CyberTech Rambler

March 27, 2008

Comparing UI on Windows and Mac from design/implementation viewpoint

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:35 pm

Kermedec compared Windows and Desktop UI design. This is the first time someone came up preferring Windows over Mac. More interestingly, his argument are solid and well-founded.

His argument that Windows design is better suited at beginners and average-joe user is well argued. I especially like the saying that average joe user is not going to be bothered with the difference between push-down button and toggles. In my opinion, he is right to say that computer users need not be bothered about it.

His other argument that the Windows UI do not requires the user to understand what a computer is, IMHO, completely wrong. He cited the example of  changing the desktop background. In short, he believe with a Mac, the users must understand what a desktop is, that it has a “Preferences” and how to get to that “Preferences” via “System Preference”. First of all, he is wrong in this particular example. Right-click on Desktop give you a pop-up menu with “Change Desktop Background…” as one of the available choice, the same way Windows does not. More important is the fact that average Windows users do need to know what a computer is. I know. In the Unix course I have the “misfortune” to lecture, I have to start by destroying my attendees’ view of a computer from Windows view point. Being medical students, most of my attendee will not bother to figure out what a computer is. However, their daily contact with Windows do means they subconsciously acquired Windows’ view of a computer. In fact, I believe one of the reason why Kermedec made this argument is that he did not realize that subconsciously, he actually learned about the computer from a Windows view point.

One problem with Kermedec’s view is that while everyone must start as a first-time user, we all graduate to average-joe user eventually. Proportion-wise, at least in reasonably developed countries, average-joes outnumbers first-time users massively. Hence, if design for the mass is your aim, then a computer should be designed for the average-joe, and average joes do knows about basic things about computer, such as desktop.

Personally, I think Mac’s UI design is better, even for the average joe. Let’s address the harder problems with computers first: How many times do you have to install a new piece of hardware, install software, configure your settings, the things that Kermedec argued is easier in Windows? Once in a blue moon. Moreover, the gap between the ease of installing software/hardware on Windows and Macs are narrowing by the day.

Most users, like me, simply use the default desktop given to me by the operating system, Windows or Mac. Hence, a comparison of both UI must assume that we are using the default desktop provided by the operating system. We must also stress that what average joe want is a computer that makes it easy to perform day-to-day tasks such as word processing, reorganizing files etc. I will argue that here is where Mac excels. Example: Which is more user friendly? A click-move-click (Either the fail-safe “Start”->Programs->Microsoft Words, or selecting Microsoft Words from your “Recently Used Applications” list) on Windows or simply click on the Pages icon? I submit the latter is easier.

The biggest piece of hardware that users have to handle nowadays are USB devices, be it digital camera connections or USB memory stick. Inserting them into your computer, Mac or Windows, and use them is easy: Just insert them. Now comes the rub: removing them from the computer. With a Mac, click the eject button besides your USB device in Finder Windows, or, drag the icon representing your device from the desktop to the Trash Can, which is now redrawn into an “eject” icon. With windows, it is searching for the proper icon on system tray, clicking on it and navigate several dialog box. Which is a better design for day-to-day jobs then?

Does Mac UI design has a flaw? Yes. While things you do day-to-day is readily available to you and with less-clicks needed than its Windows’ equivalent, if you want to customize applications, it is harder. Try getting iTunes to rip your CD into MP3 and you will find that the option is hidden behind several layers of menu in an obscure way. Being a software guy myself, I think this has more to do with the fact that Steve Jobs don’t want you to change those options.

David Morgenstern disagree that Windows UI is better design. He believes Windows dominant position is not driven by UI but other factors. This may be true but does not forward the discussion. However, he brings in the design guidelines from Apple and Windows. That’s invaluable to the discussion. The fact that Mac listed specific steps and Windows simply list a set of philosophy makes designing UI correctly for Mac easier and unambiguous for Mac. With Windows, there is still a question of interpretation. This distinction is important for poor chaps like me who have to make decisions on the UI.

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March 26, 2008

Are we seeing a pattern here??

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 5:24 pm

OOXML passage through ISO certainly raised the profiles of national standard setting institutions. Never in my short life had I seen them being thrust into the limelight. Normally, although their work are important and far reaching, they rarely see the light of day or their work acknowledged. Right now, they are A-list celebrities.

Before the Ballot Resolution Meetings, reports are in from mainly anti OOXML criticizing National Standard Bodies practice. All those allegations about irregularities (example) and member stuffing (example) by the only one big company behind OOXML floods in from all over the world. But now, things are getting more interesting. The accused is now the accuser! First, we have character assasination in New Zealand, then Dough Mahugh making noise about Malaysia. At least in these two occasions, Microsoft can hide behind the disclaimer that “it is my employees’ personal opinion, not the official stand’. Now, we have formal complain about India’s handling of its final decision.

It is only human to want to attack our opponent, a personal attack if need be, if things does not go our way. If there are valid grounds, raise them openly. Put forward your evidence and let the public examine and form their own opinions. Otherwise, do the civilized thing and admit defeat.

If any, I am preparing myself for the possibility that OOXML is going to become an ISO Standard. If this happens, you can be sure that I will blog about why I think this is not a good thing. I will of course present my evidence on why I think this is not a good thing.

March 25, 2008

Where voting is necessary

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 10:06 pm

Brian Jones’ post “Out of time” is an attempt to say that the 800+ issues not discussed in the recent BRM is not a big deal. To illustrate his point, he highlighted several points.

It is true that quite a number of comments highlighted contains insufficient information for a response. Others, including those which do not have sufficient information for a response, are probably addressed in other similar or duplicate comments where more information is available and/or in the issues discussed.

A few actually highlighted Microsoft inexperience in preparing a standard documents. For example, China Comment 13: “International markup. i.e., multilingual and localized tags should be supported.” That, to me, is clear enough. One problem with OOXML highlighted well before OOXML applied for Fast Track is precisely this issue. The response of “insufficient information” is not acceptable here. It is not China’s duty to design/modify OOXML schema for OOXML. UK comment 3, definition of words are not as expected, is another example.

Those are minor issues as far as I am concerned. More important are issues that Microsoft/ECMA has responded, but the National Body who summitted the comment disagree. Issue like “UK Comment 9 and 10” should had been discussed in the BRM. It is clear from the comment that the UK is not happy with binary blobs, i.e., those implementation-defined, especially those related to specific implementation choices. Microsoft response is the middle route, i.e., those are optional. Does it satisfy the UK? Will there be a counter-proposal that extract a time frame from Microsoft that it will document those that originated from Microsoft Office in a useable form? (That is not an unreasonable request. After all, to get full compatibility with MSOffice, the aim of OOXML, should require MSOffice not produce undocumented binary blobs. The sentence is particularly long given MS response to EC’s antitrust issue on communication protocol.) Finally, if both side cannot agree, surely this is an issue for discussion and the attendees can and should resolve it by voting? To me, this issue is important. Not only this is how the BRM is suppose to work, it give clarity to whether the anti OOXML argument is it allows implementation-defined terms that interoperability is a fantasy. I note that the response by Microsoft appears to back this up. This is obviously unacceptable to anti-OOXML camp. This is why we need National Bodies’ expertise to make a judgement on whether this is acceptable.

Durusau’s opnion on who loses if OOXML is not an ISO standard

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 1:52 pm

I respect Patrick Durusau and believe he brings valuable insights into the current debate over OOXML. His latest posting, Who Loses If OpenXML Loses, is another insightful thoughts.

His view on how OOXML will benefit ODF is logical. I have no doubt that OOXML being a ISO standard is one way that will encourage MS to stay on the track of openness. Personally I prefer competition, and will take antitrust pressure as a backup if competition fails. Why? So far, Microsoft had not demonstrated that it will do this willingly.

Standardizing OOXML through ISO may achieve the results of harmonization between ODF and OOXML, particularly on formulas. I am careful to use the word “may” as there are a lot of factors that will torpedo it, including both standard will simply run in parallel rather than converging and that difference of opinion will mean resistance from both camp towards harmonization.

As for ODF not having ISO-based definition of MS legacy features and current MS features for mapping purpose, an ISO-sanctioned OOXML will still not give you them. The best OOXML can give you is a quasi-definition written in OOXML. More importantly, ODF will be disadvantaged as it will forever have to play catch up. Playing catch up might be fine for legacy features, but not if you for current features. Don’t beliveve me? Ask WordPerfect.

Still, Durusau’s argument make sense and is worthwhile reading even if you disagree with him, or me for that matter.

However, I take issues with claim 2: Microsoft based third-party vendors may be excluded from contracts because Microsoft has no ISO approved format. To me, to introduce this arguement is to say that we should favour certain parties when making judgment on whether something is to be an international standard or not. This is wrong. A standard worthy of ISO blessing must be vendor-neutral throughout, from wording of the standard, to the whole process from creation to adoption to maintenance of the standard.

Having no ISO approved format is certainly an issue for third-party vendors and Microsoft. Just as there were no help to WordPerfect and its third party vendors when WordPerfect loses its market, there should not be any help to Microsoft and its third party vendors.

In any case, there is an alternative available to them: Support ODF. If Microsoft does it, it will “cure” the problem for all. If it does not, vendors can still switch support away from OOXML to ODF the way they did from WordPerfect to Microsoft.

Finally, there are people that says that Durusau’s support for OOXML was forced. He is the head of an ANSI (or is it ISO) committee whose work can be halted if the “puppets” that Microsoft put up simply do nothing. Only Durusau knows whether it is true or not and I do not think he is inclined to share it with us, at least not now. Right now, I do not think this is the case. First of all, he could had just kept silent. Or in the worst case, pen one or two obligatory pieces to “appease” Microsoft. Moreover, there are more effective ways to deal with people who impede progress through national or international committee: A quiet word or two normally do the trick. The same in national commitees. With national committee, there is an ultimate response: follow the Malaysian example by pressing the “kill” switch.

March 24, 2008

Doug Mahugh went to Malaysia, did not like what he sees…great deal!

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 8:55 pm

[Disclosure: Pay attention! I am Malaysian born and bred]

Wow… The PR war in NB really heat up. While I was half expecting someone from Microsoft HQ will grace a small country’s, i.e., Malaysia, National Standard Body, I did not expect such a big fuss to be kick up. Here are the firery exchange between Dogh Mahugh and Open Malaysia bloggers: Mahugh A,B,C vs Yoon Kit’s A, B, C, D and E, with supporting fire from Yusseri, ditesh, Hasan . If you follow it, you will find it escalates from Yoon Kit’s non attendance of PIKOM’s meeting, to Mahugh being ejected (volunteerly leaves whatsoever) from a committee meeting in the National Standard Body.

I am a third party commenting on what I piece together from both side. First: YK’s non attendance of the PIKOM meeting. YK’s defense is he is not invited as he is not a PIKOM member. I believe if YK knows big guns from MS HQ is there, he will work very hard to get a ticket. Mahugh’s does not believe him, saying that non-PIKOM member, e.g. Google, was there. However, there is a hole in his argument: the companies he mentioned are all on the discussion panel. I think we can assume that the rule that attendees must be PIKOM member does not extend to the invited panel. Unless Mahugh can proof otherwise, YK’s version is more believable because as soon as he is removed from the panel list, he lose his rights to attend the meeting.

The more interesting, more serious and worth discussing is Mahugh’s argument that the anti-OOXML party is manipulating the committee in the Malaysian Standard Institute. That is refreshing. At last, anti-OOXML camp is accused of manipulating procedures.

Lets disect that event.

One: Mahugh accuses the committee for waited half-and-hour for anti-OOXML people to appear. First of all, meeting delayed for half-and-hour is not “unusual” in Malaysia. Perhaps he should be briefed on “Malaysian Time”. Nasty habit I know and I am glad to say that “Malaysian Time” is getting closer and closer to “International Time”. In any case, the chair replied to Mahugh accusation by saying that his presence is the reason why the meeting was late.

Second, why do Mahugh feel that he has the right to be present in the meeting? The committee meeting was there to ‘protect and advance’ Malaysia’s interest in ISO. I cannot see Tim Bray (Canadian) or Yoon Kit being present in ANSI meeting on OOXML. I am sure if they do, they will get the same treatment as Mahugh. However, I will not disqualify Mahugh on the fact that he is not Malaysian. To do that will be to dishonour thousands of non-Malaysians who had defended Malaysia, with a significant number of them paying the ultimate price. While some people will dive into it, I am not disqualifying anyone for being an employee of Microsoft or IBM or Google or some other company. As I had blogged before, expertise in some areas, such as document formats, are hard to come by. Most experts who can evaluate the standard is invariably employed by one of the companies who have an interest in the standard process. In such meetings, it is the man that counts as the important thing is during voting, the expert will put the country’s interest above that of his company’s. One can show that this by his track records. I am sorry to inform you Mahugh but your track record does not convince me that if you are in the committee, you will vote for Malaysia’s interest. You can cultivate this track record, and we will welcome you with open arms if you choose to. But till then… you are out.

Yes Mahugh, IBM’s rep was at the corridors and stalking the meeting, but the crucial distinction is that he was not in the meeting itself. By your own account, he did not intend to attend the meeting. You could always wait in the corridor should you like.

Third, the commotion with vendors presence in the meeting is fully understandable, especially given the fact that the particular committee was dissolved in disgrace by the the director of Malaysian Standard Body for too much politicking. Ironically, it is the issue of OOXML that caused the dissolution. Therefore, the chairperson is understandably spooked by accusation that there are people (more than one people) in the room that might be there to represent vendor interest. Ordinarily the absence of the word “alternate” attendee in IASA letter regarding Mahugh presence for the meeting is a small issue. However, given the history, it is important to clarify Mahugh’s role in the meeting.

This conveninently bring up the competency of IASA to defend Malaysia’s interest. The “appointment” of Mahugh as VP of IASA Malaysia is a farce. That is clearly being used as a back door to sneak people into meeting they are not entitled to attend. In my opinion, it is a abuse of IASA privilege to attend this meeting because they did not send somebody who is there to defend Malaysia’s interest. Privately, one can be sure that someone will have a “quiet word” with IASA.

Mahugh was also unhappy that after he leave the meeting room and left for Taipei, a decision was made to allow vendors into the meeting. On surface it looks like the whole thing is designed to exclude him, but is it? The crucial thing is did he already book a flight to Taipei knowing that he will not be able to attend the FULL meeting? From the chair’s account, it appears he did. I’m sorry that we Malaysian cannot accommodate your travel plan, Mahugh. Wait a minute, shouldn’t Mahugh modified his travel plan to suit the meeting instead? If anything, this is not something you want to do if you want to be taken seriously as being there to protect Malaysian’s interest.

Finally, kudo to Yoon Kit for keeping his cool. You should reply to his attack, but it is good that you do not attack him personally. That seems to be what he is trying. Personal attack is rather common and I am sad to say that even Americans that I respects seems to sometime fall in to this trap. I am glad that you know that personal attack bukan adat Malaysia (not Malaysian’s culture).

March 20, 2008

PIKOM is not doing a good job

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 8:22 am

Open Malaysia blog has an interesting article about PIKOM bringing the debate of OOXML as ISO standard to Malaysia. That is great. However, I am unhappy with PIKOM’s panel selection choice: It lined up several well known companies in the anti-OOXML side, but only invited Microsoft to staff the pro-OOXML side. Moreover, a few members in the pro-OOXML side are parachuted in. [Fair disclosure: I do not know if the other side also had parachuted in some members]

Surely PIKOM can find someone in Malaysia that supports OOXML?

Not too worried about Microsoft claiming IBM support OOXML

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 8:14 am

Ed Brill blogged about a recent PR push by Microsoft. In particular, he is not happy that Microsoft claims IBM support OOXML because the latter has OOXML in a few products.

Personally speaking, I am not too worry about that. First, IBM is a large company with probably one of the widest portfolio of IT-related products in the world. It is therefore reasonable, in general, to claim that IBM support something if that something appears in one of its product. I know this particular Microsoft claim is a far strength of the truth. It all started a few months by a few Microsofties. Rob Weir rebuttal is here. In Weir’s article you will find links to the claims by Microsofties.

The more important thing to note is, for a lot of the claimed support, it is misleading. When one claim support for document format, I, like most people, will expect read/write. For a standard that aims to be the document standard for creating/editing documents, this is a must. Unfortunately if you check some of Microsoft claims, you will find that the support is limitted to read only. The sad fact is, Microsoft’s rivals actually have better support (read/write) for OOXML: IBM’s DB2 can translate to-and-from OOXML, and there are rumours that the Upcoming OpenOffice.org version 3 will be able to read/write to OOXML, which is more than what I can say for Apple’s support for OOXML.

March 19, 2008

No, Mr Jan van den Beld, there is no need for a new international process

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 8:28 am

Jan van den Beld, the person who help Microsoft gets OOXML through ECMA, challenged us to come out with a new international process if we disagree with the current process that OOXML goes through. My response, no need.

The process did not work not because it is flawed, but because it is abused. To stop this type of abuse, we simply need to tighten up the procedure. ECMA did not want to tighten up its procedure, so ECMA must take the full blame if it is seen to be the abuser.

As for ISO, it is still difficult to say whether the Fast Track process is being abused. If OOXML passes, then the evidence may eventually show that it is being abused. If it fails, then one can argue the process stood up, although there were a lot of money wasted.

Patrick Durusau has the correct intention, but the way he chosen is wrong

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 8:23 am

Patrick Durasau, project editor for ODF, came out in support of OOXML as a ISO Standard. His comments comes in the form of several PDFs rather than website which makes it difficult to link to. I will refer you to Rob Weir’s comment which is the best article that links to Durusau’s letters. Given that this can be consider a big coup by pro-OOXML camp, it is surprising that the normally vigilant Jason Matusow could not even find the time to chronicle this piece of good news. Nevertheless, for the interest of balance blogging, here are  Jason Matusow’s takes (take1, take2)on Durusau’ support. Of course, PJ’s comment is here.

Rob Weir did a good job dissecting Durusau’s argument. I do not actually agree with all of them but that is immaterial here. The strong thread in all of Durusau’s letter is Microsoft has open up and we should encourage it. While PJ will argue Microsoft is being dragged kicking and screaming to open up and I do agree that the heat Microsoft is feeling do contribute to the opening up of Microsoft, I do agree with Durusau that we should encourage  and support Microsoft.

However, I disagree that OOXML should be approved as ISO standard purely on the ground of “encouraging Microsoft to open up”. What happened here is Microsoft had chosen the wrong process. The process is inadequate to approve OOXML. To approve OOXML this way is wrong as it means inadequate scrutiny of an important international process. Safeguarding this process is more important than encouraging a company to embark on a process that you and I would like to encourage.

The appropriate way of encouraging Microsoft is to nurse OOXML properly and bring it up to the quality required for an ISO Standard. This means OOXML should go through the standard “standardization” process, preferably at ISO. We should not allow OOXML to be rush through, but we must acknowledge the work already performed by Microsoft. Hence, a faster standardization process, say one year less than the standard 3+ years will achieve this and perhaps strike the correct balance.

OOXML efforts

Filed under: Uncategorized — ctrambler @ 8:02 am

Now that the final, last chance for OOXML adoption is getting near, efforts by both side in the OOXML of course will be stepped up. Before the Ballot Resolution Meeting I heard about Microsoft trying to get Indian NGO to support OOXML. I thought it was interesting because the “Form Letter” shows some level of sophistication, i.e., having sections where the sender must fill in, or in their own words, “paraphrase”. This makes it difficult to catch those “form letters”, but might not actually stop senders from just “mailing the form letter (without signature)”. This level of sophistication however, comes at a big risk, the target have no idea why there the particular sender lends support to OOXML. To me, if it is true that Microsoft send out this request after a donation to the NGO, then they, in my opinion, cross the line of associating donation with business objective.

Of course, as expected, we have accusation of “Committee stuffing”. This time in Romania. We all know about that technique. Again, if true, go against the spirit of standardization.

Of course, Rob Weir need not repeat himself, we all know that there are a lot of defects in OOXML that could not be resolved in the BRM. A thousand plus comments resolved in 5 days? That will take more than a Herculean effort.

Most serious incident by far is the accusation of slur campaign against a participant of the BRM in New Zealand. I think Microsoft need to response to this. Either Microsoft support the position of this one employee, or it does not. If it does not, it must come out to distance itself from this employee’s view, and take appropriate disciplinary measure against him.

I will be posting, shortly, a comment of Patrick Durusau support for OOXML as a ISO Standard.

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