Wednesday, December 31, 2008

No Thanks, we don’t want your feedback..

So, I have this idea about including a dropdown list in the Google web search results page so you can select a saved URL to search in. In the advanced search page, you can enter a URL to limit the search results to. I use this feature a lot with a number of web sites. So, I thought that it would be great to get those web sites in a drop down list so I can quickly search them. This will actually add a benefit to logging in while searching other than recording my activity on the web which is benefiting other people more it’s benefiting me.

Following a positive attitude to improve the products that I’m using, I decided to submit a suggestion to Google about this idea and here’s the shock. No link to submit feedback in the search home page. No link to submit feedback in the About Google page. No link to submit feedback in Contact Us page. Now, I have to ask a question in the Google web search help forum just to submit a suggestion of improvement. The only link to feedback is about the search results. If you’re not satisfied with the results you can submit a comment.

Gmail is no better. No link in the home page or in the Settings page. When searching the Gmail Help for “Submit Feedback” you get 3 results.

Chrome doesn’t have a link either. When searching the Chrome Help for “Submit Feedback” you get 2 results. Firefox has a “How to Contribute” link in the Support home page (that you can access from Help > Help Contents) where you can – not only submit feedback but also – do a lot of things to help. IE has a menu item in the Help menu that leads to the Support page.

So, Is Google not interested at all in what we have to say? Of course, there are the forums like the Chrome forum. But it’s not like a “Submit Feedback” link that is a classic software practice that every software company does. Is Google re-writing the rules of software companies? first, it’s the never ending beta products. Then the Chrome EULA (which they had to update after controversy) and now this.

The whole feedback thing is a little annoying. The “Submit Feedback” pages in other web sites are not that great either. They feel like dumping a paragraph or two in a never ending list that no body really reads. I wish that feedback is taking more seriously.

I want my dropdown list. I guess that’s what I’m saying..

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Windows 7: The missing point

With everyone reviewing the first “beta” of Windows 7, I wouldn’t say that this is a first look. If you haven’t seen these snapshots before, you’re definitely not online.

Two quick notes before we start. First, It’s not really a beta, it’s just Build 7000 which the Microsoft page for Windows 7 doesn’t confirm as an official beta. However they have a “What’s coming in the Windows 7 beta” title in the page. Second, how I got it and how can you. It’s out there, man. you know it, I know it, even Microsoft knows it. Anyway, Let’s dive in.

Was it 20 minutes? maybe a little more, I’m not sure. But I’m sure that the installation is much faster than Vista and XP. The installation is pretty much straight forward and similar to Vista except for the option to setup a “homegroup” which was the first thing to grab my attention (only because I saw the new task bar in snapshots. We’ll get to that later).

Homegroup is simply a simple way to create a home network. The name is – I think – an opposite to Workgroup which is the nickname for any network group with no domain controller. So, Other than the name, how’s a Homegroup is different from a Workgroup?

It’s easier to create/join a Homegroup. Open a Windows Explorer and choose “Homegroup” on the left and you get the wizard. When you click to create a homegroup you get the option to share a “Library”.

Library is a new word for me, so I decided to follow what it means. I found in the task bar an icon with a folder in it.

I assumed that it’s “My Computer” or “Computer” (since Microsoft decided in Vista that it’s not mine anymore) but it turns out to be Windows Explorer and it opens on “libraries”

Interesting, so is this like Virtual folders from Vista that never really made it to mainstream? Yes, but with a different approach. Virtual folders was a shortcut to the results of search keyword except the results are dynamic. It wasn’t a snapshot of the results but a shortcut to the search. In Windows 7, a library is a pool of the content of many folders in one view which is great if you want to find things quickly unless those things have the same name because the view doesn’t show content with the same name differently. so you can easily end up with this.

So, a library is a folder of folders which is cool but my question is “Why?”. Isn’t the whole point of folders is to keep things organized and if you want to find them use “Search”. The only logical benefit of libraries is to combine the content of different folders in your machine and offer them in one entry point on a Homegroup which is exclusive to Windows 7 machines (a note in the Help section) at Home (at least for now, not clear if it’s offered through Windows Server).

What I’m trying to say – again - is “Why?”. Libraries in Windows 7 are replacing “My Documents”. If you click “Documents” in Start menu, windows explorer opens on the “Documents” library. So, Microsoft is pushing libraries as the default option (with no obvious chance for the user to change this default).

Anyway, what’s the default folders included in this Documents library? Two folders, [My] Documents and Public Documents. This choice brings another subject to my attention. My Documents. There are couple of issues here:

  • Anyone who ever had to suddenly re-install Windows (which is a big portion of the Windows population) knows very well that keeping files under My Documents is a bad bad bad idea. Why there isn’t a way to easily change the default location of My Documents, anyway?
  • The default and only breakdown of folders includes Documents, Downloads, Favorites, Music, Pictures, Videos (and other less famous ones). Of course you can create new folders, but Microsoft is treating those folders specially, they’re referenced in all Microsoft application in Windows and sometimes you can’t get rid of them. Like Windows Media Player you can’t remove the “Users” folder. You can only “Ignore” it.

  • Other than My Documents, there are also Public Documents. Now, you can share My Documents and you can share Public Documents. In Windows 7 they’re combined in the Documents library. Again, the urging question, “Why?”. What’s the point of having two folders?

Back to libraries in Windows 7, if you take a look at the image of the wizard. You’ll notice that you can select the libraries to share and they’re only limited to the default libraries created by Microsoft (by the way, if you shared a default library after you have deleted it. It will be created again!!!). Now, What about “My” libraries? the ones that I created. I have to use something similar to “Share” in Windows Vista. How is this faster or simpler? Why can’t the windows Users folder be easily customizable and expandable. Why can’t it have profiles based on the user category? Does Microsoft really think that ALL Windows users are the same? I want to be able to apply a certain User folder based on my category (Student, Power user, Developer, Mum, etc.) and I want those profiles to be expandable, editable and created by the community.

For my first look at Windows 7, Microsoft is missing the point on why they’re making changes. Not only for the libraries, but also for the new taskbar. But that’s another post.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

How Firefox can outlast other browsers?

It’s probably not news by now, but you should know up front. I  really like Firefox. I favor it over IE, Chrome, that Apple thing, Opera, and even Oprah (these are the only links I could find, really). But my favorite software is in – shall we say – “danger”. It’s being attacked by all the other competitors who are planning its end. Okey, that’s a little over-dramatic.

With the release of Google Chrome and replacing Firefox in Google package (who is the idiot who didn’t see that coming?), everybody knows that the browser war is far more interesting now than ever. Even though that IE is the front runner which everybody should be after, but with its 70+ % market share, it’s more realistic to consider the Firefox-Chrome race more interesting.

Even though the difference in market share between the Firefox 20% and the 3-months-old Chrome is significant, the weight of Google and its control over Mozilla cash-supply (after 2011) closes the gap between the two. Google deal with Mozilla to share advertisement revenues offers Mozilla a big share of its annual revenue. Shutting down this deal might significantly affect Mozilla and it will cause a big reaction from the community against Google until the next time they decide to google something (I wanted to say ‘search’, but.. c’mon). Mozilla has to figure this out starting now, and I hope they’re doing that.

Meanwhile, the market share battle is on between the two browsers. Chrome could enjoy a temporary spike in its market share (it did) by all the power users who are curious about the brand new browser (I was one of them). But when the dust settle, Firefox users return to their browsers just to avoid missing the not-so-secret weapon of Extensions.

When was the last time you tried a bare Firefox with absolutely no extensions? it’s really awkward experience. Extensions are what makes Firefox a really special software. It’s all the little things that saves you seconds but really brings the web to your finger tips. It’s going to take Chrome along time to build a community that can match the effort of the Mozilla community.

But for Firefox to really survive, it must go on the offense. Tackle the IE market share rather than worrying about Chrome.

Since it’s extensions that distinguish Firefox, they somehow should be available to the average user as they are to the power user. Most average users don’t use advanced tools because they simply don’t know they have the option. I watched a guy using Edit > Copy because he doesn’t know about Ctrl+C and context menus (seriously). Mozilla should make an effort to somehow offer the average user the blessings of extensions. Maybe they’re already doing that by ‘Fashion your Firefox’ but it’s still a web page that the average user needs to go to first. Try to put extensions more front and center.

Then, there’s the distribution problem. Most average users don’t really user IE, they use the ‘internet’ through the blue ‘e’ icon. The whole concept of browser and better browser is missing for these people. So, these are like 20% of IE share (I’m totally making those numbers up). 40% don’t care about the browser to choose the better one. 35% don’t know why they should switch, they really think that this is the best browser. and 5% are stupid because they know it’s a bad browser but they’re using it anyway (of course, I’m excluding IE testers). What I’m trying to say is a large share of IE users are using it because it’s pre-loaded and this is a problem not only for Firefox but also for Chrome. Apply tried to go through the back door and push Safari through iTunes. I don’t think that this has made a huge difference but it’s worth the shot.

Frankly, I don’t know how to solve the distribution problem. But I know this, until Google figures about a way to solve it, Chrome is not going to make a lot of progress in Firefox market share. I hope ;)