Programming for (programmer) convenience

Here’s another piece of idiocy from Lotus Notes. I should say that I found this in version 6.5 and in the version that has now been inflicted on me, 8.0.1, it has been fixed. But I won’t let that stop me, it’s still a marvellous example of an entire development team failing to make that one last simple connection:

Could you just for once actually do it, could you?

Could you just for once actually do it, could you?

Have you spotted the idiocy? Notes has recognised that I have the post (sort of) open in the Preview Pane (much as in Outlook) and it doesn’t feel that it can delete it, perhaps because it might leave a decision about what to do with the empty space. So it closes the preview and invites us to try the delete again. Duh.

Just in case anyone’s struggling, I’ll spell it out: the program tells us it will do something we may not have known it could do (automatically close the Preview Pane) and then tells us to manually repeat an action that we know it definitely can do: delete a post. It says “document”, which might offer a clue, but I’m a user here – these are just emails as far as I’m concerned.

In the time it took to code the “problem” identification and the explanatory dialog, the developer could have just deleted the damn post.

Software like this does wonders for my self-esteem, I tell you.

Mmmmm, Shiny!

Browsers++, eh? Google have launched their browser, in beta form at least. Of course, “beta” for Google doesn’t always mean what it means for others – is gmail still in beta, by the way?

Anyway, ever ready to while away half an hour of work time looking at something new, off I went to the download page. A smallish (475KB) bootstrapper pulled down the actual installer, managing to find the necessary information about our somewhat complex Monte-Carlo proxy-server load-balancing  script without grief (presumably by digging into the IE or Firefox connection settings) and ran. Pretty pain-free, apart from this:

Getting warm, getting warmer, oops!

Getting warm, getting warmer, oops!

Ah well, it is a beta, after all. And it appears that the crash may have occurred at the run-after-install bit, since by the time it happened I had a desktop icon that seems – touch wood – to work.

A little detail that I really appreciated was that the install option page included a setting to make Chrome my default browser but it was unchecked by default. Nice one.

And then it just mostly worked. Some minor issues with font sizes, which seemed to randomly apply changes across tabs when I zoomed in or out using Control +?- or Control-mousewheel, but otherwise my regular stuff all seemed to render pretty well, internal or external.

It appears that the Chrome rendering engine shares the same standards book as Firefox’s – both render our IE-specific corporate intranet home page with the same set of “errors”. I tried looking to see what in the CSS was causing the problem but my limited skills weren’t up to the task. But while I was searching the source, which on a right-click/”View Source” request opens in a new browser window, which is nice, I discovered something nice. Nothing earth-shattering, but nice. I hit Control-F, which did what I expected, typed a few characters and the page was scrolled to the first found instance. As expected. Then I noticed something.

Score points for attention to detail

Score points for attention to detail

See what they did? No? Look at the vertical scroll bar. That’s a really nice touch. I like the way the “what to find” box organically grows from the surround too, and the animation is smooth, too. I suppose they could have made it slightly bouncy, in the way that Flash apps seem to like to work these days, although that can make one a little nauseous when over-done.

Oh, and another little plus on the view-source-in-the-browser thing is that links to, for example, stylesheets, are navigable. That removes a tiny piece of Firefox excise that I didn’t previously even know existed.

I’m sure there are all sorts of other little things. The address-bar within each tab may prove to be a boon, and the process-per-tab thing could be useful, although I can’t say crashing ranks very highly on my list of browser annoyances. We’ll have to keep sucking it to see.

I won’t be deleting Chrome. Neither will it be elevated to the status of default browser in the short term – I’m far too fond of my little set of FF add-ins. When Chrome has features that give me the capability provided by, at least, AdBlock, Firebug and Greasemonkey then we may be in business. But I think it’s going to be something of an uphill struggle until something really compelling and unique is offered. The thing is, Windows users who cared have already switched from IE to (mostly) Firefox and I don’t see a reason, other than possibly the bleeding-else coolness, to change again.

At least, I don’t see the compelling reason to switch yet.

You don’t want to do it like that…

A recent post by Mike Gunderloy on Web Worker Daily had me thinking about the keyboard vs mouse debate that simmers gently in the background most of the time, punctuated by bubbles of gas rising to the top, exploding moistly into splatters of mild controversy.

there's a keyboard shortcut!

Look: a keyboard shortcut!

Let’s face it, who hasn’t had to rein themselves in when they see a colleague (or worse, a loved one) taking their hands from the keyboard to mouse to the “File” menu and search for “Save”, when a simple “Control-S” would have got the job done? You may safely put me on the guilty side of that line.

Software, where possible, should provide support for both forms of user interaction. It’s usually the keyboard snobs who get upset, seldom the mousers, which may be indicative of some fundamental personality trait…

Now I get as annoyed as the next keyboard snob when someone takes their hands from the keys, ignoring a perfectly good keystroke combo, to reach for the mouse to get to a menu item. I think that at least sometimes I am right – the person should know the efficient way to get the result because detailed knowledge of the package is something that is expected of them in the performance of their job. In those situations I let them know. Sometimes even diplomatically.

As often though, the individual is an occasional or inexperienced user who doesn’t need to know the ways of the expert and frankly doesn’t care – the program is a means to an end and the second or two of excise is insignificant.

Microsoft will probably move this in the minute or two after I post, but right now at the very moment I’m typing this, there’s a whole bunch of shortcuts for Office if you go here.

A Lot From A Little

As may well become apparent over time, I’m not too enthusiastic about Lotus Notes. It’s fair to say that, had I remembered that my current employer is a corporate Notes user, I would have tried to negotiate a higher salary by way of compensation.

Be that as it may, for a developer Notes is a glorious nugget-laden river of blogging opportunities. The client software on my work PC was recently upgraded to version 8.0.1, which seems pretty current. I think, therefore, that it’s fair game.

Let’s look at one aspect that I noticed and delve a bit. In a mail folder, there are columns, as you would expect, some of which use small graphics to provide information. It’s a common UI metaphor. These are the column headings I see:

Lotus Notes message list headers

Lotus Notes message list headers

Nothing surprising there, I think we’d all agree. Look at the paperclip toward the right side. What would you expect it to denote? If you muttered “attachment” then award yourself a small non-monetary prize.

A slightly harder question, now: what would you expect to see when a message has an attachment? A paperclip? Another prize. Moving swiftly on, and for the hat-trick, what do you expect to see if you hover your mouse pointer over such a paperclip icon? Something like “1 attachment(s)” or “114K attachment enclosed” or some such? Whoops, hit the bar.

What you get is this:

Perfectly accurate and perfectly useless


…which, I trust we can all agree, is exactly what it is. Perfectly accurate and utterly useless.

What can we glean, in a sort of software-archaeological sense, from this? I’m thinking we can make the following predictions, in vaguely ascending order of likelihood:

  1. Within the Notes team at IBM there’s a standard that says non-textual elements should have tool-tips (or whatever the Eclipse/Java name for such things is).
  2. If there was a formal specification for this element of the program, it was incomplete. Or worse, the spec’s author thought “Paperclip Icon” was appropriate and nobody thought to question it.
  3. QA within Notes is non-existent or pitifully understaffed.
  4. The Notes development team is woefully inexperienced and/or has very little interest in delivering a quality product, choosing instead to ship a (bad) copy of Outlook (which has its own flaws, let’s not deny it) to institutions who have yet to acquire the corporate gumption to obliterate it.
  5. The Notes team don’t eat their own dogfood, for email at least. Let’s face it, who would?

Which is quite a lot for one funny little tooltip.