Alt+Tab on OS X

This one cost me one hour today. I used Witch to move between all opened windows of all applications but it stopped working a month ago. Actually it worked but with a delay of 30s after each Atl+Tab which wasn't usable at all. Recently Witch became a payable application and I would consider buying it ($19 is a bit too much for only one feature I used - hack I really liked it) but I couldn't figure it out why its response time was so long. Then I searched half the web and I couldn't find the solution. I played with Keyboard shortcuts and with a bit of luck (damn UI which is not so friendly and not so obvious) I hit the right spot. So here is how to do it:

System preferences -> Keyboard -> Keyboard shortcuts (tab)

Select "Keyboard and text input on the left"

Double click ON the command sequence on the right of "Move focus to next window in application"

I first tried to double click (and right mouse click) on the whole line since the whole line is marked in blue if clicked! But nothing happened. This really was a weird interface decision - marking the whole line but make double clickable only a small part of it? An Edit button would help as well! And the "oh so great combination" that Apple chose for us is not so great if non-US keyboard layout is used :(. 

Since It was kind of strange that keyboard shortcuts could not be changed I played with it and, as already said, with a bit of luck I hit the right spot. Luck should never be a part of user experience in interaction with an interface! Interface should be more friendly!

Is IM dead?

Recent BBC article has an insight on Instant Messaging usage. By some reports the usage of IM dropped from 14% to 5% in UK in the last 3 years and the prediction is that IM will be replaced by other ways of communication. The question is what they really measured. A decade ago IM services like ICQ, AIM, MSN flourished as they presented a novel (instant) way of communication - it was fast and free in a dial-up era (not counting phone bills) and remained popular for a few years. IM has several advantages over the email and we could hear predictions that it will replace email in years to come! But nothing similar happened. Let's take a closer look at some basic characteristics:

IM  Email
instant (synchronous) communication yes

maybe (to some extent if both parties are replying quickly, but reply always creates a new message so the conversation becomes fragmented)

asynchronous communication yes (to some extent)
see contacts' online status yes

So is IM really that advantageous over email? Slowly IMs allowed us to send files, send messages to people that were offline and got bundled with voice and video conversations as well. So now IMs have what email doesn't. But what seams to be the biggest advantage (instantness) can be a disadvantage as well. It presents interruptions to work flow if new conversations keep coming in (see previous post).

But both IM and email have some advantages over the phone: the answer can be prepared, our emotions can't be seen by others, history of conversation is saved and more than one conversation can take place at the same time.

Returning to our title: is IM dead? No! As with many communication tools it will find its place. Each communication tool has some advantages that can be used in certain situations. There were predictions that analogue land-line phones will be buried (ISDN tried to took over few years ago and IP phones are replacing them now, but all technologies are still around), that IRC will vanish, that SMS will be replaced with MMS, email is dead, amateur radio will be extinct, that Morse code will be forgotten (scouts are still using it), and pigeons as well (still used in sports) not to mention telegraphy or even mail ... A week ago newsgroups were dead again!

What is happening? Buzz just moved somewhere else. In 90's everyone I knew online was using IRC. A decade ago everyone was sending spam over the email with "funny" jokes, videos, images ... (I'm so glad those days are gone). Then IM came along and some of the conversation shifted to it. Later on social networks were introduced and some conversation moved there. But IM is a part of social networking sites now, it is also used in online video games and in several other ways (IM clients even moved to mobile phones as did social networking sites!!). So is it really dead or it just got integrated into other tools? I bet that IM is used a lot on Facebook! But I don't have figures to prove it.

I use email, IRC, IM (MSN, Skype, ICQ, AIM, Google Talk), VoIP, mobile phone and MMS, SMSs, web sites (forums, blogs, photo collections) and mail as well. It depends on who I want to communicate to, available technology at that time, the other person's (or persons') availability and his (or their) technology availability, the cost of a conversation and information (amount, format) I need to communicate. And communication tools even help me shift to other communication means (I often IM invitation to a coffee and continue a live conversation there, call someone to send me an email or to invite to a cheaper mean like VoIP, SMS invitation to an online video conference ...).

So what will be next? Where will buzz move from social networks and how many communication tools will we use in the future? What's in there for us and our personal information management? Time will tell. But I would like to see some integration of all the above which would make management easier.

Task management and computer distractions

Who remembers Clippy (or Clipit)? The MS Office help assistant that most of us immediately turned off. It constantly tried to help us with writing a document but it did the exact opposite. It often distracted us in out thoughts. Do you think those days are over? Not really. Do you notice the red underlined words while writing some text? Right now it will underline the WORNG word I just typed in. Is it distracting? Of course it is (at least to a certain degree). To most of us it urges the need to correct the spelling mistake. But almost every software application now days underlines the misspelled words for us. Just to think of few I use myself: text editor(s), spreadsheet application, web browser, email client, presentations application ...

If underlined misspelled words grab our attention, what about pop-up cloudlets of all kinds: new email, software updates, potential threats of viruses and other malware, new IM chats ... These are real distractions! They often interrupt current task we perform and trigger new tasks and a new ones and a new ones. How do I know? I was just reading a book and a glance at the computer screen revealed that there were new unread messages in RSS client (a nice red circle over the RSS client icon). Among these news was this comic from Pearls Before Swine:

Let's examine Rat's situation:

  • task 1: he starts with a resume
  • task 2: reads email (pop up cloudlet is a trigger)
  • task 3: watches the video (a link in the email is a trigger)
  • task 4: watches more videos of the same show (a list of similar videos on the web site is a trigger)
  • task 5: checks up the wikipedia for that show (a series of videos and some curiosity are triggers)
  • task 6: finds more photos of a girl in a search engine (wikipedia's wrong article and Rat's taste are triggers)
  • task 7: posts photos on facebook (a Rat's taste and his need to share info are triggers)
  • task 8: checks up some details of a person who requested to be his friend on FB (a pop up is a trigger)
  • task 9: writes a blog entry (this person's details and his need to share info are triggers for this one)
  • task 10: googles himself to see how internet portraits him .... not completed as he returns to the first task
  • task 11: ... 

How many of us have found ourself in a similar situation? I should return to my book now.

Edit 25.4.2010: I completely forgot to mention sound distractions. Aren't they even worse than visual distractions? Most of distractions are not even really important (most of them are just informative - "FYI i updated this software" - and who cares!)

Taps 2

This tap has one handle which can be only turned to the right. No buttons, no pressing, no pulling.  The problem with this tap is that you can't control the water jet and temperature separately. So there are three options only:
  • low pressure water jet and cold water,
  • middle pressure water jet and warm water,
  • high pressure water jet and hot water.

One could argue that it can't be used in a wrong way (it is installed in a public bathroom). But this tap would only make sense if the water pressure would be the same for all temperatures and not changing with the temperature.

Edit 24.5.2010: I found another example in an older building (the one above is located in a new modern glass-steel building). It has a nice arrow on a handle with "OFF" at the beginning of it and "HOT" at the end of it.  The handle moves only from left to right and back. And again, flow of the water is tight to the temperature (cold water low flow and hot water high flow).

How bad are web user interfaces realy?

It seams like the web usability is somehow forgotten by the big companies nowdays. Reading recent articles about how Facebook is hiding all privacy setting in different places preventing their users to lock up their accounts made me think if the web usability got buried by the profit. Who has the time (a precious resource) and will to manage their personal information privacy (information about a person stored on the web and looked after by someone else - Facebook in this example) if all possible privacy concerning settings are in such weird places? And we can't never be certain that we found all settings! Facebook has an advantage that their service (social networking) outweighs privacy concerns for so many people. How is that people just don't care that much about their own privacy?











PS: If someone is interested, there's a book on web usability written by Nielsen