11.01.16

Really? Redux

Posted in Rants at 5:57 pm by

Today’s DealNews Apple (née DealMac) newsletter:

dealnews-todaysbestappledeals-dell-20161101
DealNews Apple newsletter, November 1, 2016

On the heels of September’s Android game as “today’s best Apple deal,” now we have a $300 Dell computer as the best Apple deal!? Fonzie, you can keep your shark.

09.22.16

Really‭?

Posted in Rants at 5:13 pm by

Today’s DealNews Apple (née DealMac) newsletter:

dealnews-20160922
DealNews Apple newsletter, September 22, 2016

Really!? I know that DealMac hasn’t been what it was a decade ago, or even five years ago, for a while now—a definite shadow of its old self1—and that many Mac users may have Android phones, but, really, Android games are the best/most relevant Apple-related deal for the day? I find that extremely difficult to believe.

        

1 After reading the “new” DealNews Apple-format newsletter for a while after the changeover last year, I sent their feedback system a list of a half-dozen or so suggestions on how they could improve the newsletter experience and make it easier to see/find relevant deals. Needless to say, none of the suggestions have been implemented. ↩︎

09.02.15

Quoting John Gruber

Posted in Rants, Software at 2:30 am by

John Gruber:

Their old logo was goofy. This new one is simply garbage.

The redeeming quality of the previous Google logos was the whimsy, while the serifs kept them from looking too childlike or immature.

The new logo, however, is simply puerile. Someone needs to take away the Play-Doh.

03.24.15

What year is it again?

Posted in Rants, Software at 5:25 pm by

The other day, my brother asked me to log in to his account on his employer’s1HR system” in order to make him some backup copies of information presented there (his existing copies of which he had needed to provide to his supervisor). On the login screen, I was still slightly shocked2 to see the following message:

For an optimal experience, we recommend using these browsers:

Unexpected results may occur when using other browsers.

(If you view the source, you can see that each of the <a>s has an id="ielink_001" attribute—not only incorrect, but perhaps a holdover from the days this particular website “supported” only IE?)

Seriously? It’s 2015 and your website is not only not compatible with any version of Safari, but it is only compatible with versions of Chrome and Firefox that are four3 versions out-of-date!? (Kudos for supporting versions of IE dating back six years, though!)

I forged ahead, because if the site claimed to work properly in a six-year-old version of Internet Explorer, it surely would work in a current two-year-old version of Safari (the just-released version 6.2.4 on 10.8/Mountain Lion). Nothing I had to look at seemed to look or function incorrectly—until it came time to look for his timesheets. When I clicked on the tab entitled “Timesheets”, a page loaded with no “content” below the row of tabs, except for a link to help me return to the site I was already on. Indeed, unexpected results may occur when using a browser other than the last four versions of IE or versions of Chrome and Firefox four versions out-of-date! Eventually, I realized that the problem was that loading the page was triggering a pop-up window(!?) with the website for the company’s scheduling system, and Safari was (silently) blocking said pop-up.4

Allowing pop-ups and forging ahead again, I looked at the scheduling system’s website, and it reminded me of a poor knockoff of the web as rendered by Firebird 0.6 or 0.7 more than a decade ago (eerie, that poorly-rendered, overly-fat Helvetica—perhaps it’s Verdana or Tahoma?—and <table>s, lots of <table>s!) Also, there was a menu that seemed to have no useful functions. Finally relenting, I launched Firefox 36, discovered the functional part of the menu was indeed missing (according to the Web Inspector in Safari, that part of the menu was being rendered off-screen and I think zero-height; given that Blink and WebKit supposedly haven’t diverged that much, I wonder if this critical piece of the menu would have appeared in Chrome, either, supported version or otherwise?), found the link I needed, and returned to Safari to print out pages of multi-page <table>s.

These are websites/systems that are created and installed to be used by every employee of this company, from the convenience of each employee’s personal computing device, not systems that are to be used solely by the HR department on company computers where IT can mandate a certain browser and software combination. This is software whose purpose is to be used by everyone; why is it not designed to be used by everyone—compatible with current versions of the major rendering engines, avoiding unfriendly and abused technologies like pop-ups, and so on?

If the software is intended to be used by everyone (or, generally, people beyond those whose computer configuration you can dictate by supplying said computer) and it’s web-based software (or has a web front-end), then the company (or the company’s software vendor) needs to continually test the software/web front-end with new versions of major rendering engines, making changes (or reporting bugs in the rendering engine) in the unlikely event something breaks, so that they aren’t requiring employees to use six-month-old versions of browsers in order for the corporate software to work properly.

As for the integration between the main HR system and the scheduling system, if the two can’t talk to each other directly behind the scenes, then why not embed the scheduling system into the “Timesheets” tab with an <iframe> (<iframe>s are already present in some of the other tabs). If an <iframe> won’t work for some technical or security reasons, why not include a button on the “Timesheets” tab that the user can click to trigger the pop-up window with the scheduling system, thus escaping the pop-up blocker? It’s not as elegant in some ways as automatically launching, but pop-ups are already not as elegant as showing the data inline (and pop-ups are arguably not elegant at all), and manually-triggered pop-ups are more friendly since the human involved knows he or she is triggering some action and isn’t annoyed by blocked pop-up notifications. You also then get Safari compatibility “for free” without requiring users to change settings (and without having to tell them how to do so). If there are still legitimate reasons not to use a button or link or similar element, at the very least some explanatory text in the “content” section of the “Timesheets” tab is far more useful to anyone than a link to return to the very site you’re already viewing.

When I encounter software like this, I often wonder how it was built. Was there a user experience or human interface designer as part of the team? Was there any testing? Any quality assurance team involved? Or did some product manager just throw a spec sheet from marketing at the software engineers and tell them, “Not only do you have to write the code to make it do these things, but you have to determine how it’s going to do these things, too.” Or did management decide to ship as-is, perhaps over the objections of team members, in order to meet some deadline?

Design is how things work. Not everyone is a good designer, just like not everyone is a good programmer or tester (they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive, but many times excelling in one field means not learning as much about another), but every good piece of software needs all three skillsets, working in concert, whether in one body or more. Too often, “corporate software” like this seems to be missing one or more of the three, and that’s a shame, because with a little more effort, every interaction with the software could be improved. Then the vendor sells better software, the employees who use the software have a faster, easier experience and can get back to doing what they love and are good at, and the company installing the software can have happier employees. Everyone wins.

        

1 An unnamed major American restaurant group.
2 I know, I know, I really shouldn’t be. :P
3 In fairness, Firefox 31 is at least still in the ESR support window until May.
4 Question 1: Why, in 2015, does Safari still not support a per-site control for pop-ups (and, at least as of version 6, still not provide any sort of notification of blocked pop-ups; granted the UI balance there is hard—and a subject for another post—but still!)?
Question 2: The better question is, why, in 2015, are sites still using non-user-triggered pop-up windows for critical functions, or any functions at all?

05.20.12

:grmbl: WordPress.com

Posted in Life, Rants, Software at 3:29 am by

Today I discovered one of my friends had returned to blogging. Seized with happiness, I went to leave a “welcome back” comment.

Unfortunately, in the two-plus years since I had last left a comment on her blog, WordPress.com had completely redone comment authorization. Even though the text reads

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

(emphasis added) and I filled in my details rather than clicking on a service icon, WordPress.com decided that, because said email address was also associated with my Gravatar or WordPress.com accounts (both, in this case1), I would have to sign in to WordPress.com in order to leave a comment.

That’s not the end of the world (although way back when, I had carefully crafted my cookies exceptions list to ensure I was remembered on her blog but not anywhere else in the WordPress universe—there’s nothing more frightening than showing up on a site you’ve never visited before and finding that you’re logged-in in the comments field—and generally free from being tracked by WordPress.com in my travels across the web), if that were where it ended. I would have logged in, had my comment posted, logged out, and gone about the rest of my evening, and you’d never be reading this post.

However, what happened is, without any notification whatsoever, WordPress.com replaced the details I had entered (remember, I entered my name, URL and email address instead of clicking on a service icon) with a reference to my WordPress.com account. So instead of “Smokey” from http://www.ardisson.org/ leaving a comment, “sardisson” with no URL left a comment. Even after I visited my never-used WordPress.com profile and entered http://www.ardisson.org/ as my “Web Address” (“Shown publicly when you comment on blogs and in your Gravatar profile.”), my comment still has no URL. I guess because my blog isn’t actually at WordPress.com, I can’t have a Web Address associated with my comments on WordPress.com sites. :-( As for my name, I can also change my “Public Display Name”, but, once again, doing so didn’t alter my comment. (I can also change my WordPress.com username, which might produce the desired effect—though based on the prior two changes it seems unlikely—but I don’t want to jump through the hoops required to do that, and, besides, I like my username just fine.)

On the one hand, I can understand WordPress.com’s desire to force all commenters to use an account from one of their blessed services (even if I don’t agree with the idea), but in that case, why even allow for the appearance of commenting with any name/URL/email? I can also see an argument for forcing anyone who is trying to comment using a known-to-the-WordPress.com-universe email address to log in, so all comments can be associated with the user profile and aggregated (though, in my opinion, that argument is not one that carries much weight).

But if you’re going to force this correlation on visitors/users,

  1. Make it clear the association is going to happen, and don’t offer alternative identification UI that leads users to believe they can still comment using the traditional name/URL/email details, and
  2. Realize that users—and here by users I mean people, human beings, flesh-and-blood, your mom, your brother, your best friend from college, real people you know and interact with in person on a daily basis, not some abstract construct called “users”—are going to want to identify themselves differently in different contexts,2 so you need let them. Not just let them, but facilitate this choice.

After all, even Yahoo! allows you to have separate “identities” associated with the same account and has allowed you to subscribe to different Yahoo! Groups using different identities for so long I’ve forgotten when they introduced that feature. And, er, I believe Gravatar.com supports exactly that sort of thing, different gravatars for different email addresses (except, I guess, if you want to comment on WordPress.com?). Why can’t WordPress.com comments?

Please, just let me comment on my friend’s blog as “Smokey” from http://www.ardisson.org/ using the email address I customarily use on the internet, and let me choose to comment elsewhere on WordPress.com blogs as “Smokey Ardisson” or “sardisson” or whatever facet of my identity is most appropriate for the context in which I am commenting.

        

1 Even if I hadn’t used the same email address on both services, once Auttomatic acquired Gravatar and linked it with WordPress.com, practically speaking for everyone the two accounts are one and the same.

2 :cough: Google Buzz :cough: Google Plus :cough:

02.08.12

Dear CCAS

Posted in Life, Rants, Software at 5:51 pm by

What follows is the text of my email reply to CCAS’s recent email announcing the availability of the latest newsletter.

At 4:17 PM -0500 on 2/8/12, Center for Contemporary Arab Studies wrote:

But I am delighted to present to you a new, redesigned newsletter using a cutting-edge technology, ISSUU. Rather than downloading a PDF from this e-mail, all you need to do is click on the link to ISSUU on our website and read the newsletter there! Note that ISSUU offers users some attractive features via the row of icons under the newsletter, such as searching the newsletter for key terms or names, leaving comments about the newsletter, posting the newsletter to social media, and downloading or printing the newsletter.

Seriously, Flash?! In this day and age? That’s not cutting-edge, that’s edge-of-extinction. Even a PDF is more accessible, and more widely supported, than Flash. (And, btw, PDF supports searching, too, since it’s *real text* and not an image. And those buttons that let you post to social media aren’t hard to implement; you could stick them next to a link to a PDF newsletter on the CCAS site. And if you really, really wanted comments, embedding something like Disqus on a page for each newsletter would still be easy, and far better than forcing everyone off to a third-party Flash content-locker.)

Plus, the Flash viewer is so buggy (it won’t zoom-on-click to a scale at which the text is readable, and using the zoom slider, the viewer gets stuck in pan-or-zoom mode, so any movement trying to read jars either the position or the zoom scale). It’s absolutely not a pleasant reading experience by any stretch of the imagination. Moreover, the content is stuck inside a Flash “window” specifically designed to show that it’s a container holding the content, inside a tab, inside my browser window with normal browser chrome; when I was viewing the old PDF Newsletters inside my PDF viewer, it’s just the Newsletter content inside that window (which has minimal chrome, allowing me to focus on the content and not the container). I gave up on trying to read the Newsletter in the Flash viewer very quickly. So I figured I’d just download a copy, hoping it’d let me read in my PDF viewer like I had been doing since you discontinued the print version (I loved being able to grab the printed newsletter and take it with me, reading it wherever I was), but, wait, now I have to sign up for some third-party service just to download a copy of the CCAS Newsletter that used to be freely available on the CCAS website?! Seriously?! And what happens when this third-party service shuts down or is bought out? There go all the CCAS Newsletters posted there. :-(

I can understand if you wanted to move away from PDF to reduce download sizes, or improve accessibility, or improve the ability to “mash-up” and share the content, or to make the newsletter more widely available to multiple device types and to support reading habits/preferences, but to do that, you need to take a step forward, not backwards. Move to a nice HTML newsletter in that case. But not to Flash.

Please, can you make the newsletter available again as a simple PDF download from the CCAS site, instead of this Flash monstrosity and its “you must create an account with a third-party service and sign in in order to download a readable version” content wall?

Thanks,
Smokey Ardisson
MAAS ‘03

02.07.12

Dear Apple

Posted in Camino, Rants, Software at 2:34 am by

Someday—in my lifetime—will you please make the current, native, recommended .sdef scripting definition format less buggy than the old, less powerful, and implicitly not recommended .scriptSuite / .scriptTerminology format?

Thank you. That is all.