Usability or lack thereof

June 3, 2008

A few ongoing issues are building up my frustration level today. Note that these are not all strictly about usability, but if I allowed myself to title all posts “Frustration,” this blog would be worse than K-Menu (see #4):

  1. This bug in which right clicking on links in Firefox 3 occasionally opens a random choice from the context menu, without even displaying the menu. Apparently part of this – or rather a related bug which I haven’t actually seen – is fixed in RC1. The problem with a randomly-occurring bug which results in random selection is its irreproducibility, which it would seem from both Launchpad and Bugzilla is very frustrating to the maintainers (who deserve our gratitude for their patience and diligence).
  2. In what might be related, left clicking on the NoScript icon next to the status bar has been (again randomly, or occasionally) toggling the status of domains in the list for the current site. Repeated clicking moves down the list from top to bottom. I was able to avoid this by right clicking – which was bringing up the same menu one expects to see from a left click. But the update to v. 1.6.8 has disabled right clicking altogether, without fixing the left click problem.
    UPDATE: The upgrade to NoScript 1.6.9 has reenabled the right click (Yay!) while doing nothing to fix the bug. (aww!)
  3. Launchpad has really great URLs, but I see one problem, the login link is created in the context of the current page, so you see something like this: https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/firefox-3.0/+bug/187313/+login. This breaks th Mozilla Password Manager’s behavior, and probably that of similar applications – you would need an entry for each possible login point. There should be a better way to preserve the redirect.
  4. Please, please try to avoid naming all KDE apps beginning with the letter k. Especially if the k is not part of the name, just stuck on to KDE-ify it. Thus, from best to worst: Amarok, Kopete (or even Konsole), kTorrent. While the k does preserve some brand identity and is helpful for identifying native apps in menus, it makes auto-completion a pain in the terminal, the Alt-F2 dialog, and Katapult. I’m surprised this has not come up more often. There is this interesting post, to which a few of the kommenters have noted the dangers of k-fever, and which is worth reading and following the links in. The Bryan Clark post he links to has been moved: Fear and Loathing in .desktop. As suggested, pair the latter with shaunm\’s response, Generic Names Considered Harmful:

    Do let’s keep in mind that it’s not our menu. It’s the freedesktop.org menu. When Epiphany sets its Name to ‘Web Browser’, it shows up that way in any desktop that uses the freedesktop.org menu. If a user is running KDE, she’ll see Epiphany as Web Browser. If a user is running XFCE, she’ll see Epiphany as Web Browser. A little pretentious of us, don’t you think? This is a serious interoperability problem, not to mention the fact that it completely breaks the specification.

    Why does the user have both KDE and GNOME installed, you ask? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a stock Fedora install, which installs both. Maybe it’s a big corporate environment or university where the admins have decided that users can choose which desktop to run. Maybe Unix is a multi-user operating system. I hate having to remind people that Unix is a multi-user operating system.

  5. We just got visited by Jehovah’s Witnesses targeting Arabic speaking homes (a category to whic ours does not belong). For a second I was hoping they were canvassing the area – about 5% of our relatively small town reports their primary ancestry as Arab, Syrian, or Lebanese. Most of these families are long settled, though, and I never hear people in town speaking Arabic (though the neighboring town has plenty of people speaking Arabic, as does Allentown itself). Going by their signs, most of the churches around town – all old and established (and probably rapidly emptying) mainline Protestant plus one Catholic – have pastors (male and female) of Arab origin.
    Anyway it would seem the canvassing was anything but random, as they got in a car and drove off. I presume then, that they were going by name. I’m generally (not to brag) more patient than the average person in dealing with telemarketers and door-to-door salespeople, even of religion. (And I’m not really concerned if they want to scope out the house for post-rapture-or-whatever real estate, as we rent and, um, the obvious reason.) So I don’t slam doors shut or phones down on people. And I wait for a reasonable point to reasonably explain that there is no way I have even the slightest interest in whatever it is.
    Frustrating, though, was the fact that the Arabic Jehovah’s Witness seemed less qualified than the normal Witnesses – not quite as hopeless as the Urdu/Hindi telemarketers. I will never, ever use Dish Network even if they offer me a package with just the sites I’m interested in for $1/year, just because of their salespeople, who seem to have had no training. This woman fumbled her verse and the transition to the magazine push. It was just sad. Why is it that in every field it’s acceptable for i18n/l10n to result in substandard products? Not just in “loss in translation”, but out and out abandonment of all quality control and “polish”. (That’s [ˈpɒlɪʃ] not [ˈpoʊlɪʃ]. Obviously the [ˈpoʊlɪʃ] product would have no [ˈpɒlɪʃ].)
    (See how I managed to bring that around to almost being relevant, there. And suppress the hilarious aside about Dish Network.)
  6. There’s been an unusually high rate of telemarketer calls today. That makes my phone unusable. And my time. OK, that’s an exaggeration.
  7. There is so much horribly wrong in this. I’m so glad to have missed Spolsky at RailsConf.
  8. Using IMAP with Google’s servers and KMail, when I move something (after reading it) from the inbox to a folder/label it then shows up as an unread item in that folder on the next mail fetch. Or it seems to. I’m only using this (KMail/IMAP) on a few low traffic domains to test it out first. If this is really what’s happening, I’m guessing it’s due to the fact that KMail wants there to be folders with multiple copies of a given mail, while GMail wants labels that all point to the same mail.
    Is there a client that does the labels without any problems? I’ve used Thunderbird for POP access to GMail, and I’m not really interested in trying it again. Maybe if someone bridges KMail and GMail so that you have labels and a threaded view and other niceties, they can call it HIJMail.
    [Note to reader: This post got derailed at this point, proceed ahead at your own risk.]
    Trying KMail is just another step in my never ending internal struggle over whether to further integrate my life with KDE or not. Half of my brain says that all you need is Firefox (sorry, no replacement for that yet), Emacs, and a tiling window manager. But there is something to be said for KDE’s integration. And even the out of date hardware I run can handle KDE fine – the low footprint issue is a red herring. The graphical admin tools often add more headaches than they solve, but in most modern distros, the damage is already done. It takes much more to undo all of that nonsense and use config files than to just use the stinkin’ GUI. Especially when you factor in keeping track of changes and developments, and keeping your config files up to date accordingly. Of course you can choose a less opinionated distro and put everything together just the way you like it, but aside from the huge waste of time, except for the areas you pay enough attention to, you’ll be – potentially – missing out on new developments. Aside from admin tools, there are also those random apps you’re going to need someday for some reason – usually due to someone else’s inability to use plain text or the like. Or the need to quickly solve some problem which is outside your usual domain and for which an apt-cache search leads to quicker results than Google. That day you will curse your window manager. (Even though, properly speaking, the curses should go to the developer of the package.)
    That said, there is a new crop of tiled window managers tempting me. (One tip, if your interested: try to avoid booting into a session with no menus or anything to point a mouse at without first memorizing, copying, or printing at least the basic key bindings. Binding F1 to the ion man page, by the way – pure genius.) These things are not satisfying, though, as an alternate session in a KDE (or GNOME) dominated box. At a basic level, there’s usually lots of stuff which doesn’t play so well together. At a higher level – they demand purity. And I’ve got too much clutter to deal with wiping the slate clean right now. So I figure I should just be hitching myself tighter and tighter to the KDE wagon.
    There is, though, the option – the dream – of tiling within KDE, either through Kwin itself, or by replacing Kwin. But I worry about the potential nonsense – and the pain that might be involved in undoing it. The first problem that comes to mind is key-binding conflicts. And an uncertain chain of command, if that metaphor makes any sense.
    I’m just going to end this one now, without a snappy conclusion, because it’s becoming more bloated than people accuse KDE of being. (By the way, in KDE’s case: it’s not fat, it’s muscle.)

And yes, I did leave this post open all day and keep coming back to it to add issues.

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