Interaction 12, Dublin

I was fortunate enough to spend three days at the IxDA‘s Interaction 12 conference in Dublin’s swanky new Convention Centre this past week. When you’re more used to attending Linux/free/open-source-type gigs, it’s always a bit of an eye-opener to attend a completely different type of conference, and this was no exception… although while the audience at any given talk was awash with iPads and iPhones rather than Linux tablets and Android phones, in many ways the sense of community and desire to drink beer was very much the same :)

Anything in it for for GNOME?

Well, interaction design is interaction design, so most of the talks were applicable in one way or another. A couple struck me as perhaps being of particular interest to our design community, though.

Information Architecture Heuristics

Most of us are familiar with Neilsen and Molich’s 10 usability heuristics, and they’re still quite useful… but they’re also over 20 years old, and computing devices have moved on a lot since then. Abby Covert presented 10 updated heuristics for modern interaction design, presented in her slide deck here.

In some ways they’re not actually not all that surprising, or indeed different from the original 10. But there’s merit in validation, too, and I’ll certainly give them a whirl the next time I’m doing a heuristic evaluation.

Demystifying Design: Fewer Secrets, Greater Impact

Lean UX advocate Jeff Gothelf gave his talk about how to take some of the perceived magic out of UX design, by involving non-designer peers and managers more in the design process, to help reduce the amount of bike-shedding and other detrimental activities that can occur when stakeholders don’t necessarily understand how or why a particular design decision was reached.

I know this is something we all try to do in communities like ours… in some ways it’s one of our defining characteristics. But even still, we often find ourselves open to accusations of doing “design in secret” (a.k.a. “on IRC”), so perhaps there are some things we can learn from Jeff’s slide deck.

Communication & Content in Web Software

As a bit of a grammar pedant, I enjoyed this talk by local IxDA stalwart Des Traynor, much of which focused on how microcopy (labels and other snippets of text in your UI) can make or break your website or your application. Of course we already have some awesome documentation guys in GNOME who worry about this sort of stuff, but IMHO we don’t always involve them enough in copywriting the UIs themselves. Des hasn’t put his latest slides up just yet, but there’s a recent version here, along with a short blog post and a video him giving a similar talk in September.

Hacking space exploration and science

Finally, as a bit of an astronomy geek myself, I was surprised and pleased to see a talk about this topic at an interaction design conference. Ariel Waldman is the founder of the Science Hack Day in San Francisco, and spoke about that, Galaxy Zoo and Planet Hunters, among other things. Not too much in her slide deck that’s directly applicable in a GNOME context, I just enjoyed the talk :)

Progress…?

Said farewell to an old friend today: the 14″ Sony KVM1400U TV that my parents bought for me when I left home in June 1993. (I well remember double-checking with the man in the shop that it had a SCART input, as I was desperate to get a better picture from my Commodore Amiga 500+ than the RF input I’d been using up to then gave me… and eschewing the slightly more expensive variant that had teletext, as that seemed like something I’d never use.)

Sony kv m1400

It’s been used almost daily since then and was still working perfectly, and I hate replacing stuff that does. But if nothing else, it had been dropped so many times that the case was in several bits and I couldn’t really guarantee it was still electrically safe. So off to the great recycling plant in the sky (well, Argos) it went. Somehow I doubt that the 19″ LED TV we bought to replace it, for almost exactly the same price in numerical terms, will last another couple of decades.

(We aren’t a completely CRT-free household yet, though—we have a larger and equally well-used Sony warhorse in the dining room that’s probably still got a year or two left in it!)

What’s new on the Solaris 11 desktop?

This entry is cross-posted from my Oracle blog… clearly, seasoned GNOME blog readers will be less excited about GNOME 2.30, compiz and Firefox 6 than my audience over there, many of whom have been using GNOME 2.6 on Solaris 10 for the past 7 years :)

Much has been written today about the enterprise and cloud features of Oracle Solaris 11, which was launched today, but what’s new for those of us who just like to have the robustness and security of Solaris on our desktop machines? Here are a few of the Solaris 11 desktop highlights:

  • GNOME 2.30: It may not be the bleeding-edge GNOME 3, but GNOME 2.30 is the most stable version of GNOME ever released, and has many improvements over GNOME 2.6 as found in Solaris 10.
  • X.org 1.10.3: See Alan’s blog for details of this X server update.
  • Updated Firefox and Thunderbird: Solaris 11 ships with Firefox 6.0.2 and Thunderbird 6.0.2 from Mozilla.
  • Compiz: Solaris 11 uses this compositing window manager by default, enhancing the desktop experience with judicious use of customizable effects such as translucency, drop shadows and transition animations. (Not supported on all graphics cards, which will fall back automatically to the metacity window manager.)
  • Package Manager: IPS is the new package management system in Solaris 11, and it has a full-featured GUI that allows you to quickly browse and install new packages, or perform a live update of your entire OS in a couple of clicks, safe in the knowledge that it can be rolled back to a previous version just as quickly in the event of any problems.
  • Time Slider: Making its debut in OpenSolaris, the Time Slider feature that allows you take automatic, periodic ZFS snapshots and explore them in your file manager application now also allows you to make backups to removable media and network devices.
  • Network Auto Magic GUI: Allows configuration of the NWAM subsystem, including creation, editing and switching of network profiles and locations.
  • Visual Panels: A suite of GUI tools for system administration tasks, such as configuring firewall and SMF services.
  • GParted: The venerable Linux graphical disk partitioning tool, now ported to Solaris and included on the Live CD.
  • CUPS: The lp printing subsystem has been removed, and Solaris 11 now uses the open source *nix printing technology from Apple, with the same system-config-printer GUI found in several Linux distros.

Solaris 11 is free to download and use for most non-commercial purposes (but IANAL, so do check the OTN License Agreement on the download page first — it’s short and sweet, as these things go), and you can download various flavours, including a Live CD and a USB install image, right here.

Happy Solaris 11 Day!

Nearly seven years after the launch of Sun Solaris 10, today sees the official launch of Oracle Solaris 11 at an event in NYC*.


Oracle Solaris 11 Launch
November 9, New York City
Register Now!

There’s a host of new enterprise-class features in Solaris 11, including a modern package management system, live upgrade with the ability to reboot to previous known good versions, network virtualization, ZFS encryption and reduplication, and many SMF, DTrace, zone and security improvements. On the desktop, CDE has taken its final curtain call, and now GNOME (currently 2.30) takes centre stage. Solaris 11 is fully supported on both SPARC and x86, and it still has the best binary compatibility guarantee in the business.

The road to Solaris 11 has been a particularly long and winding one, of course. Starting from the closed source base of Solaris 10, Solaris was gradually open-sourced, mostly under the CDDL license. The OpenSolaris project was founded, part of which was a Sun-built distro called Project Indiana, under the brief leadership of Debian founder Ian Murdock. Project Indiana was a Fedora-like concept, with its own release cycle and the eventual intention of being forked to produce Sun’s next commercial release of Solaris (which at that time was codenamed Nevada, and seemed unlikely to be called Solaris 11 at launch).

Before its first milestone release, Project Indiana was somewhat confusingly renamed OpenSolaris, a fully-fledged, developer-focused distro that saw three releases, snappily called OpenSolaris 2008.05, 2008.11, and 2009.06. Then, of course, Sun was sold to Oracle, who (regrettably without any official announcement to the OpenSolaris community, just a leaked internal memo) closed it all up again**, and decided that the next version of Solaris was going to be called Solaris 11 after all.

Nearly two years of spit and polish, and an intermediate Solaris 11 Express release later, here we are at last. Enjoy!


* No, we’re not launching it on 11/11. Yes, it would be nice if US-based global corporations would hold their launch events in other parts of the world now and again, so some of the many thousands of non-US staff and customers could be there.

** Of course, once the open source cat is out of the bag, there’s no pushing it back in, and there are still some thriving OpenSolaris communities out there today, notably Illumos and OpenIndiana.

“That thing you burned up isn’t important to me.”

Interesting announcement from the LibreOffice project about their online and tablet versions. Those of you who’ve been around as long as me will remember that Sun had the same vision for StarOffice almost from the moment they acquired StarDivision, announcing the StarPortal project for browsers and PDAs somewhere around the end of the last century.

In the end, like all too many Sun projects, it was delayed, then subsumed into the SunONE Webtop project in 2001, and died off before it could gain any traction. Just goes to show that from a business perspective, being a decade ahead of the curve isn’t necessarily much better than being a decade behind it…

(Now) running 3.2…

Jasper and Florian pointed me in the right direction for getting my 3.2 jhbuild to run on F15, but the equally good news, as Pieter predicted, is that the F16 beta also runs perfectly well in VirtualBox 4.1.4 once you have the guest extensions installed. So in addition to the new 3.2 Live CDs, VirtualBox is also a viable way to experience 3.2 for yourself. (Although the F16 installer itself hung for several hours on a couple of occasions, but I decided to leave it alone anyway, and eventually it worked fine.)

(Not) running 3.2…

Dear lazyweb, I’ve successfully built GNOME 3.2 using jhbuild (on Fedora 15), I’ve done all the dbus hackery suggested in the jhbuild manual, but I still can’t run it, either in Xephyr or from the login screen.

In all cases, the problem seems to be:

GConf Error: Configuration server couldn't be contacted: D-BUS error: Method "GetDefaultDatabase" with signature "" on interface "org.gnome.GConf.Server" doesn't exist

which is thrown in my face a dozen or so times before it dies. Google turns up nothing similar. Any helpful hints?

(Yes, I could just install the F16 alpha, but that doesn’t work sensibly in VirtualBox as yet…)

GNOME Foundation AGM: Design Team update

I didn’t really have any content-packed slides to show at the GNOME AGM this afternoon, but here they are anyway for anyone who wants to relive the excitement.

The quick summary for anyone who wasn’t there:

  • Over the past 12 months, the GNOME Design Team has collaborated pretty well with folks like the nautilus and control center devs to land the major design changes that those apps have undergone in 3.0, and the GNOME Marketing team to create the new website.
  • The GDT has participated in several real and virtual events including the Boston Summit, and the GNOME User Days and #gnome-design Office Hours on IRC.
  • SparkleShare continues to rock our world.
  • GDT will continue to take a design-led, holistic approach to improving the user experience in GNOME 3.2 and beyond.
  • The new HIG… still isn’t quite ready.

It’s fair to say I did feel like a bit of a fraud talking about the design team as “we”… it’s been a while since I’ve been much more than a small and increasingly-distant part of GNOME’s usability history, and I certainly can’t take any of the credit for any of the achievements I was talking about today. (Except the continued non-appearance of the new HIG, which is partly my doing, and we really do hope to have it out there in some form sooner rather than later.)

Finally, many thanks to Jon for helping out with the presentation after a slight logistical mix-up this morning!