Monday, March 01, 2010

Herding unruly Outlook 2007 Add-Ins: Yammer

Had the bad idea to install the Yammer plugin for Outlook 2007 today (I am running Windows 7 Enterprise, 64-bit edition). To cut the story short, the add-in crashed Outlook when trying to authorize. After learning, that there is no solution at hand, removal seemed like the best option.

Unfortunately the plugin did not like being removed (not even disabled) as those actions also shot Outlook down. This time so fast, that Windows has not even produced a 'program in trouble' dialog.

After a few google queries and a little bit of searching in the registries it's gone. The necessary steps were:

  1. To prevent the add-in from loading, change the following key using registry editor (backup is always a good idea):
    • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Office\Outlook\Addins
    • set value LoadBehavior to 0
  2. To remove the add-in permanently, restart Outlook and go to Tools > Trust Center  > Add-Ins. Click on go at the bottom of the dialog, then select the add-in and click Remove and Ok.
What a piece of untested software ...

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Browser Reinvented

Mozilla Labs Design Challenge Participant!Yes, you read that correctly! I am participating in the latest Mozilla Design Challenge.

With the help from my friend and colleague Vojta Outulny we produced a concept and submitted it in the current (Summer 09) challenge. The public voting starts today, so check the Showcase later today.
The video (with my crappy narrative) is just an ad to lure you to our micro site dedicated to the concept. Although you can find all information over there, here's the results of our user research:

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The hunt for a nice and cheap mockup tool.

Time has come for my pet project to assume a form of a software program. And this marvel will have a user interface. Being a User Experience professional I can't leave the interface to just come to be by anyone who happens to be in charge of the IDE churning out the code. There must be a propper process. The hunt for a tool, that will help me create the mockups has begun.

My tool of choice would be Visio 2007 (Professional if I could have it), because that is what I use at work. Just a few highlights for those, that aren't so familiar with it. Visio contains the following features, that make my work much easier:
  • Layered pages (1 foreground page, many layered backgrounds)
  • Ability to create 'interactive' prototypes (any object can be a hyperlink to another page in the file)
  • Speed of creation - fast duplication (CRTL+Mouse Drag duplicates, F4 repeats last copy)
  • PDF Export, that still maintains the hyperlinks
  • Lots of available object libraries (Software design stencils are part of the Professional version only, but some alternatives can be had for free on the web)

The Criteria
Currently there are a few program I intend to evaluate. The criteria for inclusion are roughly these:

  • Ease of use (should not get in the way of my intentions at the very least)
  • Fits ony my netbook screen (1024x576)
  • Overall appeal (I hate bloated toolbars, ugly icons and other ugliness)
  • Must Features (what must be in)
    • Can export interactive prototypes
    • Ability to create custom components (I know I need this)
    • Basic component library available (text inputs, combo boxes, tabs, menus and such)
  • Optional Features
    • Collaboration
    • Task Tracking
    • Anything else, that helps me reach my goal faster

The Contenders
A scan of the internet has yielded many results and these are the happy few:
  • iPlotz
  • Balsamiq Mockups
  • Pencil
And these were disregarded due to different reasons:
  • Axure RP Pro ($539 for a hobby project?)
  • (too slow, not a fan of 'Loading', does not fit the small screen)
  • Visio (the price for the Standard Edition is somewhat less than for Axure, but still way too high)
Hopefully there will be time for any wireframes so I can test the tools. Two kids and a busy personal life slow everything else to a crawl.

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Dawn of War 2 - Free Soundtrack Available!

Landing on the Steampowered store page for the Dawn of War 2 today did reveal a nice gift. The soundtrack for this game is available as a free download (direct link, ~190MB, RAR archive)!

Sounds like a top notch album to me! Don't hesitate and give it a listen, even if epic heroic soundtracks aren't your cup of tea. 

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Thursday, November 06, 2008 - all your features belong to us!

This is a continuation of my last post, where I was discussing the usability mistakes the team did while re-designing their site. The changed features were intentionally omitted. Unfortunately, to understand the negative sentiment of existing users, one has to consider the features as they're the main reason behind rejecting the new UI.

Note, that this review will be written based on my personal usage of the site. It is in no way an attempt to produce an exhaustive (I am not an artist and had no access to that part of the functionality) or objective comparison of the two designs.

Now you're warned and informed. We can finally explore the gory details of what seems to be the beginning of the end for (as I have no intentions to increase my credit in there).

I am what you would call an 'Early Adopter' - I tend to try new things and see if they fit my needs. On Amiestreet, this translated to checking out new music regularly (sometimes even multiple times a day) and seeing if there's something good. Also the direct interaction with independent artists was one part of the equation for me.

My Bartle Test results are as follows:
Based on your answers, you are ESKA.

  • Explorer 100.00%
  • Socializer 53.33%
  • Killer 40.00%
  • Achiever 6.67%
ESKA players often see the game world as a great stage, full of things to see and people to meet. They love teaming up with people to get to the hard-to-see places, and they relish unique experiences.
Although the Killer aspect does not apply to Amiestreet, the other ones do and the description just sums it up quite nicely.

Features I Used Most
First I'll enumerate the features of the old UI, that I used most. You can probably skip this section if you're a longtime user like me.

Charts / Latest
This was my primary source of new music. Sure, it was two clicks away, but it listed all new songs added to the system in reverse chronological order (recent first). In addition to the song name, the list also contained the album (link to the Artist/Band page), Genres and Price. When seeing an interesting song I would usually play it, but also open the Artist/Band page in another tab to see if there was something else to discover.

The Artist Page
Basically a one stop shop for all the albums and other information about an artist. You could see all the music of the artist on one page. The songs were grouped by album, but you were able to perform operations (Play, Buy, Download) on all of them or on a selection. This page also allowed you to see the recommendations related to that particular artist a natural place to go if you stumbled upon a known artist to gauge his popularity. Not to be missed was the ability to initiate the sharing of the artist from this page.

My Home (aka Dashboard)
The main reason I came to the dashboard was that it contained the summary of my contacts' reommendations (long list as well as few of latest ones), messages and my recent activities (I could explore my latest purchases).

My Library
The library was again a listing of songs you bought in reverse chronological order. It allowed you to select the songs and download them as you saw fit. For me this was a blessing, because I usually remembered the songs' names, but not the names of the albums they were in. Additionally it allowed me to skip on the songs (sometimes albums) I got, but did not want them to downloaded to the PC I was at.

Amie 2.0 Features
Here's the comparison you've been waiting for. For the sake of simplicity I'll only compare the features enumerated above.

Charts / Latest
Does not exist! They shifted focus from song to album. Completely. The song is no longer an option on most places in the UI. Try to purchase all except of 2 songs from an album that contains 20+ songs. The pain increases with each song beyond the first. The number of clicks multiplies. Ouch.

The 'New Releases' page is opened (they end at pixel 900 of the page) with one of those 'TV' like, information-poor, but interaction-rich portlets. Haven't you heard, that the need for interaction only arises when the user is not getting what he wants in the one place? Go read the Magic Ink, or maybe continue with the rest of this page first ;) 

Also note, that the album bits in the portlets lack links to the artist pages.

The Artist Page
The artist page is again opened not only with the dreaded Black Bar, but other unrelated/badly organized information has crept onto the page - here come the other artists, recent listeners and overview. What are those pieces of misinformation you ask?

Other artists are other bands the same record label the current artist has. Who cares? Can't you compute similar artists instead? The label link is already in the black bar and if I would follow it when looking for other artists of this band.

Recent listeners is another bit of information, that has appeared and is not really that important. Where's the fans?

The worst thing is the Overview, that dominates strangely vacant Artist page. As much as it tries to provide some sort of overview it ultimately fails for me, because I usually visit the page while following an artist link next to a link to a song (from Recently Released). Note, that I don't use the album link, because at this point I am interested in all songs and albums (let's look at the other albums if they're as good as this one?), that the Artist produced. And limiting my view to one and only album just spoils the fun for me.

My Home (aka Dashboard)
The main reason I came to the dashboard was that it contained the summary of my contacts' reommendations (long list as well as few of latest ones), messages and my recent activities (I could explore my latest purchases).

My Library
I don't understand why this piece of new functionality was created. After spending 10 minutes trying to figure what to do with it I just resigned. There's some moderate usability issues (why do the tabs on top of the main area lead you away forcing you to endure the reload when you hit back when the next page loads?), but the main wrongdoing is the absolute absence of focus from the library. What is it for? Why does it exist?

You can no longer download songs using your Library and it also does not convey any sort of historical information about my recent additions to the library (this historical listing is now called History and does not list separate songs, just albums). Why does it list all songs at start? And why does the list include the price? The songs are mine and therefore the current price does not matter anymore, does it?

As I said in a comment to the official announcement - there's two words to describe the new design.


Thanks for reading. And remember to let your voice be heard! Don't try - just do it. I did.

P.S.: Can't you just stop teasing me when I haven't updated my links to amiestreet? Saying "It looks like you followed a bookmark or link to our old site. Please enjoy the new Amie Street!" everytime I use that old bookmark does not make the new design any better. Not to mention, that the system message almost blends, which makes it quite hard to notice.

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Tuesday, November 04, 2008 redesign usability failures

So was redesigned and access to the old site was cut off recently. That would've been good if the new design was better than the old. Which isn't. Read on to find why I think it is so.

Just one note before I dive deep into the comparison - being a longtime user of Amiestreet my views can differ from yours. Missing features would not be obvious to you, so I tried to avoid mentioning them in the review (for me, there are many).

General issues
The design is wrong on many levels. Let's start with the general design / information architecture issues.

Clickity click!
This perfectly describes the new design - you click and click and click instead of being able to scroll through a page filled with content. The flash 'TV sets' are flashy, but that's it. I would prefer a simple list any day of the week. We're on the web, scrolling is normal.

To sum up, this quote says it all:
Scrolling and image maps are less of a problem now, but users now expect a comprehensive site.
from Changes in Web Usability since 1994 by Jakob Nielsen, 1997
This still applies 11 years later. Period.

Content Width
The width of the content section (~860 px) is apparently 'optimized' for screens smaller than of the smallest netbooks. Which would easily accomodate widths of at least 960px without problems.

Top Section
The top section is to busy - there's an incredible amount of visible links (18 if you're signed in and on the homepage), but they're cramped in about 2/3 of the available space. Looks fragmented and most of the visible links could be hidden in some menu (see next section for more details).

The Black Bar
The dreaded black bar consumes full 280 pixels vertically on any artist screen. Bye bye information density.

Site Navigation
  • The main navigation is chaotic and baldy thought out. Main menu is structured in a strange way - the distribution of items is uneven. Recommendations has only two items.
  • The 'Account' tab/menu looks out of place (why is there a '' pull down menu in the top right corner containing mostly the same things?
  • Clicking each 'tab' does the same thing as clicking the first item in the menu. This unfortunate (but consistent) behavior comes from combining a menu with tabs. Not good.
  • The 'stray' links to the right of the tabs express the lack of decisiveness of the designers - they're important (maybe, for whom?), but they don't fit the 3 existing categories.
  • The links come in various flavors throughout the site - blue underlined going black on hover, white underlined on hover, black underlined losing underline on hover - just to name a few. This contributes to the overal confusion.

Misc Wrongs
  • Why have an icon in the top-right corner when it is downsized to 10x10 px?
  • Browse Music - Home doubles in function to the 'logo click' (they lead to the home page).
  • Although album is the dominant item now, links to albums are missing in the RECs.
  • The library implementation is just plain wrong. Loading all items in front is crazy - my library is now 2750+ songs and I never need access to all of it at once.
  • Artist pages are now fragmented more than they were previously. Similar Artists, other Artists and Recent listeners information provide little value to me.

Unfortunately it is not only me who thinks this way. The official blog post welcoming us to the new design has 2 positive comments ... out of 33.

Amie seemed a nice place at fist, but is no longer. I'm sad now.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Alone in the Dark - another legend destroyed

So I saw the video interview with some Atari woman talking about Alone in the Dark. To cut it short for you ...

The original game was innovative in its time - think 2D adventure turned 3D. The CCTV perspective - you played the game, but watched it as if through CCTV cameras - enhanced the atmosphere considerably. Plus the game creators had control over what the player would see. Pure visual storytelling!

Atari think, that by turning the excellent original game format into a 3D FPS, has caused it to become innovative. Letting the player to choose between first-person and third-person view sucks, because you've got no control about what he'll see. Also the camera in third-person mode is not very good, especially when you're driving a car.

The original game usually let you explore the surroundings an then use them against your enemies in a natural way. The puzzles shown in the videos (pull lever to fry bats behind a fence using electrical energy) were quite simplistic and boring.

Putting everything on fire is, again, innovative. No one has made that right yet ... blah blah blah. And in the background a man is carrying around a burning chair. Behold. Now he touches a wooden beam. And the beam starts to burn after being in contact with the chair for 2 seconds. Incredible realism. NOT.


The original game had:
  • well thought out environments - haunted house and surrounding scary places
  • interesting camera placements - think seeing the world through various CCTV cameras attached at weird angles ;)
  • excellent atmosphere thanks to the soundtrack and ambient sounds
The new game will have:
  • exact replica of Central Park that you can experience either in first-person or third-person mode
  • inventory system, that makes you look at your shoes - like when you vomit
  • various distracting effects like you blinking - also in third-person?
  • loads of weapons - a massacre instead of a horror story
I'm not going to waste my time with that game. Replaying the originals seems a better idea if you missed them.