Thursday, May 17, 2012

Project Updates & Why Customize?

The topic of desktop customizations has always come up here at Largo.  I do spend time making changes to how the desktop works, but it's not a significant part of my day.  Most of my job entails debugging software and problems, and helping architect future technology.  Over the years my viewpoint has become that when people say they want "Microsoft Windows" what they really mean for the most part that they want to have a certain set of steps they have memorized on that operating system.  When people have their own computers they spend countless hours tinkering with it and then countless dollars buying software to move documents from one file format to another and hobble together something that works.  We in the computer business have done a horrible job with software design in that regard.  The things that are basic to us:  File system layouts, file formats and file sizes are exactly the thing that users struggle with the most.  I've mentioned before that when I was younger I always thought things would get better when the "computer generation" came into the workplace; but that hasn't happened at all.  I cannot overstate how much time users spend on "files".  In our case we also have the issue of users that log on for a few minutes a day and have never used computers in the past and have no desire to become proficient at them.  If the desktop was not modified there would be some issues that would come to the surface 1) Many many man hours spent looking for files, retyping 'lost' documents, etc  2) User customizations and settings that affect the desktop and cause it to fail.  3) An increasing desire to buy more and more software to 'fix' things that are happening because of skill 4) Failure because it's too hard.

The customizations therefore yield lower support calls and increased efficiencies by eliminating issues of file location, file type and file sizes from their work.  The design tries to create an environment where files in the right format and size are moved automatically between applications.

I posted a Glade screen a few days ago with the revamped Picture UI that comes up when you double-click on a photo or image.  It's moved past the vaporware stage and is now being tested by about 5 of us.  Still some issues to work out, but it's showing promise.  Python makes this all a breeze, but for end users these things are just so confusing.  It's not appropriate to try and get people into GIMP for these basic functions required to interact with software packages; they'll never get it -- and it's just silly to expect it.

The screen appears and it clearly shows the file size and number of pixels; which for most people mean nothing.  However the new feature is to estimate "suitability" for use in Evolution and LibreOffice which are the two primary areas that will receive images.  In the shot below the picture has been opened and it's way too big for document construction and for inserting in an email. 

The ResizeTo option is set to "Medium" and the image reduces and the file size drops substantially.  From here it can be emailed, placed into the clipboard or printed.  I disabled GIMP and EOG when it was reduced to avoid users opening the temporary buffer and making changes and then losing it because they don't save it to the right folder location.  The details of the enabling and disabling of buttons is still working through my head.

 There is a gotcha that I found with placing a picture into the clipboard; it seems like the parent application needs to stay open or the buffer is lost if the image is over a small size.  I tried to it but that doesn't seem to work either.  So for now when they click on [ To Clipboard ] they get a green checkmark indicating that it finished and then an intrusive dialog with instructions on how to continue.  Putting this message into the status line on the bottom would never be seen so I felt this was the best technique in this case.

I expect these changes to be fine tuned and then moved out to users next week.   I'm hopeful this will increase the usability and success of interacting with pictures.  With just a few lines of python, we should see benefit quickly.

Other Projects Updates From This Week:  

LibreOffice is running like a champ and very stable.  We have hardly gotten any support calls and it seems to have slipped right in like a champ and take over for OpenOffice.  I do wish that LibreOffice was hooked into bug-buddy so that I can see how often people are crashing.  We aren't getting calls about crashes, but I like to see them happen and have backtraces.

Novell came through for us and created a big GTK patch for some libraries that were not thread safe interacting with Evolution.  It was a merge of some upstream patches and we loaded them Wednesday.  Previously we would get about 3-5 crashes each day on just this one bug and so far I haven't received one.  As I have mentioned in the past, all backtraces and deadlocks come to me automatically. Very happy to see this improving.

SuseCon will be in Orlando this fall and some of us from Largo will attend. Federico has built a page with an early concept of a site visit to our City so that people can see technology in place.  The link is here.  If you have never seen centralized servers and how software works over remote display it's pretty cool stuff.  It's always nice to show the issues we deal with because I feel they represent issues seen in the enterprise.


Anonymous said...

Instead of "leave this window open....." you could run one of the many lightweight headless clipboard managers. Parcellite for example.

Dave Richards said...

@anonymous: Good clipboard tip, will have to ponder the impact of 300 of these running concurrently on a server and how it would be verified to be running in the event of crash.

pixelpapst said...

Could you post a link to the patches ? I'm seeing way too many evolution crashes too ATM.

kparal said...

suitability? User should just drop the picture into an application and the application should automatically adjust the picture if needed. If I drop 3000x2000 picture into evolution, it can resize it automatically and put an into label nearby "Image rescaled for email purposes" and a button "[Use original (large) size]". This is much better approach than a single tool converting images for a handful of apps.

Dave Richards said...

@pixelpabst: These patches were for SLED 11 the corporate flavor of Linux only. Probably not what you are using.

kparal: For sure the applications having this feature would be the best approach. I don't have control over Evolution and LibreOffice and always hope these customizations I make give the developers ideas. This intermediate step was the best I could do.

Anonymous said...

"Save to Desktop Wallpaper" & "Save to Pictures Folder"? Are you kidding? Just because you are not able to sort your files in an hierarchical structure doesn't mean others are not! Forcing everyone to put all the pictures in one folder is terribly wrong! :-(