Saturday, December 03, 2005

Usability: To be or not to be...

I stumbled across this thread the other day, which discusses (read argues) the merits of developing user interfaces to behave based on the platform the software is running on. The original post was created by a guy called Joe Marshall, who had developed a Windows plugin for The GIMP that created a single window which took ownership of all the other windows.

Traditionally, The GIMP has been a *nix-based application, with a multitude of windows. While this has been a standard *nix GUI convention for years, most Windows applications these days use a single MDI (Multiple Document Interface) window in place of multiple windows. Joe mentioned that this provided multiple benefits for Windows users:

  • Users could Alt-Tab between GIMP and other applications in one go, rather than having to Alt-Tab through each GIMP window.

  • Users could minimize/restore all the GIMP windows in one go.

  • Users could select each window from a Window menu on the main window.

  • There was only one button on the taskbar, rather than one for each window.

  • The file selector dialog was replaced with a standard Window file browser dialog box.

Here are his comments:

Basically it makes it into a usable application, it's a bit mac-like still with all the windows, but in a similar way to on the mac, the separate windows behave like one application and don't clutter up your taskbar. Also if you maximize the background window, you get rid of the irritating thing where you miss click on a tool and open up another application. Previously I'd had to minimize all other applications when using gimp, that was getting to be a right lot of hassle.

Responses were varied, including BiggyP's comment:

well, it sounds absolutely appalling to me...

Twelve Parsecs made the most controversial comment:

The other thing is that under no circumstances should a user have to adapt and get used to the quirks of a program's interface. Never. The interface should adapt to the user. As the Fool in King Lear asks, "May not an ass know when the cart draws the horse?"

This drew a barage of comments, but raises an interesting point. A large amount of software these days, particularly Open Source software like GIMP, is implemented in platform independent languages and then compiled for each platform they want to release the software for. So a *nix application, built to follow *nix GUI conventions, simply gets recompiled to run under Windows. While the gap between Windows and *nix GUI conventions seems to be narrowing, there are still significant differences that could confuse users.

Other people posted commments about the fact that if the GIMP UI was changed to follow these conventions it could confuse existing GIMP users. This is where plugins and skins work together to ensure users can make applications behave the way that they are expecting them to behave.

Software developers need to bear in mind that users have different expectations of user interfaces based on their knowledge and experience.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

More silicon images...

I mentioned a while ago that there are a wide variety of images etched in the dice of our CPUs, and other silicon devices. I have since found another image gallery over at

Pride of place is Milhouse, but Kermit the Frog and Waldo also feature.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Build your own game console

So the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 3 are due out shortly, and everyone has there own opinions on which will be the 'better' games console. But now you can prove them all wrong, by building your own games console!

Ok, so the XGameStation Micro Edition might not be quite as high powered as the two leading consoles, but the satisfaction of building it yourself should be reward enough.

Check out what you get in the kit:

- Complete XGS Micro Edition console, fully assembled and ready to use.
- Andre' LaMothe's one-of-a-kind eBook, Designing Your Own Video Game Console, explaining the entire design and implementation of the XGS Micro. Covers the basics of electrical engineering, circuit board design, layout and routing, video techniques, sound generation, I/O techniques, relevant software tools, low-level programming, and much more!
- Official XGS Micro Edition Development Studio tool chain for Windows PCs supporting "To the Metal" Assembly Language programming.
- Complete, electronic copy of Andre' LaMothe's best selling "Tricks of the Windows Game Programming Gurus" (a $60 value!).
- Parallax's "Beginning Assembly Language for the SX Microcontroller" eBook.
- Comprehensive collection of useful software tools and utilities for XGS Micro development.
- XGS-compatible joystick/gamepad (actual joystick may not match item pictured).
- Parallel cable for interfacing XGS Micro to development PC.
- A/V cables for output to any television.
- Wall adapter power supply.
- Printed copy of the XGS Micro Edition User Guide to get you up to speed fast.
- NTSC or PAL color burst crystal options.

Pretty cool, huh?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Media key didn't wanna work no more

I was having a wierd issue with my Microsoft Wireless Natural Keyboard, where the Media key wouldn't start my media player, and I got a message saying that the customizable key was not available. Wierd...

Anyway, it seems that IntelliType determines the current media player by checking to see which program is used to play audio CDs. So if you get this message, or you want to change the default media player, simply associate it with the Play command of an audio CD.

Yeah, I know you can 'hard-wire' the media key to a specific program, but that seems like a messy idea to me coz you have to do it within IntelliType. The nice idea with this solution is that you can change it directly within the media player by checking the appropriate box to associate it with audio CDs.

And a related factoid which I only found out a few weeks ago: you have to check the Enabled box within the properties of the Global Hotkeys plugin in Winamp to use the media control keys on the keyboard to control Winamp. I don't know why this isn't enabled by default! And there's nothing in the properties page of the Global Hotkeys plugin to mention that it is designed to work with multimedia keyboards. I used to think it was for wierdos that wanted to hold down Ctrl-Alt-Insert to play a track...

While I'm on the subject of Winamp, if you have a TV tuner card, check out the Winamp TV plugin. Oh, and the Nullsoft Media Player 10 skin looks fantastic!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Most valuable Firefox extensions

Firefox is a great web browser, but the best thing about it is the way you can use extensions to change it's behaviour. Here are some of my favourites:

- AdBlock and the matching filterset updater
- Tabbrowser Preferences
- Forecast Fox
- FasterFox
- Web Developer Toolbar
- Image Zoom
- FoxyTunes
- Download Manager Tweak
- Tab Mix Plus
- GooglePreview
- SmoothWheel
- GreaseMonkey
- Resize Search Box

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Is your PC "Powered by Dilbert"?

It's suprising what silicon chips can do these days, they just keep getting smaller, faster and more complex. But what do the designers do with the small amounts of blank space left on the die? They add an image of their favourite cartoon character of course!

Dilbert, Waldo and Mickey Mouse all feature in some of the images that Michael Davidson has found at the Silicon Zoo.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Make the scroll wheel scroll

One of Windows 'features' is that a window must have focus before it will listen to messages from the scroll wheel. This means that you have to keep clicking on each window to give it focus before you can scroll it, a real pain when your desktop is covered in windows.

But there's a simple solution: KatMouse. KatMouse ensures that you can use the scroll wheel to scroll in any window under the cursor. (It also has the ability to reassign the scroll wheel button, but I find that to be a pain so I turn that option off).


Just spotted this on the Ascent Technology website here.

So you need an email client huh? Well, I've never used it or meet anybody that uses it, but you might want to take a look at QualComm's Eudora. Because they don't keep a regular supply of stock of Eudora, Ascent don't know whether it's possible to order it at the moment or how long it would take to arrive. So how do you find out if they can get it? Email them.

Well I would, but...

Friday, October 07, 2005

Xandros Desktop OS - Open Circulation Edition

"Linux, huh? Too hard."

Not anymore. Try Xandros Desktop (Open Circulation Edition), a great Linux distro with a full suite of applications on the disc. And best of all it's free!

Xandros is one of the most usable Linux distributions I've found, with a simple install process and a wizard that configures it to look similar to your old operating system (Windows, MacOS, etc).

And if you can't part with your Windows apps, check out the Deluxe or Business editions which feature CrossOver Office, which allow you to run Windows apps directly in Xandros.

Xandros Desktop OCE features include:
- Full support for Windows file and printer sharing
- office suite
- CD burning
- Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird (web browser and email client)
- Easy software update utility
- Trial version of CrossOver Office
- USB scanner support
- Skype internet calling

Yeah, I know that most of the applications listed here are free, but what do you expect from a free OS? The best bit is, you don't need to worry about compiling and installing them.

Although, if you want to install something else, you can do that too. Xandros supports both Redhat installer packages (RPM) and Debian packages. If you want to go hard out, bring up a console and compile it yourself.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Labour leads by two seats...

Well, at last, the special votes have been counted, and Labour has been announced the winner by only two seats.

Check out the official results here.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Intelligent Design vs Evolution

There have been recent discussions in parts of the States about introducing students to Intelligent Design (ID) in their science classes, as well as evolution. As we all know, evolution is the idea that we are related to the apes, and that we as a species have evolved over time. Intelligent Design is the idea that there is one greater being, such as a god, who is controlling our destiny and the world around us.

The fact that Intelligent Design is not testable, scientific fact, does not seem to be putting off the school boards. This recent article in The Register, is proof of how bad things have become. Since when should a school board be able to determine what is and isn't science?

But my personal favourite has always been the letter that Bobby Henderson wrote to the Kansas School Board. I'm off to order an FSM mug...

Monday, September 26, 2005

A night on the town...

Well, I headed into town the other night with some of my mates and we went around a few bars, so I thought it would be good to start with a review of some of them.

We started off at Zinc, on Manchester Street, a nice loungy bar, with good music and comfy couches. The loud music doesn't really suit a lounge bar though; everybody sits around smiling at each other with nothing to do except drink. And it was pretty much vacant for the hour or so that we were there....

We then headed next door to Iconic to play some pool. Iconic's quite cool, with plenty of pool tables and a good selection of music. Again, the volume was a pain. While the loud music is great for those dancing, I generally want to be able to talk with my mates as I play a game of pool.

We called into The Loaded Hog, on the corner of Cashel and Manchester Street, for a bit. Fancy intelligent lights, good music, and you could actually hold a conversation with the person standing next to you. Like Zinc though, it was damn near empty....

Later, we headed across the road to Shooters. A cross between a bar and a dance hall, this place was damn annoying. You had to fight through the crowd to move anywhere, your skull vibrated inside your head in time to the music, and your shoes stuck to the floor with all the spilt drinks. How can you dance when you're crammed in like sardines in a can?

When I go to a lounge or pool bar, I expect to be able to hold a conversation. When I go to a dance bar, I expect to be able to dance. And why do none of the DJs know that bass sounds better when it's not wound all the way up? Bass is great, loud bass is better, but distorted bass is just painful. Maybe I'm just getting old....

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Interviews with Gabe Newell

This site has a couple of videos interviews with Gabe Newell, one of the head honchos at Valve. It's interesting to see what their planning next for the Half Life series and Steam...

The interviews at

Saturday, July 23, 2005

MS Anti-Spyware built on MS Abandonware

Who said that Classic VB was dead?
Check out my article at The Register.