Wednesday Feb 13, 2013

Regular open source night in Dublin

Many of us Solaris folks have spent many years working in the open source communities of projects that Solaris either includes (like X11 and GNOME) or originated (like dtrace and ZFS, not to mention OpenSolaris itself), so it's nice to see a regular open source evening happening at the TOG hackerspace in Dublin, starting next week.

If you're in the Dublin area and can either lend some experience or just want to find out more, why not pop along… hopefully it'll be a roaring success!

Wednesday Jul 06, 2011

iPad, meet GNOME

Just been playing with the new Oracle Virtual Desktop Client for iPad, which to you and me means "the first Sun Ray client for a tablet". Here I am playing with GIMP on a Solaris GNOME 2.30 desktop, which is running on one of the Sun Ray servers in the Dublin office:


There are a couple of rough edges -- the main one, perhaps, being that you can't scroll the content of windows on the remote desktop in the same way that you'd scroll any other content on the iPad. Right now you have to grab and move the scrollbars, which isn't so easy on a touchscreen. But other than that, it's pretty tidy for a first release.

If you have access to a Sun Ray desktop and want to join in the fun, the app is a free download from the iTunes App Store.

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 :)

Monday Jan 12, 2009

Different day, same Places

A couple of years ago, I bemoaned the inconsistency of our presentation of bookmarks and places.

Last week I had cause to revisit the issue (for much the same reason as before—updating the OpenSolaris UI spec), hoping that things would have improved and I wouldn't have to suggest too many tweaks to the OpenSolaris layout to keep things nice and consistent.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like much has changed though, really, which is kind of disappointing. (Especially as seeing this bug marked as resolved had built up my hopes a little...)

Caveat: as in my original post, the latest release of Ubuntu (8.10, GNOME 2.24.1) was the closest I had to a community build when I was doing the comparison. So things may really be a little better or worse than they appear here, or may have been fixed in 2.25/2.26.

So I hacked up a quick diagram showing all the menus and sidebars where bookmarks and places appear, and aligned them on the "Home Folder" entry since that was about the only one that was consistently placed. Here's what I came up with:

Side-by-side comparison of bookmarks/places in Ubuntu 8.10

The plusses:

  • The two Places menus on the panel (one in the menubar applet, one in the main menu applet) are now identical, at least in Ubuntu. This is good to see, although most users won't see both at the same time anyway.
  • The Go and Places menus in Nautilus (browser mode and spatial mode respectively) are pretty consistent with each other too.

The minuses:

  • Inconsistent appearance/placement of mounted media, Computer, Desktop, Templates, File System, and CD/DVD Creator between sidebars and menus.

Of course, it would be wrong to complain without offering any proposals, and I'll get to that—just haven't got time today. The current draft of the OpenSolaris 2009.04 UI spec does include my first quick attempt, but that's currently based more on "least amount of work to fix" rather than "what might be most useful"... and we all know that's not really the way to do it, right kids? :)

Saturday Jul 05, 2008

T-1 Day

Like many of you, I'm sorting myself out tonight to fly to what will be my seventh GUADEC in Istanbul tomorrow. (I'll actually be there for two weeks, as my wife is flying out after the conference to join me for a week's vacation.)

Pleased that there's a very healthy crowd of Sun desktop folks attending this year (18 at last count), and rumour has it we'll have some OpenSolaris 2008.05 LiveCDs to be giving away, so you can play along live with John Rice's talk :) Hopefully I'll also find a few interesting things to snap with the Lomo Fisheye camera I got for my birthday last month...

Thursday May 15, 2008

OpenSolaris 2008.05 in VirtualBox

Seamless OpenSolaris

Congrats to the VirtualBox team on being the first (that I know of) to provide a working Seamless/Unity/Coherence mode for OpenSolaris 2008.05 guests on OS X. (I don't know how long this has actually worked, I only tried it last night, in VB 1.6...)

Obviously a bit of work to do before it rivals the sort of integration that Windows guests enjoy in Fusion and Parallels, but it's a good step in the right direction...

Tuesday Feb 19, 2008

Media at your fingertips

Was just pondering in the shower at the weekend (as you do) about what still makes, say, MacOS X feel like a more cohesive desktop experience than even the latest and greatest GNOME in Indiana/Nevada.

One thing that came to mind was its integrated management of your media-- in pretty much any Mac app where you might want to insert or edit multimedia content, you can immediately access your entire music, photo or video library in a familiar-looking window and drag it over from there. It's built into the file selection dialog, too. media browser PulpMotion media browser iMovie media browser Open File dialog

Of course, Apple only really let you manage your media library with their own software: iTunes, iPhoto, Aperture, iMovie, Final Cut etc. But it did get me wondering if there was a place for a freedesktop 'media library' spec, that would offer our users the same sort of quick, searchable access to their media content (be it local, remote, stored on Flickr, split across three DVDs, or any combination of the above) in any application that required it. And, of course, to do what Apple doesn't, and allow any app to manage that content, if it needs to do so :)

Thursday Aug 02, 2007

VMware 1, Parallels 0

I'd been using Parallels 3.0 for the past few weeks to run SXDE 2 on my MacBook Pro, but started having problems when I upgraded to Solaris Nevada build 69-- the X server wouldn't start any more, and I just couldn't get it going at all.

I took the opportunity to try out the VMware Fusion Beta instead, and so far it's the clear winner. It does feel a trifle slower than Parallels (even with debugging turned off), and its snapshots aren't as flexible, only allowing one per VM. But its VM tools for Solaris are way ahead of Parallels' non-existent offering-- clock sync, on-the-fly desktop resize, copy/paste/drag+drop from Solaris <-> OS X... nice. (Haven't figured out if shared folders are supposed to work on Solaris yet or not-- the settings are available which suggest they should, but the folders I've nominated don't show up anywhere obvious, so I'm guessing they don't.)

Assuming it's just as happy at full screen on my Sun 24" display when I get into the office, I'll be sticking in the VMware camp for now.

Edit: Oh, and did I mention that Solaris sound and networking work out of the box on VMware too?

Wednesday May 16, 2007

Hey Presto!

Or, "Solaris printing finally makes it into the 21st century".

Check out Norm's screencast of the first working bits of the automatic printer detection and config system that we're working on for OpenSolaris. Only works for local USB printers right now, but loads more functionality to come over the next few months. Kudos to the printing team-- Norm, Wendy (who doesn't have a blog, AFAIK), Ghee and Halton\*-- for finally nailing one of the most-neglected parts of the Solaris user experience.

\*Okay, so I've been helping a bit too...

Tuesday Apr 24, 2007

No Sun in Birmingham

Bit disappointing to see there are no Sun speakers in the core GUADEC schedule this year, especially as it's being held just a short hop across the water from the JDS team in Dublin-- first time we haven't featured in the proceedings since we became involved in GNOME nearly seven years ago, I think. They're still looking for lightning talks, though, so hopefully we might still step up to the mark there!

(I have proposed a usability workshop kind of thing that may show up in the non-core days, but it would be sad not to be represented at the main event.)

Tuesday Nov 28, 2006

Themely reminder

Hacked up a quick script today to help me pinpoint which icons were missing from the accessibility themes. As a sideshow, I had it point out which .desktop and .directory files (as installed by Solaris nv_53) had hard-coded pathnames and/or icon filename suffixes, both of which can break themeing.

It found 61 with hard-coded suffixes, and 6 with hard-coded pathnames (although the only non-Sun ones in the latter category came from gksu)... so, if you maintain a .desktop file, please remember to have its Icon line look something like:


rather than


to ensure maximium themability. (And preferably install generic icons in the hicolor theme rather than the deprecated /usr/share/pixmaps anyway.)

Anyway, back to the real work generated by the script-- the 70+ missing High Contrast icons it spotted (not to mention the 120 Low Contrast icons). Oh for the day when this proposal is adopted...


I am a Principal UX Engineer in the Systems Experience Design team, working at Oracle (via Sun Microsystems) since the turn of the century. 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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