Archive for the ‘apple inc.’ Category

Filename Conflicts On Download

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

I was very satisfied when Apple revisited how the Finder handled some of its file-naming architecture. Some behaviors were bugs and absolutely had to be fixed. For example, prior to Leopard there existed a mixed behavior when renaming files under different view modes (Column View, Icon View, Detail View, etc.).

Finder's toolbar buttons for the different View Modes.

Normally if you start changing the name of a file and change your mind you could hit the Escape key, and the name would be restored to what you started with. However, under the Column View, hitting Escape was equivalent to hitting Return, and whatever text you currently had would be accepted. Very annoying! Obviously the first behavior is more intuitive, and it is inarguable that the renaming file behavior should be consistent throughout all View Modes.

The Good

Finder's intelligent filename selection which excludes the extension when renaming.The feature I most liked, however, was that if the extension of the file is visible and you started renaming it, the entire filename except for the extension was selected. This change made renaming much quicker and easier because not only did you no longer have to remember the extension, but less typing was required (on average four characters: period + three letter extension). At first these four extra characters might not seem like too much work, but if you rename a list of files, you would drastically notice the difference.

The Bad

There is at least one more thing that I see that needs to be changed. When Safari downloads a file and another file already exists with the same name, it begins appending sequential numbers (preceded by a dash) to the end of the filename in order to distinguish them (“-1”, “-2”, “-3”, etc.).

Two icons showing the intended behavior of Safari's renaming algorithm when downloading files with the same name.

But is the added suffix really appended to the end of the filename? Turns out it isn’t and I consider it a major bug. Say what you will, but I don’t see it as simply a behavior that isn’t necessarily right or wrong. I think it’s obvious what the intention is (refer to the screenshot above) and the screenshot below shows an example when the intention doesn’t carry through. From my observations, the Finder inserts the “suffix” immediately before the first period it encounters while searching from beginning to end of the filename. It should be inserted before the last period.

Two icons showing the malfunction in Safari's renaming algorithm.

The Solution

It would be very easy to iterate from back to front of the filename (my Page Capture widget does). And it happens to be more efficient since extensions are typically shorter than the actual filename. Hopefully someone over at Apple reads this post and fixes the problem. While they’re on it, they might as well fix the other problem I’ve mentioned with the TextEdit Autosave algorithm.

Gross iPhone OS Update Typography

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Check out the first line of the update message in the screen shot that I took on my iPod Touch below. The mistake between ‘O’ and ‘0’ is too apparent to not write about… not to mention typographically gross!

Screenshot Someone’s finger must have slipped from the ‘O’ to the ‘0’ — bad form!

iTunes Sucks

Tuesday, October 20th, 2009

You know, it’s a shame that iTunes now sucks.

A few years ago in the midst of the chaotic world of digital jukeboxes, iTunes emerged as a simple application to manage and play music — offering the basic features that one would need. Although it wasn’t groundbreaking in most regards, it did manage to stand out among the rest due to its extremely simple interface and integration with Mac OS X*.

These days, iTunes has become the fat and greedy roommate of the OS — every time it is called upon, I can hear the squeak of the plastic sticking to it’s back as it readjusts it’s fat ass on the vinyl couch. Its shear size and its toll on the processor has grown immensely and we can thank the superfluous features that are bundled with it: an integrated music store, Quicktime (oh my God… Quicktime for heaven’s sake!), a synchronization manager for your events/contacts/ringtones, etc.

I’m a programmer so I know that little glitches occur here and there. But a stable release of software, especially when developed by a professional corporation such as Apple shouldn’t have the problems I’ve noticed with iTunes.

Erroneous progression bar in iTunes.20 seconds have elapsed and there is more than three minutes remaining. Why is the progress indicator at half?

Moving on… the application allows for adding media into its library by simply dragging and dropping files into the iTunes window. This feature is nice but unfortunately also very unreliable with large quantities of files. When I attempted to add many files by this method, I noticed that not all the songs I imported had made it. In fact, only about 80% of them were successfully copied. Yes, I can prove it:

Screenshot showing the differences between two iTunes Libraries.A diff of the original and imported librarys’ contents. The gaps on the right show files that never made it into the new library.

Why does fundamental functionality not work? Could it be because the application is so big now that there are more avenues for errors to be produced? Maybe errors like these emerged because Apple decided to add features like mad men to an application that wasn’t theirs to begin with.

What?

I know, but Iit’s true. iTunes evolved from an application called SoundJam which was originally developed by 3 people at Casady & Greene. Apple purchased from the rights to this bit of software and after a quick face lift, released it as their own “iTunes.” John Gruber talks a bit about related issues on Daring Fireball and John Knack responds with some insight. And if you’d like to know more about the early days of music players on the Mac platform, there is a very informative story written by the guys at Panic.

Anyway, company acquisitions and inheriting code is normal these days, but I fear that iTunes never had the proper foundation for the features that it now supports. The amount of functionalities in iTunes can be deceiving since it has managed to maintain the same basic interface structure over the years — a commendable design achievement considering the growth of iTunes in the last few years. But integrating new functionality and features under the same simplistic interface more often than not calls for shortcuts that can become problematic.

The LCD-like interface of iTunes which functionally is expected to show current track information is used for displaying the progress of a download.

For example, whenever the LCD-like display is used for anything but current track information, comprehension for the user becomes a problem. Applications mimic real-life objects in order achieve intuitive functionality, but when the expected functional behavior of an interface element is modified, confusion arises.

With the release of iTunes 9, other inconsistencies have shown up. Take the volume slider for example. The part to the left of the dial is now “filled in” like a progress bar. But the slider on the heads up display when watching videos remains like the previous version (which I personally prefer) which is just a simple dial on top of a slider bar.

Volume slider and progress bar inconsistencies in iTunes 9.

And wait a minute… isn’t watching videos in a music player an oxymoron?

I think the only reason I’m still able to use iTunes is because I disable everything that I can in the preferences. This way, I’m able to make iTunes appear like the simple music player it used to be; like the simple music player it should be. Even so, it’s still disturbing to know that all those frivolous features that I hate are still tucked in underneath and weighing my application down.

Trying to keep the interface of iTunes simple by disabling all the frivolous features.

I’ve disabled as many of the features I can in order to keep iTunes looking like a simple music player. But even with the features hidden, they are just itching to jump out at me because despite having disabled the iTunes Store, I see a “Contacting iTunes Store” message when I launch the application. How frustrating.

*Yes, soon after its initial release, iTunes did of course have the ability to synchronize music to a portable player, but this feature wasn’t new for jukeboxes. The problem (that iTunes “solved”) was that you couldn’t buy a portable music player from Company A and use a digital jukebox from Company B to efficiently synchronize your music. The best way to manage music on a device from Company A was to use Company A’s own proprietary jukebox software. It’s no different with Apple. iTunes synchronization only works with Apple’s line of portable MP3 players — uh, I think they’re called iPod — so the way that iTunes “solved” this problem was to gain dominance in the market so that everyone uses an iPod and iTunes anway.

If only there had been a way to quickly synchronize the contents of a music library from Company X with a portable music player from any other company. Hmmmmmm.

MacBook Pro Power Cord Defect

Thursday, October 15th, 2009

I unplugged my MacBook Pro the other day but the green light on the head of the cord indicating that my battery is charged remained lit:

Faulty MacBook Pro powercord.

Close up view of a faulty MacBook Pro power cord.

Typically, hardware isn’t as susceptible to buggy behavior as much as software is… weird.

Report Bugs to Apple

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

I went the longest time wanting to know how to report the bugs I write about to Apple. The only way I knew of how to do so was when an application crashed, or through the “Report a Bug to Apple…” option in Safari. But these methods are limited by application’s ability to invoke the service.

I came across an Apple Bug Reporter online utility that apparently gets the job done — or at least claims to do so. It’s unfortunate that you need an Apple Developer Connection (ADC) membership and the utility appears to be several years old (judging by the interface).

At least it’s something… if anyone on the other side is still checking.

Apple’s TextEdit App. Can Erase Your Files

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

Icon of the TextEdit Application.Apple’s TextEdit application has a massive design flaw that could potentially erase other files on your computer. Weird, right? Ironically, it’s TextEdit’s safeguard against loss of data that is the culprit of the defect. And the corruption of files isn’t a randomly occurring glitch either — it is caused by a shortcoming of the algorithm used in the Autosave feature.

The Autosave Flaw

When editing a document in TextEdit, a copy of your work is automatically saved every 30 seconds to the hard drive*. This behavior is common in software as it provides a convenient means to recover some of your work should the application unexpectedly quit or crash.

Unfortunately, the means by which TextEdit saves a copy of your work is awfully rudimentary. It simply writes your data to a regular file and gives it the same name as your TextEdit document but with “ (Autosaved)” appended as a suffix (without an extension). And since no verification is performed to see if a file with that particular name already exists, it will overwrite anything that gets in its way with no confirmation or warning!

Example

To better illustrate this flaw, take the following scenario. Suppose, for whatever reason, that I have a file named Craziness (Autosaved) and I create a text document called Craziness.txt in the same directory. In the screenshot below Craziness (Autosaved) is an image file (with the extension removed in order to illustrate my point):

Screenshot of my 2 original files.

When I start editing my Craziness.txt file in TextEdit, the application autosaves my work (as it should), but since my image document has the same name as what TextEdit would call its autosaved file, my image file is overwritten:

Screenshot of TextEdit's autosaved file.

When I’m done editing my Craziness.txt document, TextEdit removes the autosaved copy (as one would expect). However, now my original image file is gone with no real way to recover it (since it’s not moved to the Trash but actually overwritten):

Screenshot showing loss of data caused by TextEdit.

Solutions

Accounting for this file naming issue is so programmatically simple that it’s astounding the defect even exists. The simplest improvement would be to prefix the filename with a period (as in .Craziness (Autosaved)) in order to hide it from the Finder since the chances of having a naming conflict with a hidden file are greatly reduced.

But hiding the file from the user still allows for potential name collisions and as Mac OS X’s default text editor, TextEdit’s naming convention should be even more robust. To start, TextEdit could include either a timestamp or a sequence of random numbers to help make its autosaved filename unique. Most importantly, however, should be to verify if a file would be overwritten and if so, generate a different random number or append an incremental counter. Heck, even my Page Capture widget won’t overwrite files since it uses the same naming convention as Apple’s screencapturing application (File 1, File 2, File 3, etc.)

The Rant

One might argue that the possibility of having a file end with “ (Autosaved)” and not have an extension is pretty slim. So what? My argument is that the possibility of an application deleting other files blindly is a completely unacceptable use case scenario, no matter how rarely it may occur. I think it is more reasonable to expect that a corporation as large as Apple Inc. would produce software that doesn’t delete unrelated files from my hard drive without my knowledge. Especially since OS X is — as Apple claims — the “most advanced operating system in the world.”

*30 seconds is the default. The time interval is configurable and the user is allowed to disable the Autosave feature entirely.

Page Capture Widget v1.1

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

The icon of the Page Capture widget.I’ve created a new widget that will generate a screenshot of an entire web page — no matter how long it scrolls! The Page Capture widget is the easiest and fastest way to generate these normally tedious screenshots. No longer will we have to puzzle together multiple screenshots manually!

Don’t forget to donate!

What You Get For Free:

  • Multiple instances allowed (each with their saved preferences restored).
  • Choose how much to resize the image (default is 50%).
  • Easy to use: type or paste a URL —  hit <Return> or click the logo.
  • Uses Safari’s powerful and fast WebKit rendering engine.
  • Check for new versions by clicking the version displayed on the back.
  • Operation can be canceled by clicking the spinner.

The front and back of the Page Capture widget along with an example screenshot.

Public Beta of Data Vu Released

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Data Vu IconMy file-synchronization widget (Data Vu) is now officially released (1.4b). It allows you to synchronize the contents of two folders extremely quickly by copying only the differences between the two.

Imagine you are sharing files with a colleague via a USB thumb drive with over 1000 files and over 8GB. After giving the thumb drive to your partner, he only changes 2 of the files and returns the entire external drive back to you. Rather than re-copying the entire drive to your local folder and inefficiently replacing every file, you can use my Data Vu widget which is smart enough to realize that only 2 files needs to actually be copied.

It can save you a lot of time! Find out more…

Balancing On The Ethical Line

Monday, January 19th, 2009

As in any engineering profession, ethics is a key component of Software Engineering. In fact my college software development courses at Cal Poly emphasized engineering ethics as much as any of the other topics because although developers need to know about many technical disciplines (such as versioning, the software life cycle, software prototyping, etc.), they also have expectations to meet and responsibilities towards those who use their software — and their ethical foundation is what will define how they face up to these responsibilities.

Knowing that ethics is such an essential and basic rule of engineering, I’m disappointed when I encounter software products (large or small) that don’t adhere to software engineering ethics. Or that companies even hire software developers when they don’t enforce an ethical background. I’ve stumbled upon some recent examples that have bothered me enough to write about.


Forcing By Confusion

When customizing the installation of Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard), I am given a list of optional applications to install. Some options expand to reveal dependent sub-items, who’s relationship is clearly indicated by the grouping of which they are a part.

Deceptively forcing to install Microsoft Office

As I clicked on several of the check boxes I noticed that the Office 2004 Test Drive option enabled itself automatically (without me having directly clicked on it). This behavior is not what is expected of a checkbox. A check box is suppose to toggle a single option. Only when an obvious dependancy to another item exists should it also change the state of another option.


In this scenario, there is obviously no dependency between choosing to install Office 2004 Test Drive and any other option. If there were, it would be indicated by a hierarchy as it is done with iWeb, GarageBand and iDVD. Bypassing this expected behavior and thus tricking the user is unethical.

Forcing By Deception

After installing iWork ’08 I was, not surprisingly, presented with an option to register* my use of the product with Apple. Unlike in most registration dialogs, I was not given an option to Never Register or Cancel. Rather, I was only allowed to register or postpone my decision.

I thought: “Man, am I really gonna have to click on Register Later for all of eternity?”

Well, it turns out that I am stubborn enough so that is exactly what I decided to do even if it meant dealing with the dialog every time I wanted to use the software that I purchased.


But once I launched the product a third time, the Register Later button turned into a Never Register button, which is exactly what I had wanted in the first place. Why couldn’t that option have been offered initially? Why did they try to deceive me to register before giving me the option to not do so? They could at least have informed me from the get-go that the option would change down the line.

Close-up view of the progression of the available options.

To change the options available to a user without any evident reason to do so is deceptive. It makes the user think that those initial options are the only ones available. I for one, could have easily been convinced to just go ahead and register if I wasn’t as stubborn as I am. Deceiving people with an artificial mandate is unethical because you influence their ultimate decision by omitting valid options.

Forcing By…Forcing

I encountered a similar registration dialog upon installing Aperture and this time the fields contained even more personal information — all of which was pre-filled with data from my address book:

As in my previous example, I clicked on the Register Later button hoping that eventually I would be given the option to Cancel or Never Register. Well, I’ve been clicking on the same button for more than six months now so I think it’s safe to assume that it will never come up. I guess persistence isn’t always a solution.

Even though I’m not forced to register, eventually I might click the Register Now button accidentally. In reality, I have very little control over the situation since all my information is automatically filled in and my options are limited. Always having an option to postpone my registration is a clear indication that it isn’t a necessary step and I should therefore be given an option to forgo it permanently.

If one considers how some viruses work, this conduct doesn’t sound so innocent anymore. While a virus would obtain and send my information without my knowledge or approval, the behavior in use here waits for me to make a mistake and click on the Register Now button by accident. It should be my choice whether to have all my contact information sent to God knows where and in this scenario, I’m not really being given the control that I deserve.

The Rant

So who’s to decide what is ethical or not? Well…we are. Corporations only get away with this crap because users of their products put up with it. The majority of the population would rather “just move on” even if it means complying with an imposed action. I feel differently. I find it annoying and I refuse to conform simply because “it’s more convenient.”

Who knows, maybe the manipulative intentions in the examples above weren’t premeditated or will change in future releases. But it’s important for developers and product managers to realize that little things such as these can damage a company’s image and the trust that users have in their products. If you’re manipulating me in this way, how am I to trust that you’re not doing it in other, dare I say worse ways without my knowledge?

Users need to be aware of when they’re being pushed around unnecessarily and should definitely be mindful of what they click on. After all, we can’t expect corporations to have the user’s best interest in mind since their ultimate concerns are to their stock holders and their profit margins. However, we can expect them to behave ethically and we should hold them accountable for just that.

* Registering is different from activating a product with a serial number and should be optional. The information normally requested is not at all necessary for the operation of the software.

I never register because 99% of the time there is no need or benefit to release the kind of personal information requested.

A Mac is a PC

Monday, December 1st, 2008

“Hello, I’m a Mac…but I’m also a PC.”

The use of the terms PC and Mac to differentiate computers that run the Microsoft Windows operating system between those that run Apple OS X is technically incorrect. A few years back, Mac was simply an abbreviation for Macintosh (the brand of computers made by Apple Inc.) and PC was an acronym for Personal Computer (those used in the home/office, etc.). Recently, however, these words have changed their connotations and this transformation hasn’t been accidental.


Before I speculate how or why, let’s cover some basics. Both and Microsoft and Apple Inc. are software/hardware companies:

Microsoft Corp. and Apple Inc. are the names of two software (and hardware) corporations.

Microsoft develops the popular operating system “Windows” but they don’t actually manufacture the computers that it runs on. They leave it up to other companies such as Lenovo, HP, Dell, Gateway and even Apple (after the transition from the PowerPC line of processors to the Intel chip) to make hardware that is compatible with their OS. Then these individual companies give their computers their own names (i.e. the HP Pavillion or the Gateway LT Series). So for example, as a consumer you can own a Dell Inspiron that runs Microsoft Windows (God forbid that actually be the case).


On the other hand, Apple develops the “X” operating system (OS X)* and manufactures the computers that run it. Furthermore (and unlike Microsoft) Apple doesn’t allow other companies to make computers that run their “ground-breaking” operating system — Apple handles it all. So as a consumer, you can’t for example, own an HP Pavillion that runs Apple OS X. If you want Apple’s OS you need to go get an Apple computer (which has a brand name of “Mac”).

In this regard, Apple is a monopoly; the control of their hardware and of the operating system that allows users to interact with it is very stringent. So in this case, there’s no need to identify both the kind of computer you have and which operating system it runs. The entire package is simply referred to as “a Mac.” This inseparable unification of hardware and software that Apple maintains is what I think has made a “Mac” represent much more than simply a brand name.

Equation that proves how Windows (and OS X) is not a PC.

At the same time, Apple has made efforts to practically abandoned “PC” as a label for anything about them by inaccurately using the label “PC” as an umbrella phrase to encompass everything that is not a Mac (specifically referring to computers that run Windows).

  • You are currently browsing the archives for the apple inc. category.