Who gets the last laugh?

August 28, 2006

This is a quick free association test:

  • Zen, iTunes… Zune
  • Aqua… Aero
  • Flash… Sparkle

The first column is made of product names, the last of Microsoft equivalent shipped after the first ones. See a trend here?

So, OK, this will be a Microsoft bashing post and I just hope it’ll be the last one. MS is an easy target (’cause it’s so big) and it’s been done over and over so, what’s the point? Venting I guess… especially when MS is using methods its so quick at denouncing
(and as quick as suing) when other people use them against them.

Poking fun at competitors mocking their product name is one thing. It makes for fun code names, allows a team to focus on a competitor. Using it as a marketing strategy is another. It’s cheap and it’s ridiculous.

Don’t tell me MS is having a sense of humour here: remember how they went after Lindows? Was that funny? Where was their sense of humour?

No, MS knows exactly how brand association works and they just abuse it, and it’s annoying. Like a bully cheating at games in the play ground, they use those ridiculous tricks to trip the competition but, like the bully, start whining when someone else does. When they run out of ideas, they just go back to an insipid “Windows whatever” or “Microsoft thingy”: Windows search (their SpotLight look alike), Microsoft Word (short for WordStar?) Heck, even “Windows” was a rippoff (off “X Windows”, the Unix windowing GUI).

Copying ideas is OK I think (at least, I think it’s OK and this is why I’m an Open Source zealot) but, brand names? All they have is recognition so copying brand names is just trying to lure customers away from the original product. It adds no value, it’s just a customer bait trick. It’s small and pityful. It’s…

O well… Don’t they have enough name recognition already? Would that change anything in their budget coming up with a creative original name? In short, am I the only one who thinks MS is really playing it cheap here? …

Sigh… Shrug…

OK, I’m done with MS bashing. Now let’s move on to an MS anecdote.

I worked for MS for almost 5 years at the Silicon Valley Campus (yeah, I know what I’m talking about when I talk about MS… Thanks for nothing…). One day, Ballmer came to visit and, as often, he went to the cafeteria and we had a short impromptu Questions/Answers session with the boss (Note: motivation management is something MS is really good at BTW). I was standing in the crowd next to Tantek Çelik with who I was working at the time porting Mac IE to OS X. After the pep talk was over and a couple of inoccuous questions were asked, Tantek, with his formidable gusto, raised his hand and asked the following question:

“So we’re beeing told about this new OS, LongHorn, that has all these fantastic features like networked search, a relational system for files, advanced graphics capabilities, etc… Well, we’ve been told that same story 5 years ago with another OS code named Cairo and it didn’t happen. What will be different that time around?”

Ballmer, who took advantage of Tantek’s tirade to sip water out of a bottle, gulped and quipped: “We’ll ship!”

Crowd rotfl (which was easy since most were already sitting otf…).

Well, that was funny. That was 3 years ago.

In the meantime, MacIE was killed, I move to OSAF (after a short stint at Macromedia), Tantek moved to Technorati and launched the microformats thing, 2 or 3 major versions of OS X shipped, etc…

And, you know what’s really funny? Well, the really funny part is that 3 year later, it’s still funny…


Spatio Temporal Continuity

August 24, 2006

In a fit of N.A.D.D., I went to the site of A Scanner Darkly. Nothing incredible in this slick Flash gamish UI. It’s pretty good at creating a mood for the movie (which I haven’t seen BTW…).

It didn’t take long for me to look at the GUI widgets rather than the story they were supposed to tell me and, once again, I thought to myself: spatio temporal continuity in UI rules.

What does that mean? I actually didn’t coined the term or brought it to bear in the UI world. That was a term that the folks at Macromedia used when talking about the Flash way to showing/hidding info on the screen: the slick sort of slow motion way of things to appear and disappear, the important thing of course is that the motion gives you a cue of “where” the thing disappeared and, indeed, how to get it back.

Pattern languages being a well infused meme in Silicon Valley, folks there tried, somewhat successfully to devise a set of basic components and effects that could be used in general situations. The thinking being that, a little bit like buttons and check boxes became prevalent widgets in UI through the seminal Apple UI Guidelines, some basic components could become the fundamental elements of a new UI language, one that would integrate animation and this concept of spatio temporal continuity.

Question: Do we need Flash for that? Is that a Flash inherent breakthrough? An accidental revolution they stumbled upon?

Answer: No. As often (always?), this concept was first used by Apple in the very first Mac UI. Remember closing a folder window? To help users identify which folder it was, the Mac OS animated a wireframe rectangle that would resize down and vanish on the relevant folder icon present on the desktop. This was a fantastic boon to usability at the time. Since then, Apple confirmed their love of spatio temporal continuity with sheet dialogs and drawers in Cocoa and Exposé, Fast User Switching and, recently, Time Machine in the OS. It’s always the same idea: don’t pop up things out of nowhere to the user, slide and expose so to reveal the relationship between the before and after state and how those states are reversible.

So, what about Chandler? Sadly, the wxWidgets framework does not support animations of that kind. The only way to implement something like that would be for us to draw the whole darn animation (meaning that we also draw the whole widget), reducing the use of the framework to a glorified bitblitting machine… Unless… wxTNG takes this one into account in its set of target goals. Well, it’s not in there yet.

Would that be a good idea? You guessed that I’ll be quick to say “yes” and I will, for all the good reasons listed above. Another more urgent reason though is that it’s clear that with the Sparkle/Avalon combo, even laggers using Vista will be exposed and start demanding such UI.

So, for the same reason buttons and checkboxes replaced “semi graphic” spreadsheet like UI in the 90s (if you don’t know what it is or don’t remember, you can still see them at work at your dry cleaner or local garage…), sliding panels, accordions, animated trees and toasts will likely become the norm in the next few years.

We better get wxWidgets updated with the program…


August 24, 2006

Anything must start and this is as good as a start as any…
I’ve been musing about starting a blog since a long time. I’ve been posting (rarely) to the OSAF blog but the scope of a collective blog is limited. Thus the need for a more personal though public posting spot.
I’ll be posting mostly on Open Source, Chandler, Engineering Management and Development.