Solaris 11 Express 2010.11

November 16th, 2010

Yesterday, Oracle released Solaris 11 Express 2010.11 (complete with GNOME 2.30.2 as its default, and indeed only desktop), the first interim step along the road to Solaris 11 since OpenSolaris 2009.06 was released almost 18 months ago.

The change in name reflects that, unlike its OpenSolaris predecessors, Solaris Express is not a freely-redistributable distro (check out the OpenIndiana project if you need one of those), and it remains free to use only for “the purpose of developing, testing, prototyping and demonstrating your applications”—business or commercial usage now requires a support contract. However, the download itself for x86 or SPARC remains free of charge, and it’s also possible to upgrade from an existing OpenSolaris installation (see the release notes for details).

As you’d expect, there are many new things to play with in this release—the one I’ve been most closely involved with is the new Network Auto-Magic GUI, which has many more features than the one that shipped in 2009.06.

I know a lot of GNOME folks won’t be delighted by this apparent step backwards in Solaris open-ness. On the other hand, things are really no different now from how they were for the first five years or so of Sun’s involvement in GNOME, when nobody could have imagined there would ever be an open source version of Solaris. And we all got along just fine then, so I hope we can continue to do so now :)

Feel free to take Solaris 11 Express 2010.11 for a spin in VirtualBox and let us know what you think.

A decade at Sun redux

October 4th, 2010

I felt a mild flutter of excitement when I finally received my 10 year Sun/Oracle service award notification on Friday, two months after my actual anniversary, because Sun had some nice gifts you could choose from (I chose a telescope for my five year award!).

Assuming Oracle would be much the same, I hastily logged in to see what I fancied, only to discover out that there was only one option: a ballpoint pen. A $200 ballpoint pen, certainly, but a ballpoint pen nonetheless.

How many people in the IT industry, I wonder, have a use for a $200 ballpoint pen? I certainly wouldn’t carry around a pen that expensive, as it’s the sort of thing I’d inevitably lose. Even as UI designer who does a fair bit of sketching, I just tend to use whatever pen or pencil comes to hand. And if I did want my own fancy, personal pen, it would be a fountain pen, not a ballpoint. (But you have to rack up 20 years at Oracle to earn one of those—even 15 just gets you a ‘rollerball’.)

Indeed, up until I left university, and for a while afterwards, I did carry around a fountain pen. But it wasn’t an expensive one, and it was in the days when I still wrote a lot more than I typed. I doubt there are many people in our line of work who do that nowadays.

So if you’re reading, corporate gift overlords, we minions do appreciate a choice. And if you’re not going to give us a choice, could you please at least give us something we can either put to good use without fear of losing or breaking it, or something that looks nice on a shelf? Or, if in doubt, just stick an extra few quid in our pay packet that month, and let us buy whatever we like :)

A decade at Sun

August 3rd, 2010

Well, 9.66 years at Sun, and 0.33 at Oracle… it was the Tuesday after the August 2000 bank holiday when I first ventured into this office, from the B&B that Sun were putting me up in until I found an apartment. Back then, we were working on getting the forthcoming GNOME 1.4 to play nicely on Solaris 8…

Have to say it would be nice if I got to choose the traditional thank-you gift from any leftover Sun stock in one of the countries that hasn’t LEC’ed yet :) But somehow I can’t see that happening…

Usability Team Update Update

July 29th, 2010

Bastien pointed out after my Usability Team Update at the GNOME Foundation AGM today that I forgot to mention another nice little project that arose directly from the UX Hackfest in London Totem Chapters/Markers support, which is being implemented by Alexander Saprykin as part of this year’s GSoC.

I was also a bit lax in namechecking some of the people I’d intended to. So as well as Hylke Bons and Thomas Wood, who I did mention, and Bastien’s mention above, kudos also to Allan Day, Mo Duffy, Karl Lattimer, Garrett LeSage, Ivanka Majic, Jon McCann, Matthew Paul Thomas, Jeremy Perry, Charlene Poirier and David Siegel who have all been directly involved in the few highlights I had time to talk about today, and to the many others who’ve contributed to the usability effort this past 12 months.

And an honourable mention to Seth Nickell for his memorable contributions to the Hackfest :)

Whatever happened to fluid design?

July 5th, 2010

I was intrigued by this Firefox heat map (which I came across via @smashingmag), showing which parts of the Firefox chrome users interact with most.

In particular, I was surprised by how much the horizontal scrollbar is used, with almost half of all users (and more than half of the Linux users) using it at some point during the study. I was also intrigued by why OS X users use the scrollbar so much less than Linux and Windows users. Darren suggested it might be because Mac laptops have had multi-touch gestures for horizontal scrolling for a few years now, which seems plausible—could also explain why Linux users made the most use of the scrollbars, as Linux touchpad drivers aren’t always as full-featured as their proprietary counterparts.

Anyway, it prompted this little rant about fluid design (aka liquid layout). This always used to be one of the number one considerations for good web page design. Horizontal scrolling in particular was meant to be avoided wherever possible, as it’s both physically more demanding (at least with a mouse or keyboard—less so with touchpad or touchscreen gesture) and more disruptive to task flow than vertical scrolling.

With web pages more likely to be viewed in a wider range of window sizes and screen resolutions than ever before, this tenet seems like it should be more important now than ever. Of course, the sorts of things we do on the web today are somewhat different from what we did ten years ago, and fluid design isn’t always possible or desirable for all of them. Nonetheless, many of the fixed width designs you see these days are just annoyingly unnecessary.

Sometimes it’s because designers or their clients are unwilling to have their pixel-perfect vision compromised by users deigning to view it into a smaller window than they’ve designed it for. Sometimes it’s down to inflexible or poorly-customized web content management systems, sometimes it’s inexperience, sometimes just laziness.

Anyway, next time you’re designing a website, just think about how and where people might actually want to use it. And bear in mind that grumpy old men like me won’t visit it very often if you make us scroll horizontally even just to see to all the navigation links across the top of your homepage, merely because we choose not to fill our entire screen with your website.

Incidentally, none of this is directed at the websites, which generally resize in a very sane fashion. So kudos to our designers for doing it right :)

My Five Answers…

June 24th, 2010

… to the five questions on the GUADEC website.

1) Who are you and what do you do?

I’m Calum Benson, and I work for Oracle (neĆ© Sun). As well as working on some GNOME-based projects for Solaris and OpenSolaris, I’m one of the authors of the original GNOME HIG, and I’m one of the maintainers of gnome-themes, where I mainly look after the high contrast themes.

2) How did you get into GNOME?

I was hired by Sun in 2000 when they started to replace CDE with GNOME in Solaris. I’ve been working on GNOME ever since, and have attended every GUADEC except Paris and Stuttgart.

3) Why are you coming to GUADEC?

To talk about, and hopefully get some work done, on the new HIG and UI pattern library that we’ve been planning to do for GNOME 3.x. I dare say one or two beers may also be consumed.

4) In 1 sentence, describe what your most favorite recent GNOME project has been. (Doesn’t have to be yours!)

Hmm. Sadly haven’t really been involved enough with any recent project enough to have a firm “favourite”, but SparkleShare could revolutionise the way designers work on GNOME. (Except me, because just at the moment it’s way too hard to get it working on OpenSolaris…)

5) Will this be your first time visiting the Netherlands?


Thoughts on Pattern Library categories

April 19th, 2010

Most of you probably know that one of the things we’d like to do for GNOME 3.x, alongside a refreshed HIG, is produce and maintain a GNOME UI Pattern Library. (An example of what we mean by a GNOME UI Pattern is this semi-fictional example.)

I’m thinking we’d probably want a homepage that both allows you to search by text/tag, and browse by category (something like this quick mockup.) Which would, of course, mean picking some categories.

From a quick survey of other pattern libraries (which are mostly geared to web design) and the type of stuff the current HIG covers, here’s a first stab at what that list might look like.

  • Feedback: Showing messages, notifications and progress indicators.
    Examples: Alert messages, notification messages, InfoBar usage, status bar usage, focus indication, audio feedback.
  • Input: Enabling the entry of different types of information.
    Examples: Sliders, audio input, video input.
  • Layout: Arranging information and controls in a window.
    Examples: Frames, grouping, spacing, anatomy of creation vs viewer vs browser vs utility apps.
  • Navigation: Enabling users to move around and between documents and different parts of the application.
    Examples: Tabbed windows, sidebars, location bar, zoom controls, media transport controls(?).
  • Search: Enabling users to find items or information that may not be immediately visible.
    Examples: Find dialogs, in-place searching, filtering, auto-completion, Boolean queries.
  • Selection: Allowing the choice of one or more items from many.
    Examples: Marquee selection, keyboard selection, pattern matching.
  • Social: Maintaining contact information, and interacting with other users.
    Examples: Adding information to address books and calendars, Showing online presence, Initiating chat.
  • Workflow: Relating to the process/mechanics of using an application to achieve a particular goal.
    Examples: Desktop integration, undo/redo, drag-and-drop, extending open/save/print dialogs.

Feedback welcome… any obvious ones I’ve missed, or ones that seem redundant?

FWIW, I’m not sure nailing the list now is either entirely necessary or entirely possible. There’s no reason we can’t adjust them as the library grows, and I hope we’ll have some sort of tagging capability to handle the patterns that don’t fit neatly in a single category anyway. But it’s always good to start from as solid a foundation as we can :)

All my pictures seem to fade to black and white

March 31st, 2010

Tonight we head into town for a few beers, to commemorate the untimely passing of Sun Microsystems Ireland Limited, some 17 years after Sun’s operations began in Dublin, and a little less than ten years after I joined.

Tomorrow, at 10.30am sharp, and likely with a few sore heads, we become inducted as employees of Oracle Ireland. See you on the other side.

OpenSolaris Governing Board Election Results

March 23rd, 2010

This time last year, I noted I was slightly disappointed at the low number of non-Sun folks who’d been elected to the OpenSolaris Governing Board. No fear of that this year, with just one of the seven newly-elected board members currently representing Sun^H^H^HOracle… although there are certainly a few ex-Sun faces in the mix too.

The new constitution was approved this time around as well. Here’s hoping all concerned can keep up the momentum that’s been gathering over the past few years.

It’s Paddy.

March 17th, 2010

Not Patty.