September 27, 2008

A Tale of 2 Dead Disks - Why Macs Make People Happy

I got back last night from a week in Seattle to see that my MacPro was dead - wouldn't boot, and I could hear the disk doing a repetitive not-happy-kind-of noise. I had another disk in the computer I had used for random backups, and a remote Time Capsule disk that theoretically had been making continuous backups - so this is what I did:
  • Rebooted off Leopard DVD
  • Selected restore from Time Capsule to restore to that second disk
  • Went to bed
Total time: 10 minutes
This morning I have a Happy Mac.

Holy crap - when my wife's disk died on her laptop last month, I had the worst possible combination of all eventualities, and it took me about 10 hours to fix!

If only Macs had good office software, they would so rule.

September 6, 2008

Google owns your name with Picasa name tagging

The new Picasa Web Albums have initial support for a fantastic name-tagging feature. The idea is to ease the process of identifying who is in each picture by combining human and computer efforts. It is very well done, and makes tagging fun and accurate in a way never done before commercially (but see SAPHARI for a surprisingly similar earlier research effort by my grad student).

BUT - it is a crime that this feature not does not offer a way to sync the tags you create online with the full resolution photos you own on your own computer. That's right. The only way to use this feature is to upload your photos to Google's servers, tag them via their website, and then lose that data forever. You can search your photos on Google's servers, but you can't export that tagged information. And the Picasa 3 "syncing" feature doesn't sync the name tags back down to the original photo. And the face-based annotation feature doesn't exist on the desktop version.

And even if the data does eventually come back down to your source photos (which I pray it eventually does), it still is not very friendly of Google to force you to upload your thousands of photos to the web for this extremely important feature. Of course, this is very likely Picasa's business model. Give away the free desktop version, offer a teaser bit of free storage on the web, and then charge a huge amount ($75 a year for the 40 GB of storage I would need to store all my photos online). I would much rather just pay a reasonable price for the desktop version to unlock crucial features - such as face-based annotation.

Web apps are fine - but people should own their data - not Google. And people should get to choose when they want to do something on the computers and disks they own, and when they choose to use someone elses on the web. Anything less is no better than the desktop-based lock-in that Google and others have complained about for so long.

September 3, 2008

Missing Chrome keyboard shortcuts

Chrome (Google's browser that was released yesterday) is all the rage, and as I've said for years (i.e., flow [pdf], notelens), user interface speed and responsiveness is crucial and a fundamental part of not getting in the way of tasks users are trying to do.

So, I hope it is an oversight and not design that led Google to leave out two crucial keyboard.
  • Their "omnibar" works fine - except for a one thing.  When you start typing and the list of suggestions pops up underneath, you have to move your fingers off the home position of the keyboard to the arrow keys in order to select them.  This may be the "standard" way of doing things, but Firefox already showed it isn't the best.  In this special case, override the tab key to move focus to the popup list.  Fingers stay in the home position, and a touch typist can do a search and execute it in a fraction of a second.
  • It is great that chrome supports incremental search - but considering that they learned from Firefox, I wish they had gotten it right.  Instead of a single key to start search ('/' in Firefox), you need two (Ctrl-F).  And if you search to a link and want to follow that link, there is no way to do so with the keyboard.  Pressing the 'Enter' key in Firefox while search has highlighted a link follows that link.  Chrome should do the same thing.
These issues may seem minor, but they are activities that people, literally, do hundreds of times per day.  Multiple a hundred million people by a hundred annoyances a day, and that is a lot of distraction, and slowing people down.  Considering that there is also no cost for doing so (i.e., it doesn't hurt the user experience in any way), let's hope Google continues to polish their chrome, and adds these shortcuts.

While they're at it, they should be thinking about the next (lower priority) feature which is to add a rich mechanism for people to customize chrome to speed up their own idiosyncratic tasks. How many times do I do repetitive tasks on websites that I can't automate or shortcut for various reasons?  A lot.  Example: one website requires three clicks to get where I'm going *after* I log in - meaning I can't shortcut to that page.  I could use third party software such as Quickkeys to automate this, but the browser should have a built-in mechanism to do so.

Anyway, Chrome looks promising - let's just hope they go from great to perfect.