Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Evolution 3.0

Lots of talk about GNOME Of The Future. So I took some time to think about Evolution and reviewed our support calls and came up with my desired Evolution 3.0. I do also feel strongly that we need to sit on a feature freeze for a point release or two and just work on the internals and bug fixes. I also believe that Evolution needs to move away from being a 'clone' and create it's own identity.

There also is a lot of talk about increasing GNOME market share. I really believe the biggest growth area could be in the business environment, and groupware is one of the most important pieces. Email/Calendaring, Web Surfing and Word Processing are the keys to that market segment.

Improvement Areas:
- Proxy into GroupWise creates a massive folder tree, that is too hard for users. For many if they have to scroll too far, they will never find it.
- People have trouble sometimes with window management, and using the stack and working on multiple messages at the same time.
- Searches are not retained.
- Tomboy notes should be better integrated into email messages and calendar events. It sure would be nice to have notes that you have taken and attach them to a meeting.
- People still talk about and miss the old Summary page from version 1. It was nice to get a high level view of various components.
- More thumbnails please in the attachment area.
- Hide things like .zip files from users and extract them into individual files with thumbs. They shouldn't have to know how to extract the files and where to save them.

So I created mockups. Harish, Chen, Varadhan if you could go ahead and have this done over the weekend, that would be great. :)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Daylight Savings And Then Conference Rooms

This week started out on a sour note with messing around with some daylight savings issues. Apparently some fully patched Suse operating systems still are not working correctly with Evolution syncing with GroupWise calendar data. I poked around and was able to get it working well enough to make it until April. They moved the daylight savings time back to save money and resources, right? :)

Solveig Haugland is here this week teaching OpenOffice classes. The user community has for many years posted paper monthly calendars on the conference rooms with future meetings. This data is helpful, but of course is obsolete the second a new meeting is booked in the room. I have had an idea in my head for a while to place a flat panel monitor in the hallway to perform the same function. So I wrote a small routine to take GroupWise resources and generate a screen showing the current meeting, meetings later in the day, and future bookings. In the case of our IT training room, this allows people walking up the hall to see future computer training opportunities. It's very simple, you just log into an account that has a muted wallpaper and hides the gnome-panel and it kicks off a process that reads the right .ics file. It then sorts and parses the data and then uses ghosd to display the information to the screen. It flashes and reloads every minute. It's kind of cool to watch the classes shift and move up as time progresses through the day.

Shot below of what people see in the hallway on the flat panel monitor:

Thursday, March 08, 2007

MIME Bar Update

Thank you to everyone that responded to my blog about experimenting with creating MIME bars to help users with files. I have made some change based on feedback. Anyone hacking GNOME that wants to work in this area, feel free to hit me up on the IRC. I'm going to focus starting tomorrow on direct printing and being able to bypass starting a full application in order to print. Photos should be pretty easy, and I saw some information about printing OpenOffice documents on the command line. I'll start poking in that area.

Today I pushed out my first Acrobat Document document helper for email and Nautilus to beta testers. I reviewed our support calls and found that we get a lot of requests for help in extracting single pages from a PDF document and then inserting that page into OpenOffice. Often we will receive something like a 20 page PDF file, and they want to include only a few of those pages in a memo they are creating. So I created a button that does that very thing. It runs 'convert' and extracts the pages in PNG format and places them into their Pictures directory. Previously users were using GIMP, and had problems remembering the steps.

Here is the bar that comes up for application/pdf files:

Here is what happens when you select the option to extract the PDF into multiple PNG images. Nautilus creates thumbs of the resulting files.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

MIME Tiles Testing

I am still working on our next-gen desktop server and have been thinking about problems areas, based on observations and reviewing the support desk calls for the last few years. I'm trying new ideas on the following improvement areas:

- Many users never right-mouse click, ever. They do not understand contextual menus, and their workflow is 1, then 2, then 3. This is similar to old character based software. This doesn't seem to be based on age of employees, it's just how they think and work on computers.

- Most users have no idea about file types, file extensions, where things are saved, and what to name files. They want to click and tell the computer *what* they want to do, versus understanding the steps to make that happen.

- Users butcher file badly, and for instance save documents called David.odt and david.odt in the same directory, which often leads to problems for them later.

- Users do not use option menus well, and program names in applications like Evolution are of no use. GIMP does what? EOG does what? They know OpenOffice, but mostly they want to see words like "Edit", "Save" and "View" versus program names.

- Users do not understand applications like gnome-screenshot. That program has been ineffective because once the dialog comes up, they don't know what to do with the window. Sometimes they want to save it, but they don't know where the file is being saved. Sometimes they want to email it out immediately; but they don't know how to do that with the current UI. And it saves in PNG format, which people not on Linux sometimes cannot open.

So what I am testing, (with positive feedback from our beta group) is MIME application tile bars that I wrote with python/Glade. The bars come up for Pictures, Documents, Acrobat, Video and Audio files with unique options for each. For instance the Picture Bar has replaced gnome-screenshot/PrintScrn, and also comes up when you double-click on photos in Nautilus and when you receive pictures in Evolution. A consistent interface is provided in all interactions with pictures. The tiles then tell them exactly what will happen to the picture, without further skills.

I know this makes advanced users cringe, but I haven't removed their ability to manaually save files and move them around. At the most, it's one more click for them.

Here are shots of what I am testing.

[ Bar launches when you double-click on photo from Nautilus ]
[ When attaching to Evolution, all formats are converted to .JPG. They can still manually drop-drag from nautilus if their skills are more advanced and they understand file formats ]

[ Same bar launches from Evolution on picture attachments]

[ Same bar comes up as drop in replacement for gnome-screenshot ]

[ Documents bar, opens when double-click on OOo and MS Office files ]