Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Apple: Don't Lose My Data!

Quite a few of us old timers have been bitching about the fact that Apple got rid of "Save As..." in the document model.

But few have noticed that it actually creates a situation where you LOSE DATA!  This should be filed as a Priority 1 showstopper bug.  Anything that causes you to LOSE DATA is a bad thing.  In fact, the main argument Apple made in favor of persistent storage instead of having Save and Save As was so you wouldn't lose data.

First, the dialog box from Hell:

I was editing an important file, but left it open (commonplace, and usually not destructive).  Meanwhile, I edited the same file on another computer, with different changes, and saved it to my shared (Dropbox) location, so it sync'ed out from under TextEdit.

This has happened countless times in the past, and TextEdit was smart enough to notice it, and tell me not to save over the other file.  This dialog box purports to do the same thing, BUT WITH A CRITICAL DIFFERENCE.  It does not allow me to Save As... to preserve my changes (because Save As... is not a feature any more!).

My two choices are [LOSE CHANGES] and [LOSE OTHER CHANGES].  How is that a good choice?

I had to think about this one for a while, and I went out to the Finder, made a backup of my file, clicked "Save Anyway", then manually merged the changes between the two files.  Messy, and not for the faint of heart.

Apple UI Fail

Interface Design

I used to build software at Apple.  I was once a preeminent user interface designer, before they called it either Human Interface (as if there are other kinds of users) or User Experience (as if you get to control the experience some other way than through the interface).  Anyway, I notice more and more Total Fails in Apple software, and I've decided to start blogging about it, for no particular reason other than hoping to help the current/next generation of UI designers to actually think about some of this stuff.  It's not that hard.  So this is a continuing series, now that this is my second post on the subject.  Lots more to come, especially if I get any reinforcement from blog readers.

Today's Fail

This is obviously Safari.  I restarted after having to install Flash yet-again, and because the browsers are too lame to load plug-ins without restarting them, I had to restart all my browsers. And yes, of course I use Chrome and real browsers, but I also use Safari.  I choose "Reopen All Windows From Last Session", a menu command that wouldn't be there if the program were stable or smart, but there it is, and I use it all the time.

One of the pages I had open was evidently the result of having submitted a form, hence this dialog, but (and here's the Fail) THERE'S NO WAY FOR ME TO KNOW WHICH ONE. The dialog has no useful information in it, like the URL it is attempting to visit, or what the form might have been about.  Was it a purchase?  Or was it just a weather site where I had entered my zip code?  I don't know, and I can't tell.

Luckily I know enough about this stuff to know that it doesn't matter, because anything that I might worry about (repeating a transaction on an e-commerce site) will have lost authentication and sessionID and therefore it's very unlikely I will get in any trouble by clicking Send.  And yet I am slightly uneasy anyway, even as an expert user.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Worst Dialog Box Ever

I recently was presented with this dialog box on my phone, which I nominate as "Worst Ever":

How many things are wrong with this?  First of all, it's a double negative: "Are you sure you don't want to?"  I had to read that twice.

User Interface guidelines going back 25 years, on the first page or two, suggest the obvious, that the button you click should continue the momentum of the choice that you are confirming.  So:

    Are you sure you want to delete the file "bad idea.rtf"?

        [Cancel]  [Delete]

I read the above dialog box and could not convince myself which button would mean "Yes, I am sure that I DON'T WANT to upgrade."  Cancel sounds like it would cancel the upgrade, and Continue sounds like it would go ahead and upgrade me, when in fact the buttons mean the opposite: "Continue" means "stop, don't upgrade", and Cancel means "go back and choose again," which means I can change my mind and actually upgrade.

This is a needlessly confusing dialog box with the wrong buttons and a poorly-worded question.  There are only three elements to the whole dialog: the question, and the two button titles -- and all three of them are terrible.  Only a talking paper clip could have made it any worse.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Can we drop the leading "WWW." please?

The "www." that preceded web addresses for 20 years is almost as misunderstood as the http:// that precedes it. Modern users of web browsers will note that both are dispensable.  You can enter into any browser and you will get to the right place.

The reason is relatively technical.  http:// is a protocol, which indicates what language you should be speaking if you open a connection to that server.  When on a web browser, the presumption is that you will be speaking HTTP, though you can also get ftp:// and even iTunes:// to work in a browser.

But www. is even murkier in history.  Technical there is nothing special about www. as you can see from URL's that have things like www3. in them. Unlike http://, it is not a magi word that is meaningful to the browser.  It is actually just a subdomain like any other. or  A subdomain is a matter of efficiency that lets traffic be routed to a different server for different purposes.  In the early days, it was helpful, sometimes even mandatory, that the web server be a different computer from, say, the FTP server or the SMTP (mail) server.  So if you didn't type it might not actually work at all.

Nowadays that is long gone, except for domains that are poorly configured, of which there may be a few -- but none that matter.

To all of you who are creating business cards, or painting your web site on the side of your truck, or worse of all, saying "double you double you double you" out loud on radio ads ... please just omit the www. (and the http://) and direct people to and be done with it.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Origins of the Peace Sign

I found this fascinating: the Peace Sign, which we all take for granted as an icon, was designed by somebody, on purpose, to advocate nuclear disarmament:
"It was invented by a member of our movement (Gerald Holtom) as the badge of the Direct Action Committee against Nuclear War, for the 1958 Aldermaston peace walk in England. It was designed from the naval code of semaphore, and the symbol represents the code letters for ND.'"

Borrowed liberally from this site: Peace Sign History