Thursday, October 27, 2011

Windows 7 (Software Bliss)

Windows 7 Beta fish
Windows 7 is probably the strangest piece of blissful software that I use. I say strange because it is difficult for me to say that about a piece of Microsoft software. I think it's actually good enough to warrant the title of blissful software.

I think Microsoft had a hard time for a while. Internet Explorer 6 held on for a lot longer than it should have. Windows XP was great after it was released, but it started feeling old after three years or so. (XP just celebrated its 10th birthday). Vista was horrible. After all of that, Microsoft released something great with Windows 7.

It's difficult for me to complement and like a Windows OS. For the past few years, I've been mostly a Mac and Linux user. I've been in the Anti-Microsoft camp for some time. But I do still use Windows at work and every once in a while at home and feel I need to give credit when a company releases a good product.

So what's nice about it? Well, it actually works. When I was in college, I re-installed XP about once a semester because it would get so full of junk and start slowing down. 7 hasn't junkified itself over time in the same way, I haven't ever needed to do a re-install of it.

It is also a whole lot more secure than XP. You don't run as an administrator by default and if you're running the 64-bit version there's more protection against unsigned drivers and rootkits.

For me, the interface is a whole lot nicer to use. The search in the control panel and start menu make it easy to find things. The nice window adjustments that let you maximize a window or put it to half of the screen are helpful. It even comes with some interesting and non-traditional desktop backgrounds.

It's not perfect, by any means, but it is actually a very good product. Microsoft has scored pretty well for me lately. I've written about IE 9 and Windows 7 is another really good piece of software. I hope Microsoft can continue the trend.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Abomination known as Gnome 3 (Software Sadness)

    Linus Torvalds, the man behind Linux, called Gnome 3 an unholy mess. I completely agree with him. To me, Gnome 3 is the epitome of bad in open source software. Gnome 2 wasn't great, but it was usable and I didn't hate it. Using Gnome 3 makes me want to bash my own head in. Let's look at some of the reasons why. They aren't in any particular order because they're all horrible. I have many more reasons, but didn't want this posting to get too long.

Typical Desktop
    Issue #1 Task Management: Take a look at the image of a typical Gnome 3 desktop. Notice that the bar at the top only lists Firefox. Gnome 3 did away with any type of taskbar. You might also have noticed that your windows don't have "maximize" and "minimize" buttons. Gnome developers just decided you don't need those.

Activity Center
    Issue #2 Activity Center: Instead of a task bar, there is now an Activity Center. It's sort of like a horrible combination of the Mac Dock and the Windows Start menu. Open it up and you see a Dock on the left, with your open programs kind of highlighted. This screenshot shows how you would launch any programs, but there is a tab there where you could see your open windows.
    This is how you change between applications and start new ones. So what is so bad about it? Well, it really kills your flow when you're working. Rather than clicking on a shortcut to start a new application (you can't put icons on the desktop in Gnome 3), you have to bring up this activity center and find what you want. It really interrupts your work flow to do this. It takes over the whole screen and pulls you out of what you're working in.

    Issue #3 Customizability: Gnome 3 is a lot more difficult, by design, to customize to your liking. I mentioned no desktop icons. But it's also fairly difficult to change the color themes. You can't customize the top menu at all. If you want to hide the battery icon or accessibility icon because you don't need them, that's just too bad. I searched in vain for a way to hide those icons and came across this gem of a page which describes how little you can customize Gnome 3. Fonts also look horrible and aren't easy to change.

Gnome 3 menu
    Issue #4 Not caring about user feedback. I like to call this the Fundamental Open Source Error. It might be more appropriate to call it the Fundamental Gnome Error because I've really only seen it happen with Gnome projects. Basically, it means that the developers think they're smarter than their users. They get user feedback and promptly tell the users why they are stupid and then keep going as if nothing happened. Check the above link again for an example of this.
    For another example, the original Gnome 3 user menu didn't include a 'Shut down' option. You had to log out to the main screen to shutdown your computer. Really? I have to log out, wait for the login screen to come up, and then shut down? Based on user complaints, the developers added an option where you can hold alt to change the 'Suspend' option in your menu to 'Shut down.' Who's going to know that exists?
Gnome 3.2 menu
   In Gnome's defense, they did change this in Gnome 3.2, there is actually a 'Power Off' option. I'm not sure if that suspends the computer or shuts it down, but I think the change is a step in the right direction. Hopefully they did this based on user feedback.

    I gave Gnome 3 a good try. I wanted to like it, but it's just all wrong. I think this is one reason why Linux doesn't have a better following than it does. You get a lot of projects like this where the default is just ugly and unusable. It's not worth the time to put into customizing it to where you can stand to work with it. That's where Mac OSX and Windows excel. They're decent to look at and are actually usable by default. Being commercial applications, I'm guessing they took user feedback into account and have avoided the Fundamental Gnome Error.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

TweetDeck (Software Bliss 1)

    Rather than just having a series about software products I think have gone wrong, I thought I should add in a few articles about products that I think are great. I don't think all software is horrible, after all.
    One of my recent favorites is TweetDeck. It allows you to see all your Twitter and Facebook feeds in one application. This has made it easy to stay up-to-date with my friends. You can also post to both services at the same time. The service is handy, but there's a few features that make this piece of software truly excellent.
    First is that there is a Chrome version that you can run without having to install anything. You just add it to your App list in Chrome and off you go. New posts automatically appear, so you don't have to refresh your browser. Since I've been using Chrome as my main browser, this is a great option.
    They also have an awesome mobile application. I use the Android version, and it's just as good as the Chrome version. One feature I really like about the mobile version is that there is a yellow indicator inside that app that shows you which messages are new since you last launched the application. It's one of the few Apps that I actually run every day.
    I think the best thing about TweetDeck is that they let me see Facebook updates without logging into Facebook. I've been very confused and disappointed with the recent changes to Facebook and I really don't like to log in to their site anymore. With TweetDeck, I can still stay up to date and avoid the Facebook confusion.
    There are some sadnesses to the App. One is that my company has the site blocked so I can only use the Chrome version at home. I can still use the Android version at work. I think it's a good thing because I could get distracted if I had it open all day long. I try to just check the phone App in the morning and during lunch.
    The other sadness is that they don't have Google+ as one of the services you can connect to. I hope they add that at some point in the future as I'm starting to use Google+ a lot more than Facebook. This also isn't horrible for me because most of my friends send updates through Facebook now anyway.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Firefox (Software Sadness Part 1)

    I've finally given up on Firefox. It was my default browser for years and the first application I would install on a new computer. Now I realize that I haven't even installed it on my last two computers. I think other browsers have gotten a lot better while Mozilla has broken down.
    I've been pondering where Firefox really went wrong. I know I stopped using it around the time they released version 4. The redesign just didn't feel right and the new rapid release cycle kept breaking plugins. Plugins were a key feature that made it such a great product for me. It became difficult for me to use it to get my work done. I keep hoping things will get better with the new releases, but it looks like things are still breaking.
    At the same time, the other browsers kept getting better. Chrome has worked beautifully for me for quite some time. It's quick, has really good development tools, and I've never had an upgrade break an extension. I have to admit, winning a ticket to Google IO last year for developing a doodle did sway me towards Chrome for a while. Now I just think it's a better browser.
    It's not just me though, Firefox's market share has been falling slowly all year while Chrome's has been growing rapidly. Analysts predict that Chrome might overtake Firefox as the #2 browser by the end of the year.
    I don't have a whole lot to say about Internet Explorer. IE 9 is actually a good product. It's got pretty decent developer tools and it's much better at complying with internet standards. My best praise for it is that I don't hate it anymore. That's a big change since the days of IE 6. I don't mind using it when I'm on a Windows box. I still prefer Chrome, but I'd put IE above Firefox.
    So, what is so interesting about this? Well, I've seen some very strange software decisions in the past few years. It seems that there is a point where good products jump the shark and start being unbearable. This is a very interesting trend, one I would like to explore a little more.
    The failure of Firefox was most noticeable to me because it was a product I used and enjoyed every day. Other projects I've seen turn into a complete mess include Gnome, Ubuntu, portions of Windows, and portions of OSX. Look for more Software Sadness articles on those items in the near future.