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Comment Think long-term (Score 1) 636

Replace the word "phone" with "browser," and you've got a pretty good description of the state of the web in the 90's. Replace it with "PC," and you're describing the desktop market in the 80's. I bet you could find quotes from those decades lamenting exactly the same "problems."

The truth is, evolution requires lots of variation. In a few years, we'll see what worked and what didn't... and much of what does work will be things that nobody has even thought of yet, and nobody would ever think of if they were all forced to hold strictly to one specific vision of what a smartphone "should" be.

This is how we move forward: periods of rapid expansion of new ideas, followed by longer periods of consolidation, pruning, and enhancement. Call them revolution and evolution, or invention and innovation.

Submission + - Would you home-build office workstations? 2

NoCowardsHere writes: I'm surprised that I've never heard of a company of any size building their own computers for general office use.

The basic reasons to buy rather than build a computer tend to be things like the warranty and the bundled software with all drivers preinstalled. But any company with more than a handful of systems probably doesn't buy warranties (it's much cheaper to just keep a few spare systems on hand for the rare occasion when one breaks and it's not clear what part to replace) and images their computers before use anyway (which is just as easy on a homebuilt as a store-bought once you've made the disk image).

I figure I can use premium, reliable parts and still save about $100 off a comparable mid-range dell business workstation that my company would otherwise buy. Even taking the cost of my own time into account, assuming I can crank these out in a couple of hours per box (once I've gotten some practice) it sounds like a good deal. More to the point, we get computers with stats that are *exactly* what we want, rather than whatever Dell happens to have in our price bracket.

So... what are your thoughts on homebuilt workstations at small, medium, or large businesses? Have you ever seen it done? What would the advantages and disadvantages be?

Comment The point of the game (Score 1) 404

"Some people would claim that adapting the game to you just rewards mediocrity (i.e. you don't get rewarded for playing well). Others would say that it restricts the freedom of expression for the game designer."

The point of a video game is NOT to reward greatness or maximize freedom of expression of the designer. The main point of most games these days is usually simply to be fun, but more generally, games as an artistic medium may aim to provide any sort of valuable experience. Rewarding mediocrity or limiting the designers' freedom of expression are only a problem if they get in the way of these goals. (It should be noted that working within a strict framework of limitations can even *increase* an artists' ability to express him/herself, but that's an essay [or book, or library] in and of itself.)

Many games which aim to be fun can be made more fun by adapting themselves to the player; hence, it's probably a good thing to do. However, as you point out, changing the difficulty is only one way the game may adapt; adapting to the player's gameplay style may be more difficult, but more rewarding. The adaptation may be integrated into the game's plot; consider the old Escape Velocity series, where a more combat-oriented player who attacks whenever he gets a chance will quickly make lots of enemies, and hence find himself with a lot more combat opportunities. On the other hand, a diplomat who focuses on trading may make a lot of friends, opening up extra trading opportunities.

Alternately, the adaptations may be more explicit; consider Spore, where a player who plays aggressively is rewarded with additional weapons and tools that add a bit of depth and fun to the combat side of the game; players who aim for a friendly or balanced strategy are given tools that directly enrich their own style of play.

Comment Re:Eyecandy in cost of usability (Score 1) 1124

Hmm... you see, the problem with that metaphor is that it breaks down as soon as you try to do anything with it. On the computer, having one drawer open doesn't make the other drawers any "harder to reach." And keeping all your tools in a perfectly straight line, rather than laid out and grouped by size and purpose, sounds like a bad plan. Also, a tool drawer (or a tool itself) will never be too small to conveniently, uh, click on. (Unless that's necessary to the design and use of the tool, in which case picking it up is the least of your problems.)

A less leaky metaphor: think of the tool chest your dentist probably uses. When he starts work, he opens the drawer that has the tools relevant to the task he's working on. All the tools are laid out there, carefully and logically arranged, and the drawer stays open, leaving him with convenient access to each tool he needs, until he's ready to perform a different type of task -- then he simply slides that drawer closed and opens up a new one, and there's a new set of tools in front of him for as long as he needs them. You see? A ribbon.

Comment Re:Eyecandy in cost of usability (Score 1) 1124

Did nobody RTFA? Despite the designed-to-induce-panic headline, The screenshot in the article actually looks more like Google Chrome (which also has no menu bar, and it works pretty well) than Microsoft Office.

Even if they *were* going with something like the Office ribbon, think for a moment about what that means. Look at a traditional menu bar from a usability perspective, as though it had never been done before and someone had just invented it. You've got a row of tiny buttons across the top of the window, just big enough to show their names. You click on one, and a row of small, temporary text-labeled buttons (the menu) appears underneath, in a simple row. You have to go down to the row you want and click it (or hold the mouse down and release it, which is awkward, but saves a fraction of a second once you're used to it). Then, all these buttons (the menu items) disappear. It's kind of awful, really.

Now, look at the Ribbon. Once again you have a row of text-buttons like the menu bar, but this time (in office, at least) they're a bit bigger. Once again, when you pick one a set of buttons appears underneath, but this time instead of a linear column of plain buttons of all the same size and shape, these are laid out however the UI designer wants, for (theoretically) maximum usability. There's room for a lot more buttons than in the menu, and best of all they don't disappear every time you choose one, which means that you can learn their order and position just by glancing up at any time. And once you've used one, you can use another from the same menu without having to start over and click on the header again. It's clearly (if done right) better than a menu bar in every way but one: it takes up more screen real-estate. (Yet oddly, nobody seems to complain about that one real and fundamental issue, which I think maybe isn't as big a problem as it sounds like.)

Conclusion: ribbons are pretty cool, even if Microsoft's implementation needs a bit of work. Menus work ok and we're used to them, but they're kinda gross. All these people complaining about buttons on their ribbon running around and changing on their own may be drinking too much coffee.

Comment Re:How about free secure wireless? (Score 1) 322

Ahh, this is something I've been wondering for a while... can one user on a WPA network see other users' traffic? The page you link to indicates that if you capture the initial connection you can derive the key for the session. If this is true, it seems like a severe and completely unnecessary weakness... I'm pretty sure that algorithms to prevent that have existed for decades (Diffie-Helman shared secret generation, for example).

Comment Re:How about free secure wireless? (Score 1) 322

That's not free secure wireless. That's free wireless OR secure wireless. The open network isn't secure, and the secure network isn't open.

I want to see a system that provides both to the same user: anyone can connect to the router without entering a username or password, but can't snoop the traffic of any other users of the same access point.

Comment Re:You know what company is shamefully absent? (Score 1) 282

Um, Google is NOT absent from that list, conspicuously or otherwise. They're at 0.9%, which is actually a pretty significant number. (Think of it this way: only 17 companies in the world contribute more than they do.)

However, scroll down a bit and you'll see that they're actually #2 on the list of companies that review and sign off on code from the subsystem trees, incorporating that code into the mainline kernel. No less than 10.5% of the kernel updates have been approved/merged by a google employee; only Red Hat beats them in that department.

I'd say that's a pretty conspicuous presence on the list.

Comment Re:How about some nice menus instead? (Score 1) 617

You know, pull-down menus are pretty confusing to first-time users, too. Most people are smart enough to get the hang of them after a few hours, and don't even think about them after a few months. Of course, there aren't many first-time users of pull-down menus left. Microsoft took a very bold step in asking users to learn a handy new user interface, and I think it's one of the only halfway intelligent things they've done in the last decade. The process of learning Office 07 feels like, "Dammit, where's that feature I'm looking for, that used to be buried in menu X... oh, here it is, right where it logically and intuitively should be! That's the last place I would have thought to look in a Microsoft product!"

So yeah, once I learned it I actually really liked it. However, that doesn't mean that I think OpenOffice should do the same thing. If OpenOffice's goal is to be a drop-in replacement for MS Office that's as similar as possible so as not to confuse anybody (and that DOES seem to be a major goal for them) than a ribbon is obviously the right direction to go. But otherwise, I'd really rather see something new and different, a genuinely innovative new interface, as different from the ribbon as the ribbon is from pull-down menus.

Comment Re:So what is the reason for this? (Score 1) 133

Lots of big companies have already worked out who they need to pay off to use Mpeg4, but are suspicious about Theora because they're worried about patent trolls with all sorts of wacky claims coming out of the woodwork as soon as Theora takes off. Which is particularly difficult for companies that have a history of settling every lawsuit that comes their way rather than spend the money to fight. Apple has specifically announced that they won't support Theora for exactly this reason.

Now, enter Google, a company with a history of standing up to bad lawsuits and consumer rights, who has just come forward and put a big target on their head. Nobody wants to sue Google, at least not unless they know they've got a really great case, because they know that Google isn't gonna settle. If Google starts pushing Theora advocacy hard, starts using it heavily, and nobody sues them, other companies are likely to be comforted and will be much more likely to follow suit.

That's my theory. Though I've gotta say, I could also see them opening up some of On2's newer codecs. I didn't know about those.

Comment Re:Autofocus? (Score 1) 220

That's because an autofocus camera tries to use all sorts of hacks to figure out what to focus on and how to focus on it. Autofocus glasses won't have to do that... they can figure out how far away the object is you're trying to look at simply by looking at your eyes; your pupils will get closer to each other when focusing on something up close. Electronic glasses that used this could quickly, easily, and correctly adjust themselves. In other words, the glasses would let your brain do the hard work, and just follow its lead.

Comment Re:Rsync (Score 3, Interesting) 192

Not really. Where Google's algorithm really shines is in exactly the field they designed it for: efficiently trying to update a large number of identical binary files of known content (particularly those representing code) on many remote computers, by sending a compact list of the differences.

Rsync actually has to solve a different problem: figuring out where differences exist between two files separated over a slow link when you DON'T precisely know the content of the remote file, but know it's likely similar to a local one. Its rolling-checksum algorithm is very good at doing this pretty efficiently for many types of files.

Comment Re:Things to learn from the Open Source model (Score 5, Insightful) 640

Besides, W3C doesn't say which image file formats are allowable, why should it specify a codec?

I think this is a really good point. I mean, I have no idea if it's true or not... maybe they do specify image file formats, I have no f*****g idea. But it certainly makes sense. The standard should define how web developers specify images, and how browsers should handle them, but the actual file formats are left up to the market to work out. Same thing with video... makes sense, right?

There are really only two significant video formats today for web streaming: Mpeg4/H.264 with MP3 or AAC audio is technically superior; Ogg/Theora with Vorbis audio is freer. (Though I guarantee you'll see trolls coming out of the woodwork with all sorts of wacky patent claims if Theora ever becomes really big.)

So, Apple will support one; Mozilla will support the other; Microsoft will support none; and VLC will release a super-duper ninja plugin that runs in any browser and supports both, plus 1001 other obscure formats for good measure. People will look around and see who's suing whom and how successfully, and eventually one or two formats will become so common that a browser developer would have to be stupid not to accept it -- the video equivalent of JPEG and GIF.

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