Category Archives: Usability


Many years ago, in a galaxy far far away… I got my first PC. Since then, I’ve had many PCs and quite a number of laptops. But today, for the first time, I’m the happy owner of an Apple computer: a 15″ MacBook Pro 2.33GHz Core 2 Duo… which I bought at the Palo Alto Apple Store.

So far, so good… just getting to know it, adding some old favorites (like Firefox 2.0) and watching movies (Lucky Number Slevin). I really dig the remote control.

Check out the Out-of-Box photos at my Picasa Web Album

MacBook Pro C2D Out-of-Box Experience

5 Reasons I Hate iTunes

Just bought an 80GB Video iPod! Awesome gadget and a nice way to get into the whole podcast/vidcast mindset. Unfortunately, I have to deal with Apple’s iTunes software to manage it.

I’m currently on an IBM T42p laptop (waiting for Apple to wake up and upgrade the MacBook Pros to Core 2 Duo), so this applies to the Windows version of iTunes.

1. Photos? What Photos?

I downloaded iTunes (yes, it’s not included in the package), installed it and plugged in my new iPod. iTunes began looking for media on my computer and converting it to Apple’s format. A dialog box appeared telling me iTunes was “optimizing my photos,” whatever that means. Meanwhile, iTunes becomes unusable, locked by the weird dialog. And to make matters worse, although iTunes tells me it transferred a couple thousand photos to my iPod, I can’t see them or find them anywhere.

UPDATE: I went to the local Apple Store and requested help with this at the Genius Bar. Though very polite, the dudes at the Genius Bar were unable to solve my problem, claiming to be unfamiliar with the Windows version of iTunes and having never heard of a similar problem. They suggested I call Apple Support. I decided to reinstall iTunes from scratch, but the problem was still there. The Apple Support website shows no mention of this particular problem, even though a simple Google search shows this has been around since at least February of 2006, if not earlier. Further troubleshooting with my system yielded the following answer:

There was apparently a photo file that was giving iTunes/iPod trouble, so I looked at how many photos were transferring to the iPod and manually selected folders until the total shown was higher than the number of photos on the iPod. I then deselected that last folder (which turned out to be my Picasa Exported Pictures folder) and the problem went away. I’ll eventually look through that folder to see which picture in particular was causing the error, but for the time being I’m fine.

2. Movies? What Movies?

I downloaded some video podcasts from Revision3 which turned out to be in a format too large for the iPod too handle. iTunes shows the movies in the Movie section but fails to inform you that they will not play on the iPod. You can take a guess and right-click on a movie and select “Convert Selection for iPod” if you want (the option will show for both iPod compatible and non-compatible videos). While you’re converting a video (takes ages), you can’t click on another video and add it to the conversion queue.

UPDATE: Even some video podcasts downloaded directly from iTunes appear to be incompatible with my iPod.

3. Artwork? What Artwork?

iTunes is supposedly capable of downloading album covers to display while a song is playing. Good Luck. iTunes was unable to find any artwork for most of my records, even though they are available in the iTunes store. Microsoft’s Windows Media Player lets you select the album you’re looking for and also let’s you cut-and-paste artwork.

UPDATE: I found a hack for this: Go to, search for your album, right-click and copy the album artwork image, go back to iTunes, select all the album files, right-click and Get Info, click on the Artwork box and paste the image.

4. Library? What Library?

iTunes will not monitor a folder for newly added files. Instead, they must be added manually via Add Folder or Import. iTunes also can’t tell when it has already added a song, resulting in multiple copies of each file. Attempting to ctrl-click these files to select and delete them caused iTunes to become unresponsive around the third ctrl-click.

5. Speed? What Speed?

iTunes feels mostly sluggish (so does Windows Media Player) and everything takes a few more milliseconds that it should. It just feels like it’s on slow motion.

So, what do you think? Does iTunes run better on a Mac? Do you have any suggestions? Let me know via the comments.

Can Google News (or ESPN) predict the future?

A funny thing happened today… I was searching Google News for tennis, wanting to read up on Andre Agassi’s amazing five-setter last night against Marco Baghdatis at the US Open.

Amazingly enough, second among the search results was the following text:

“ESPN: On late Thursday night Andre Agassi bowed out of the US Open…

 … following his third round loss to Benjamin Becker.”

Interesting… the article is dated September 01, 2006, and as I recall Agassi won last night’s second round match against Baghdatis. Agassi won’t get to play is third round match against Becker for a couple more days.

Solving the MacBook’s lack of a Right-Click Button

When will Apple embrace the right-click button? Even though Apple’s operating system supports right-click, their laptops notoriously lack a right-click button.

I’m not a Mac developer (don’t even own a Mac yet) but I have an idea that could solve the problem:

The Mac’s Touchpad already detects a number of events like scrolling, two-finger scrolling, tap and double-tap. So theoreticaly one could hack the thouchpad’s software to detect taps on the right side of the touchpad as right-clicks… don’t you think?

Leave a comment if you know of any utilities that do this, or if Apple’s driver allows it already.

UPDATE: I went to the local Apple Store and opened the Touchpad preferences… These allow you (among other things) to tap on the touchpad to simulate a button click and also to place two fingers on the touchpad while clicking the button below the touchpad to simulate a right-click. Not quite what I asked for, but close enough.

Apple Stores should embrace XP

It’s a simple idea: every Apple Store should have one computer running Windows XP via Parallels Desktop software.

Why? I believe it would help convince wannabe-switchers to take that final step and purchase a Mac.

When the first MacIntels came out, I began seriously thinking about switching from my all XP set-up. Running the Vista Beta simply made the decision easier (it lasted only two weeks on my laptop before I happily went back to XP SP2).

I depend on XP for part of my work, since I do all my software development on Microsoft’s Visual programming languages. The rest of my work revolves around the internet and Web2.0, for which the MacIntels suit me just fine.

But try finding an Apple Store where you can try out Windows… I haven’t received so many funny looks since the day my sister dyed my hair orange while I slept out in the sun.

I eventually stumbled into Apple’s Lincoln Road store on Miami Beach, where XP was being installed on an iMac (via BootCamp). As weird as it may seem, it’s quite reassuring to see XP boot up on these alien machines.

But there’s still this sense of secrecy around XP in the Apple Stores… Parallels Desktop software was unavailable on the shelves (but they had copies out in the back, they said). The next week, they were on display only to misteriously disappear the next day.

Apple needs to understand that running XP can only boost sales of their computers. Ideally, they should have a computer running XP and several important applications that may or may not be available on the Mac platform.

Now I just need to wait for the Core 2 Duo laptops…

More on the web: see “On Getting Closer to a Mac Tipping Point” for additional views on the subject.

Usability 101: Wasting the customer’s time

I’ll begin this series on usability mistakes with a perfect example of “how to waste your customer’s time and turn them away.”

DADAmobile is a web service for downloading games, ringtones and other content to your mobile phone. I was trying to download a game for my Treo 650 mobile phone when I encountered the following:

The first screen looks promising. It gives a description of the game you’re about to download and offers an informative selection of mobile phone brands. Just click on your particular brand of cellphone and off you go…

I clicked on Palm and was now given the choice to choose between Palm models, the Treo 600 or the Treo 650, complete with pictures of both models. So far so good.

Selecting my mobile model (Treo 650), I thought I’d be shown download instructions (or, worst case, subscription instructions). Instead, I got the following screen, telling me that “Sorry but your phone doesn’t support the content requested.” (sic)

Now, if they’re smart enough to tell me now that my phone won’t run the game I selected, they should be smart enough to tell me so before I waste my time on their website.

In this particular case, the software logic is already there. It’s not like they need to hire a programmer and rework their website. They simply need to move the code that checks for phone compatibility a few steps before its current location.


Check the flow of your website and make sure you optimize the places where you branch out or exit. In the above example, not only would DADAmobile save their customers time and aggravation, they would also save bandwidth by not serving two additional pages.

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Google’s Flickr Killer

… or why Yahoo needs to buy a desktop photo managing app, pronto.

I’ve been using Flickr for a while now – I even have a Pro account (I previously used smugmug). I also use Picasa to manage my photos (having tried several versions of Adobe’s Photoshop Album). I like Picasa’s simplicity, instant image fix-ups, and Gmail integration (for major alterations, I use Photoshop CS2). However, getting images into my Flickr account is a major operation. I can use Flickr’s Upload Tool to store my images on Flickr, but I usually like to crop, color-correct or otherwise fix my photos before showing them. So after fixing them in Picasa, I must export them to a new folder, which I must then upload to Flickr.

Ideally, Picasa would upload to Flickr, making tagging, editing and arranging files a breeze. I doubt Google will do that, though (Picasa doesn’t even upload to third-party blogs, limiting itself to Google’s own Blogger service).

Google has been recently testing an online photo storage and album service: Picasa Web Albums. While it’s still no Flickr, its integration with Picasa is a killer feature and Yahoo/Flickr should take notice. I expect it will eventually integrate with Google Maps/Earth for geotagging, and Checkout for selling your photos, among other Google services. Once Picasa Web is out of beta there really shouldn’t be any reason for Picasa users to keep using Flickr. We all know how long Google’s betas last, so there’s still time for Yahoo to catch-up, but the ball is certainly flying out of the stadium.

Comment in you have any suggestions on which software Yahoo should buy.

Activating Session Restore in Firefox 2 Beta 1

Firefox 2 Beta 1 includes a new feature that restores your browsing session when the browser crashes. So, if you were looking at twenty different tabs when your browser froze or bit the dust, your tabs won’t go to wherever it is that electronic dust-bunnies end up.

Fire up your trusty browser and up will come all your tabs (along with a dialog box allowing you to stop this from happening, in case it was one of your open tabs that caused the crash in the first place).
But what if you want Firefox to always remember your browsing session? Out of the box, Firefox should restore your browsing session when you restart from the Add-On dialog and, I think, when you suffer a crash. I’m not sure if an installed extensions somehow disabled my copy of Firefox, but mine was unable to restore tabs after a crash or after a normal shutdown.

The fix is quite easy…

Open a new tab (Ctrl-T) in Firefox and type about:config in the address bar. This will take you to the secret place where Firefox stores all your preferences.

In the Filter box type sessions to show only those keys including the word “sessions”. You may or may not see several lines beggining with “browser.sessionstore.”.

You need three entries (or keys) in your configuration. These are:

browser.sessionstore.enabled | Type: boolean | Value: true

browser.sessionstore.interval | Type: integer | Value: 30000 (equals 30 seconds, adjust to taste)

browser.sessionstore.resume_session | Type: boolean | Value: true

My copy of Firefox also has the following key (the previous three I added myself):

browser.sessionstore.resume_session_once | Type: boolean | Value: true

If these keys exist in your Firefox config, then you should be all set to use session restore. If not, then you need to create each one by right-clicking anywhere on the page, selecting New, choosing the Type of key from the flyout menu, and entering the key name and Value when prompted.

Restart Firefox and you may now enjoy the comfort of session restore.

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