I was reading a review of a laptop recently and saw the typical inscrutable label for its screen resolution (“QHD”, in this case), and finally decided I should find out what the heck that even means. So I poke around, and discover that it’s a morass of thing with conflicting names and ambiguous naming schemes. Who names these things? Why not just use the actual resolution (i.e., 1920×1080, or whatever it is)? Continue reading
[Surfacing an old post that got lost. Some of the details are no longer current—there have been 6 major versions of OS X since Snow Leopard. In particular, it is now possible to set the owner for a single file, as well as for all files of that type. So it basically works exactly the way I (and others) said it should, 8 years ago. But this discussion is still relevant, even if it is no longer a complaint against OS X, as a discussion of different needs and best practices.]
I seriously contemplated not upgrading to Snow Leopard when I discovered that they’ve changed the behavior so that the Creator Codes associated with files are now overridden by other mechanisms. For those who aren’t familiar, up until Snow Leopard, Mac OS has always kept track of not only what kind of file something is, but what application it was associated with. I’ve always considered that to be a major boon: I can have this html file open with my text editor, so that I can make some more edits, but that html file open up in Safari, because it’s a saved webpage i downloaded. And a few other cases that are really common and fairly important [to me]. There are also lots of other cases that have come up over the years, but at least some of those are probably due to my idiosyncrasies, as much as to genuine efficiencies.
Now, this is not to say that the old way was perfect. In classic Mac OS, it was comparatively difficult to access, much less change, this information—if you knew what you were doing, you could use various tools to get at the otherwise-hidden information, and you could learn what the often-obscure 4-character codes were, but for most people, it was set by applications, and that was it. On the downside, this meant that some applications were excessively possessive about files: just opening a file with that application would change it’s ownership to that application, so that the next time you went to open it, it would launch that program again.
On the upside, every application would automagically tag any file that was actually newly-created with it (as opposed to just opened or edited) as belonging to it. This was particularly a boon for dealing with common filetypes, because sometimes one app would be better for what I wanted, sometimes another. Frex, when writing a PERL script, I might put up with a slightly poorer text editor because it had syntax coloring (while my usual text editor didn’t). But I wouldn’t want to use that for everything. I found myself going back and forth between multiple apps for images, too. And, in particular, I certainly wouldn’t want to have an image I was working on associated with the viewer—or webbrowser—I was using to double-check my work. Mac OS X didn’t make it any easier to access the Creator Codes, but it did provide a functionality to override them. Which, IMHO, was the best of both worlds: by default, you had the associations. If you wanted to change a few files, you could do it. If you wanted to change all your files of a given type to open with a particular app, you could do that, even more easily.
Which, now that I’ve gotten some context out of the way, gets to my point: I can understand why some people prefer the new method, whereby all files of a given type open with one, chosen, application. What I don’t understand is why they are happy that the old method, where some files could be automatically owned by an application, is so reviled. Previously, both possibilities were there: those who wanted to always have a given type of file open with the same app could set it that way. Those who wanted to respect app ownership could set it that way. So it’s not just a case of switching from behavior A to behavior B. We’ve gone from default-A with optional-B, to always-B. Which really irks those who prefer behavior A. And I’m a little lost as to why those who prefer B are so happy, since it didn’t take much effort to get that behavior in the past.
The other, more significant, observation I’ve made comes from reading many blogs, editorials, and attendant comments on the topic. And noting an interesting trend in who prefers what. It seems that it’s not just a matter of whim, but there is a definite situational difference. To whit: those who prefer the all-files-of-one-type-for-one-app are consumers of data. Those who prefer the each-file-to-its-app are creators of data. Now, this is just a generalization, so don’t bother “proving me wrong” by showing that you, personally, defy the categories. Of course you do—lots of people do. For that matter, I don’t think they’re black-and-white categories; most people probably are somewhere between the two poles, so, in that sense, everybody defies the categories. Nonetheless, over and over, those who prefer the new method gave receiving files with undesired Creator Codes as their reason. Those who prefer the old method usually gave creating files [in multiple apps] as their reason. And that certainly matches my preferences. I also think that those who claim that for the vast majority of users, defaulting to a single app is the preferred behavior, are correct. Most people I know don’t even use multiple webbrowsers, something that doesn’t involve associating files or most of the other costs of switching apps [though, admittedly, there is the bookmarks issue—but that’s something that can be solved, if you want to switch between webbrowsers for other reasons].
So, I suggest that there is a fairly easy solution that would make everyone happy: provide some sort of Creator-Code-like functionality that not only makes it possible to associate files in a less fragile way than the current mechanism, but make it possible to make that the default behavior when creating a file.
Then, ignore those associations when transferring files. I’m no programmer, so I couldn’t tell you how to do that. Maybe store them somewhere that isn’t preserved when using http or ftp or MIME encoding, or other file transfer protocals. Maybe specifically put a tag in that the Mac recognizes as itself—so when the OS sees an ownership tag that it didn’t put there, it knows to then ignore any creator codes it does find—maybe even strip them out.
From what I’ve been hearing, that would actually provide the functionality that just about everyone wants, even if it wouldn’t match some of the absolutist—and vitriolic—statements that some have been spouting.
This evening I stumbled into a question thread on Quora about Linux and why it’s so user unfriendly. I thought this was funny because yesterday I decided I wanted to switch my Ubuntu install to use the command key (ergonomically located under my thumb, next to the spacebar) as the primary modifier key, instead of control (awkwardly down in the corners of the keyboard where you basically have to use your pinky finger). A single Google search turned up 3 different ways to do it, 2 of which were pretty easy (edit a clearly-identified line of a clearly-identified config file probably being the easiest). Another 10 minutes of reading those pages and some of the alternate answers, and another Google search later, and I found a little application I could install directly from the App Center in Ubuntu that gives a nice GUI interface to swapping keys around. Voila!
For the past few years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to do the equivalent with Windows 7 and 10. The short answer is: you can’t, without administrative access. With administrative access, it’s a royal pain in the butt, and might require registry hacking, and I have yet to find a step-by-step guide to the exact edits to the registry I’d need to make. (Might be mostly-possible with some commercial macro software, but I don’t use MSWindows at home enough to spend money on it, and can’t install software at work.)
Then I wanted to disable the numlock key (or, more specifically, permanently enable it, so that no matter what I do, I get numbers on the number pad). Again, a quick Google search turned up at least 4 ways to do it, each cleverer than the last. More importantly, that same software I installed a few minutes earlier? It simply has a setting for “numlock always on”.
Again, I’ve been looking for a way to do that with MSWindows for years. I figured out how to have it default to on, which is a huge improvement, but if I accidentally hit the button, it still goes off. There might be commercial macro software that can do the trick, and if I had one of a select set of Microsoft-manufactured keyboards, there’s some configuration software that I could probably do it with, but I haven’t otherwise figured out how to do it.
So, what is “user friendly”? I’d say the friendliest system works the way you would like without you having to do anything. But we have varying tastes, so that can’t always be true. Next best would be learning what you want—OS X used to learn a spelling if you typed the same word a certain number of times, so you didn’t have to explicitly tell it “yes, I mean it, and this is a word, so please learn it and stop trying to turn it into something else”. If that’s not possible—or it fails—easy configurability seems like it would be the next best thing.
(BTW, some of those methods I found for Linux would work on OS X, too. But it’s a moot point because it already disables the stupid numlock key, and has built-in GUI tools for swapping around the modifier keys. I’m genuinely surprised that MS hasn’t added that capability yet, given the number of people who prefer MSWindows for its configurability.)
So, is Windows 10 more user-friendly than Ubuntu? I suppose if you want to do everything the way it defaults, then, yes. But if you don’t…
Defaults tend to run the world and choosing how to set things up from scratch is hard, so it’s worth spending a little extra time to set the defaults in the best possible way. If people are used to something that is awkward, I really don’t know whether the “best possible way” would be to continue that bad design, or to choose the better but unfamiliar design. I’m an Apple user, so I’m used to the notion of throwing out the old way for something new (even if I don’t always agree with Apple on which changes are actually improvements—is there really some reason that going from iOS 8 to iOS 9 they had to reverse the direction you swipe to get to the home screen while within the app switcher?). But maybe if you’re used to having the primary modifier key under your pinky finger, switching it to under your thumb isn’t worth the re-learning unless tendonitis forces you.
Quick thought here: (1) Why do extended keyboards—that is, ones with a separate number pad—even have a Num Lock key any more? (2) Why does Microsoft Windows default to it being off?
I get why there is such a key on keyboards that don’t have a number pad, such as laptops. And it makes perfect sense if the “number pad” keys are also letters and stuff that you’d start with it off. But Windows ought to be smart enough to know the difference and choose appropriately—heck, my Mac can even handle the concept of having numlock on for one keyboard and off for another connected to the same machine simultaneously.
But, more generally, when was the last time a keyboard was made that had a number pad but didn’t have arrow keys? And does anybody ever intentionally turn numlock off for an extended keyboard, in order to use the number pad as arrow keys (interspersed with a bunch of other keys) rather than using the even-closer dedicated arrow keys?
As near as I can tell (based on complaints I hear at work and online), it is solely a historical artifact, whose only purpose now is to screw up passwords and complicate data entry.
And while I’m at it: why isn’t MSWindows, after all these years, smart enough to overrule that (and other modifier keys) in software with an easy-to-use interface? It’s clearly possible (since OS X can do it), so why do I have to do a registry hack or play around in BIOS (or UEFI, or whatever they are these days) settings to fix this idiocy?
As I type this, I am deleting Microsoft Office from my computer. I had downloaded the free trial, in order to catch myself up a bit on the programs, for all the job listings that “require” “familiarity with Microsoft Office”, or words to that effect. In some ways, they’ve vastly improved over the last version I used. On the other hand, I’d still take MSWord 5.1 (that’s vintage ’93, for those of you too young to remember) over any version I’ve seen since, if I had the choice. In fact, IMHO, the only application in the bunch that has actually improved in the last few versions is Excel—which is also the only one that is probably superior to its competitors. (I say “probably” because I’m less confident that I’m familiar with all of the options where spreadsheets are concerned.) It looks like the latest versions have stopped moving menu items around, at least—none of that “adapting” to how you work, which completely undermines the muscle memory of where commands are. And, I have to admit, the interfaces really have gotten better.
I decided not to put something like this into my last email to the tech support person regarding a broken job-seeking and -application website, since it’s as likely to piss them off as to help my cause. But I needed to say it:
You really shouldn’t be supporting browsers in the first place, you should be supporting standards. By every measure I’ve seen, simply doing so would basically guarantee compatibility with Safari, Firefox, & Chrome, and provide functional-if-not-pretty support for Internet Explorer, OmniWeb, and Opera. And I know it’s not the tech geek’s fault—it’s a policy decision. But that’s why there are standards, and I’m really getting sick of companies’ solution to their website not functioning being “use Internet Explorer”—as if that’s even an option if you don’t use MSWindows, or an appropriate response when barely half of people are using IE any more.
It’s doubly annoying when I discover that the only reason the website requires IE is because they’ve hard-coded it to check for IE. I’ve had 100% perfect functionality using Firefox on all but one “IE-only” website, just by having it identify as IE8 running on MSWindows 7. [And the one site I never tried that on was also claiming compatibility with IE5! Really? You’re maintaining compatibility with a webbrowser that was obsolete 9 years ago, and hasn’t seen 1% browser share since 2006? And yet not bothering with current webbrowsers that make up 40-50% of browser share?]
OK, I know I’m behind the times and a bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to the newest tools and techniques for communicating online, but it’s not all me grumping. There’s good reasons for some of it.
What triggered this post was little better than a wiki walk. My [non-gamer] coworker was asking about Gen Con, and then about RPGs, and then about LARPs. He expressed some interest, so I thought I’d point him at Madison By Night—which either doesn’t exist anymore, or doesn’t have a webpage anymore. [The most-recent page I found appears to have been last updated before the start of the 2003-2004 school year.] However, one of the links for it went to an old friend’s website, because he was one of the original founders of Madison By Night. I hadn’t realized he had a website, beyond the listings for Gen Con events. So I started poking around. And found a couple of essays that mesh well with thoughts I’ve had over the years—not-so-little things that drive me batty online.