it full of content for my upcoming flight, but having in-seat power for it would be very nice. It doesn't get its full 10 hours of battery life any more, but still does a respectable 8 or so.

    It occurs to me that all of this iPod integration is locking Apple in to their current connector, and possibly to their current form factor as well. The accessory manufacturers have had to simply absorb the changes, but Apple's swimming with bigger fish than Belkin now. With all of these other companies laying out significant piles of cash to integrate with the iPod, Apple probably can't risk ticking them off by changing the connector, not to mention confusing the huge number of users who already own iPods and won't understand the distinction between the various iPod generations.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    my MWSF wishlist - top ten announcements I wish Apple would make


    I know that it's a bit early for this kind of post, but I'm going to be out of the country for most of December [1], so I feel like I might as well get the ball rollin'.

    Here are ten things that I want from Apple at MWSF. This isn't a list of what I think will actually happen at MWSF, this is a wishlist. My Amazon wishlist has all sorts of things that I don't think I'll ever get, and I view this in mostly the same way.

    1. iPhone -- I want a new mobile, but I haven't actually spent any time doing any research into them to see what best fits my needs (or, y'know, even articulating what those needs are). Thus, I want an iPhone, because my imaginary iPhone has everything that I want [2].
    2. Mac Pro Mini -- I really wish that Apple had a middle ground in their desktop line. I really like my Mini, but I wish it were just a hair more customisable. I'll take a larger form factor. But I don't want a behemoth like the Mac Pro. I want something in between. And no, the iMac isn't the in-between, because I don't want the iMac monitor.
    3. MacBook Mini -- This isn't intended to be a trend with the mini, but ... I really wish that there were an ultraportable laptop in the MacBook family. The latest generation of the Sony Vaio TX series is what I want Apple to compete with. With all of the travelling that I do, the idea of an ultraportable makes me salivate. I love my MacBook, don't get me wrong, but I still want something smaller.
    4. Laptop docks -- The one thing that I miss from having a ThinkPad is the dock. It so nice to be able to drop your laptop into the dock. Every time I sit down in my office, I have to manually hook up my Ethernet cable, power supply, USB hub, and firewire hub. Okay, so it only takes me a few seconds, but it's still annoying.
    5. Spotlight improvements -- I really do love Spotlight. I often use it as an app launcher. (I know, I should probably give Quicksilver or something of its ilk a go sometime.) But the limitations of Spotlight annoy me. First of all, I really want Spotlight to be a real window that I can Apple-tab to. This is especially true when I'm looking for a document, but I have to try several items from my Spotlight search results to get the right one. There's probably a whole post of Spotlight improvements that I want, so let's move on.
    6. Casual games -- One thing that I really wish I could find more of on OS X are casual games. The big games that I want make it over here (Sims, Civ, etc). It's the little games that I miss. All of those Popcap games ... sigh. According to their site, only eight of them are on the Mac. I remember playing Hoyle Card Games on Windows 3.1, and I haven't found anything that even approaches the level of that ancient game for my Mac, let alone what they're up to today (although I haven't touched it since that original version, so maybe they haven't done anything since then).
    7. Easy updating of non-Apple applications -- I <heart> Software Updater. I never have to check to see if there's an update of the OS or any of the Apple apps. They just magically appear. Sadly, the rest of the Apple development world doesn't have it that easy. They either have to roll their own auto-updater, or they just go without and hope that people check for updates. Neither of these options provides an optimal user experience. How dumb did I feel when I loaded Civ4 onto my laptop, couldn't get it to work, and found out a week later that there was an update that fixed my problem?
    8. iTunes International -- I really wish that I could get more international content on iTunes: television series from the BBC, music artists that are listed on iTunes [somewhere else] but not on iTunes America, etc. I get that there's copyright issues here. But Apple should overcome them and give me iTunes International. Even for the purposes of a wishlist, I'm willing to accept that they might not be ale to get everything listed everywhere, but let's take a stab at getting some of it.
    9. Rip audio from DVDs -- I have a fair number of concert DVDs. I want to be able to listen to the audio from them on my iPod. Ditto the increasing number of DVD-As that are coming out, such as R.E.M.'s recent re-releases of five of their albums on DVD in 5.1 surround. I use my Mac Mini as my media server, and it annoys me that I can't (easily) get the audio off of these DVDs.
    10. Free iPod Shuffle to every MWSF attendee -- A girl can dream!

    Okay, that's what I want at MWSF. What would you like to see Apple announce at MWSF?

    [1] I'm headed to Sydney for Christmas, so I'm gone from 06 Dec through 02 Jan. Don't expect any posts from me while I'm gone. :)

    [2] And yes, I know that I'm setting myself up for disappointment. It's just like when your favourite book gets turned into a movie, and the film is all wrong because it's nothing like what it's like in your head. The iPhone, if it ever does come into being, will be exactly like that.

  • go ahead, mac my day

    Test post


    I'm now trying Blogmailr.com to see if I like it and how Mac-friendly it is.

    Published with BlogMailr

  • go ahead, mac my day

    book review - 'A Pattern Language for Web Usability'


    Book title: A Pattern Language for Web Usability
    Author: Ian Graham
    ISBN: 0201788888

    The title of this book is promising. However, the promise does not hold. The author clearly does not understand patterns or a pattern language. The so-called patterns given here are not patterns in any way. Instead, they are an attempt at a roadmap for the design of a website. I would refer to the design methodology here as a flowchart, not as a pattern language. (And how can a computer scientist mistake a flowchart for a pattern language?)

    If you ignore the dreadful attempt at creating a pattern language and simply focus on the usability, the book is marginally better. However, there is almost no focus on the user. There are merely a few rules to follow that may or may not result in a usable website.

    If you are conversant with patterns from the seminal Design Patterns by the Gang of Four (Gamma, Helm, Johnson, Vlissides), do not purchase this book. I have not yet found a reasonable book that discusses patterns as applied specifically to web usability. Most of the books in this field either miss the point of patterns or are not conversant with usability.

    If you are new to usability in general, I would recommend Barnum's Usability Testing and Research. It gives you the necessary background, plus can be used as a handbook to design your own usability test. It is an excellent introduction to the subject.

    If you are a bit more experienced with usability, but not necessarily with the special considerations for websites, I would recommend Nielsen's Designing Web Usability. It is a much better-written book and describes the necessary concepts much better than this one.

    If you are simply looking for a book because you've heard that 'patterns' and 'usability' will help your career, read through the books that I've listed above, in the order that I've listed them.

    Related links:
    Amazon's page about this book

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