Manas Tungare

Announcing the Google Calendar Dashboard Widget

In the tradition of writing gadgets for Google Desktop and other Google properties, here's one more from me: the Google Calendar Widget for Mac OS X Dashboard.

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A Tale of Two Interfaces

Synergy, a mouse and keyboard sharing utility, has proven insanely useful to us users of multiple machines on a single desk. Think of it as a software KVM switch, but minus the "V" (for video.) You can arrange multiple machines side-by-side and Synergy seamlessly moves the mouse pointer and keyboard input from one machine to another at desktop boundaries. It's a great idea and a great tool.

I use QuickSynergy on my PowerBook and Mac Mini, but later happened to look at the official GUI client on my friend's Windows laptop. It's not often that a user interface provokes a blog post on a Monday morning, but this was it.

Here are the screenshots:

On Mac OS X
On Windows


QuickSynergy Client.png

QuickSynergy About.png

Synergy Main Screen.png

2. Synergy Configuration.png

3. Synergy Options.png

4. Synergy Hot Keys.png

5. Synergy Advanced Options.png

6. Synergy Auto Start.png

7. Synergy Info.png

8. Synergy Log.png

9. Synergy Running Test.png

10. Synergy Started.png

You will notice that QuickSynergy has exactly one dialog box (with two tabs, one to use when running as a server, and another when running as a client) plus one About dialog. Synergy has a total of 9 dialog boxes (plus one About dialog.) The question, I wish, the developers had asked themselves, was whether throwing in a dialog box for every single configurable parameter was the right thing to do. It seems like the UI Designer(s) simply gave up on trying to understand the users' needs, and instead just threw everything out to the user: "here, now there's a dialog box for every single line in the configuration file, go figure it all out." In my opinion, that's the designer shirking his or her responsibility of actually designing.

Synergy Relative Mouse Moves.png I wonder how many regular users would ever want to change some of the arcane options. And if there was a savvy user that wanted to, she could just edit the config file! Even as a Computer Science Ph.D. student, I have no idea what the "Relative Mouse Moves" option means, or why I should care about it. (If you say RTFM, that's already the sign of a bad interface.)
On Mac OS X
On Windows
QuickSynergy.png 2. Synergy Configuration.png

Notice how, in the configuration screen, QuickSynergy simply shows you one screen with four text fields on the four sides, whereas Synergy expects you to enter the positions as "Machine X is to Direction Y of Machine Z." The first way is so much more natural, but guess why the Synergy implements the second way? Because the configuration file is written that way.

These are clearly two very different styles of GUI design (though I would strongly argue that a text field for editing a configuration file does not count as a "GUI", it's simply a command-line interface (CLI) inside a text field.) Quick Synergy puts the user first, and is designed to let the user work naturally with his/her mental model of a keyboard/mouse layout. Synergy starts from the configuration file and slaps on a UI on top of it. Thus, Quick Synergy comes closer to the user, while Synergy stays closer to the machine.

Synergy QuickSynergy Comparison.png

UI Design is not about letting users edit configuration files, it's about letting them do what they started out to do. That a config file needs to be edited to make that happen is a side story.

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Marathi Newspaper “सकाळ” Reports on Google Desktop

“सकाळ”, ("The Morning"), a popular newspaper in my native tongue, ran a piece on Google Desktop. I’m not a regular reader, but my attention was drawn to it by several friends and family, who noticed my name mentioned in it. Now, while I’m not really sure how they got the info, or even where they got it from, it seems to have originated here in California on Google’s Press Day. Well, Andy Warhol was right!

Electronic Version, PDF

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Google Desktop now includes Google Calendar Gadget

A new version of Google Desktop released today. (For those who came in late, I worked on Google Desktop last year, and have been writing plugins for it for some time now.) When Google Calendar released, I wrote a plugin for it too.

Since my plugin was licensed under an open-source license, Google added features to it and included it in the official download. What's more, I even get credited in the source code. Go, Google! -- kudos to the nice people in the Desktop/Calendar teams.

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The Thin Line Between Fact and Fiction

The upcoming release of the movie adaptation of The Da Vinci Code had me thinking a little bit about the whole interleaving-facts-and-fiction thing. OK, here I go: remember this is going to be a little weird.

In the book, Dan Brown mixes fact with fiction so deftly. But why should it be restricted to a book? (And I'm not talking about the make-a-movie-out-of-it sense.) As in, we get information from so many sources: books, newspapers, television, the Web, friends, gossip, etc. How about designing, not a book, but an experience: so everything you see or hear about a particular topic is a mixture of fact and fiction. And somewhere within there, is the author's skill to embed his own story into history. It's no longer something you pick up and read, it's something you experience all the time. Part of the story might unravel itself in newspaper sections (think advertisements, or guest columns), part of the story could be revealed in a television episode, and some happenings are covered in a magazine. It's the same storyline, same timeline, it's just not restricted to a single medium. And it's no longer separate from fact: as events happen in the real world, the author (or rather, the designer) will incorporate them into the developing story.

Perhaps it could also be a community-designed experience: if you want to influence the story in a certain way (even a very minor way), you could do that. Like one of those detective books, "turn to page 46 if you think X is the killer." One could even do some backward time-travel weirdness by sneaking around and editing web log entries, or publishing two alternative versions simultaneously in a magazine and a newspaper and throwing people off on a wild goose chase to figure out what happened.

The next generation in entertainment? Or just a crazy blog entry? You be the judge! :-)

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