Lotus Notes Client on Mac OS X

Boy – each day I use Notes, it seems to scale new heights of un-usability (is that a word?). This time, it was after I installed the Mac OS version of it on my new iMac. The fonts were tiny. Really, – so small, that I couldn’t even read anything properly… it was awful. Anyway – I gave it the benefit of the doubt – maybe my monitor resolution was too high, and that the default font size was set to something small. I figured I’d just change it.

So I went to the user preferences dialog. There it was, change font. But – while I could change the actual font being used, there was no way to change the size! I looked around, and really – there was nothing! Unbelievable. I googled around a bit, and there it was – some obscure software company had actually created a utility that allows you to change the settings for Notes on Mac OS. Including the font-size. Why a utility, you ask? And why only for the client on Mac? Well, obviously, because on Windows you can just edit the configuration file notes.ini. (Mac stores settings in binary format).

Yep. Usability at its best. Edit the configuration file. A couple of years ago, when I had to use Notes v5.5, I thought that the worst sin they’d committed was that whenever the application crashed (quite often), you couldn’t just restart it. It would lock a file or something and you’d have to *reboot* if you wanted to re-open notes. This continued till I found a utility called Zap Notes – which allowed you to restart Notes if it crashed without having to reboot. I’m sure it was a best seller.

What are we still using Notes for? ThoughtWorks is consciously attempting to move away from it – once our systems move out (which they are, slowly but surely – travel has moved, expenses and time-sheets have moved) we’ll say bye-bye to that horrendous piece of crap for good.

BTW, here’s the utility – it’s called NiniX

Update – I installed Lotus Notes R7 client for Mac OS X and it seems to be much nicer.

Usability and Mobile Devices – Part I – The Issues

With the kind of attention given to usability of regular desktop or web-based applications (sic), is it any surprise that most mobile applications are downright annoying to use? Many reasons contribute to this sad state of affaris – general lack of User Centric Design and Interaction Design awareness, applications being written for the developers themselves (as opposed to regular or specific users), a philosophy of miniaturization rather than careful thinking and planning of the application UI and technical limitations. The one that causes me the most amount of frustration is the indifference.

Nothing new here – this is the same indifference that causes you to reach for a nearby rock to lob into your computer screen. The fact is, given the much smaller form factor – smaller screen, smaller buttons and the associated painfully slow text input, potentially single-hand operation, potentially flaky network connections, slower processors for some older models, no mouse (with black-berry type devices) – the need for carefully thought out, user centered design is even more important. On top of these issues, some mobile browsers only support vertical scrolling, devices are different in soft-key placement and use, users have to often pay by the byte for bandwidth used – all add to the overall problem. These issues only serve to lay more constraints on the application designer. And yet, most mobile software development teams don’t seem to care – and they treat their users with the same disrespect they treat PC users.

I plan to write a series of articles that address a few of these issues – and how to design better interfaces for mobile devices. Not too much in these thougts will probably be original – but will essentially be applied user-centric design priciples for mobiles. Hope they help!