Monday Oct 04, 2010

A decade at Sun redux

I felt a mild flutter of excitement when I finally received my 10 year Sun/Oracle service award notification on Friday, two months after my actual anniversary, because Sun had some nice gifts you could choose from (I chose a telescope for my five year award!).

Assuming Oracle would be much the same, I hastily logged in to see what I fancied, only to discover out that there was only one option: a ballpoint pen. A $200 ballpoint pen, certainly, but a ballpoint pen nonetheless.

How many people in the IT industry, I wonder, have a use for a $200 ballpoint pen? I certainly wouldn't carry around a pen that expensive, as it's the sort of thing I'd inevitably lose. Even as UI designer who does a fair bit of sketching, I just tend to use whatever pen or pencil comes to hand. And if I did want my own fancy, personal pen, it would be a fountain pen, not a ballpoint. (But you have to rack up 20 years at Oracle to earn one of those—even 15 just gets you a 'rollerball'.)

Indeed, up until I left university, and for a while afterwards, I did carry around a fountain pen. But it wasn't an expensive one, and it was in the days when I still wrote a lot more than I typed. I doubt there are many people in our line of work who do that nowadays.

So if you're reading, corporate gift overlords, we minions do appreciate a choice. And if you're not going to give us a choice, could you please at least give us something we can either put to good use without fear of losing or breaking it, or something that looks nice on a shelf? Or, if in doubt, just stick an extra few quid in our pay packet that month, and let us buy whatever we like :)

Tuesday Aug 03, 2010

A decade at Sun

Well, 9.66 years at Sun, and 0.33 at Oracle... it was the Tuesday after the August 2000 bank holiday when I first ventured into this office, from the B&B that Sun were putting me up in until I found an apartment.

Have to say it would be nice if I got to choose the traditional thank-you gift from any leftover Sun stock in one of the countries that hasn't LEC'ed yet :) But somehow I can't see that happening...

Monday Jul 05, 2010

Whatever happened to fluid design?

I was intrigued by this Firefox heat map (which I came across via @smashingmag), showing which parts of the Firefox chrome users interact with most.

In particular, I was surprised by how much the horizontal scrollbar is used, with almost half of all users (and more than half of the Linux users) using it at some point during the study. I was also intrigued by why OS X users use the scrollbar so much less than Linux and Windows users. Darren suggested it might be because Mac laptops have had multi-touch gestures for horizontal scrolling for a few years now, which seems plausible—could also explain why Linux users made the most use of the scrollbars, as Linux touchpad drivers aren't always as full-featured as their proprietary counterparts.

Anyway, it prompted this little rant about fluid design (aka liquid layout). This always used to be one of the number one considerations for good web page design. Horizontal scrolling in particular was meant to be avoided wherever possible, as it's both physically more demanding (at least with a mouse or keyboard—less so with touchpad or touchscreen gesture) and more disruptive to task flow than vertical scrolling.

With web pages more likely to be viewed in a wider range of window sizes and screen resolutions than ever before, this tenet seems like it should be more important now than ever. Of course, the sorts of things we do on the web today are somewhat different from what we did ten years ago, and fluid design isn't always possible or desirable for all of them. Nonetheless, many of the fixed width designs you see these days are just annoyingly unnecessary.

Sometimes it's because designers or their clients are unwilling to have their pixel-perfect vision compromised by users deigning to view it into a smaller window than they've designed it for. Sometimes it's down to inflexible or poorly-customized web content management systems, sometimes it's inexperience, sometimes just laziness.

Anyway, next time you're designing a website, please just think about how and where people might actually want to use it. And bear in mind that grumpy old men like me won't visit it very often if you make us scroll horizontally even just to see to all the navigation links across the top of your homepage, merely because we choose not to fill our entire screen with your website :)

Wednesday Mar 31, 2010

All my pictures seem to fade to black and white

Tonight we head into town for a few beers, to commemorate the untimely passing of Sun Microsystems Ireland Limited, some 17 years after Sun's operations began in Dublin, and a little less than ten years after I joined.

Tomorrow, at 10.30am sharp, and likely with a few sore heads, we become inducted as employees of Oracle Ireland. See you on the other side.

Tuesday Mar 23, 2010

OpenSolaris Governing Board Election Results

This time last year, I noted I was slightly disappointed at the low number of non-Sun folks who'd been elected to the OpenSolaris Governing Board. No fear of that this year, with just one of the seven newly-elected board members currently representing Sun\^H\^H\^HOracle... although there are certainly a few ex-Sun faces in the mix too.

The new constitution was approved this time around as well. Here's hoping all concerned can keep up the momentum that's been gathering over the past few years.

Wednesday Mar 17, 2010

It's Paddy.

Not Patty.

Thursday Mar 11, 2010

Streetview gallery

Thanks to Google Streetview's new 95% coverage of the UK, which went live yesterday, here's a visual history of all the houses and flats I lived in over there, until I moved to Ireland. Obviously I'm not telling you where they are, though :)

1971-1987 1987-1993 1993-1996 1996-1998 [1998-2000

(Although the cars have been spotted out and about in Ireland, there's no coverage here yet...)

Tuesday Mar 02, 2010

GNOME Usability Hackfest

Back in the Dublin office today after last week's GNOME Usability Hackfest in London, during which I didn't blog nearly enough.

My main goal for the week was to help figure out a plan to revise the GNOME Human Interface Guidelines, which I originally helped to write almost a decade ago, but which really haven't kept pace with the changes in either hardware or software technology over the past 5 years.

The notes from all the discussions we had aren't all that impressive to look at, but I think the key thing is the general agreement to have less monolithic text, and switch to more of a pattern library approach. This should allow us to react much more quickly to changing trends in GNOME UI design, maintain related patterns for different types of devices such as desktop, touchscreen and stylus devices, and even allow individual distros to customize the library with their own unique, in-house patterns if they so desire. (Which hopefully won't be too much, but it's clear that, for example, the GNOME-based Moblin UI is a different beast from the vanilla GNOME desktop, so the Moblin team will likely want to maintain some patterns of their own.)

I've already started to draft up a template for what a GNOME UI pattern might look like, and hope to flesh things out a bit more over the next couple of weeks.

Of course, many other things were discussed at the hackfest as well. Nautilus and gnome-shell were hot topics, as was the old chestnut of a GNOME control centre redesign--on that front, I ended up moderating a couple of card sorting sessions during the week where we had users categorize 100 settings into groups of their choice. Charlene from Canonical presented an Empathy usability report, partly to discuss the findings, but mostly to discuss how best to present such reports to GNOME developers. And of course, Seth's vision of a future GNOME desktop hit the headlines, making it to Ars Technica almost immediately!

On the community front, some ideas for improving the tools we use to analyse and report usability data were also discussed. And there was a strong presence from the accessibility community, to keep us all honest when coming up with anything new.

Many thanks, of course, to Google and Canonical for sponsoring the event, and particularly to the latter for hosting us in a 27th floor office so we didn't need to waste money on the London Eye :)

Wednesday Jan 27, 2010

They Think It's All Over...

"On Tuesday Sun delisted itself from the Nasdaq Stock Market, a sign that the (Oracle) takeover was nearly complete, though no formal announcement was made."

Guess it won't be long now...

Thursday Jan 21, 2010

"The Future of UI Will Be Boring"

In the midst of all the hype, speculation and (in many cases) nonsense being talked about whatever it is Apple are going to be unveiling next week, it was refreshing to read Scott Berkun's reminder of why keyboards and mice definitely won't be going away anytime soon.

(His follow-up post, about the Limits of Innovation, is worth a read too.)

Thursday Oct 22, 2009

Click maps

The OpenOffice.org guys are doing some interesting analysis as part of their Project Renaissance UI improvement project. This click map caught my eye this week (click to see the whole thing):

OpenOffice Impress toolbar click map

More information on what they're doing can be found over on the GullFOSS Blog.

Friday Jun 19, 2009

Try out OpenSolaris... in your browser

This is a neat idea (if not technically all that novel)... log in to Sun Learning Services portal, and you can play with a virtual instance of OpenSolaris for up to an hour.

It does require Java, there are only 8 slots available at any one time, and right now they're still provisioning OpenSolaris 2008.11 rather than the newer and shinier 2009.06. But if you want to give OpenSolaris a quick whirl, you might find it more convenient than downloading the LiveCD.

More info in Brian Leonard's blog entry.

Monday Apr 27, 2009

Five years of blogs.sun.com

blogs.sun.com launched five years ago today. Quite a few things have changed at Sun since then... back in those days, Java had yet to become Free Software, and OpenSolaris didn't exist at all. And with the pending Oracle acquisition, the next five years will doubtless see a lot more changes.

Not much has changed on b.s.c, though. We've always been able to write about whatever we like, whenever we like, with few restrictions. And long may it continue.

EDIT: FWIW, I joined the party a little late—my first post here was in June 2004.

Wednesday Apr 08, 2009

Compiz in a box

In VirtualBox 2.2.0, which was released today, that is. The new OpenGL acceleration for Linux and Solaris guests allows compiz to run very nicely in a virtual machine. (Click the thumbnail for a Theora video of compiz running in an OpenSolaris guest in OS X.)

Compiz running in VirtualBox

EDIT: I suppose I ought to add there's some other cool stuff in 2.2.0 as well, particularly the ability to import/export appliances in OVF format.

.

Tuesday Mar 24, 2009

OpenSolaris Governing Board, Acrobatics

The results are in; the OpenSolaris community has a new Governing Board. However, the proposed new constitution failed to gain sufficient support for approval.

Have to say I was slightly surprised (and, to be honest, a little disappointed) to see that only two non-Sun folks were voted in this time around (especially as one of those is a former Sun folk), but I have no doubt they'll do a fine job... starting, I expect, by revisiting that constitution issue.

In other news, the long hiatus between releases of Adobe Reader for [Open]Solaris x86 is over... grab Reader 9.1 now on Adobe's download page. Very fine though Evince is at handling the majority of PDF-reading tasks, some jobs still just require the proprietary Real Thing...and however one might feel about that, it's great that Solaris and OpenSolaris are now sufficiently (re-)established on x86 that Adobe are offering that option once again.

About


I am an Interaction Designer in the Systems Experience Design team, arriving at Oracle via Sun where I've worked since 2000. I currently work on sysadmin user experience projects for Solaris. Formerly I worked on open source Solaris desktop projects such as GNOME, NWAM and IPS.

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