Friday, May 11, 2012

Support Portal, Thin Client Updates & UI Updates

Our "support portal" and any thin client updates go hand in hand.  We control features centrally and then they are pushed to thin clients.  My current biggest project now that the GNOME desktop is deployed and LibreOffice is live is merging in all of the features we wanted to deploy in our next thin client update.  I have finished the code to allow Kiosk/POS type connections to Microsoft Windows without requiring a connection first to the City system.  For those at our Recreation sites that move around between workstations, this will be a big help.  I also have added a Help button from the thin clients that allow the users to send us email without first logging in; and they can check on the status of the servers.  We placed our reboot schedules in ICS files for Evolution users, but now the thin clients will be able to display this information as well.  I'll blog more about this with shots when it's all finished.

One feature request that's coming in this next release is the ability to support dual monitors beyond just [ LANDSCAPE ] [ LANDSCAPE].  We'll be adding [ PORTRAIT ] [ PORTRAIT ] and [ PORTRAIT ] [ LANDSCAPE ].  We are all on the same video cards, so once I get it working it deploys to everyone else with the same Xorg files, nice.  The support portal is being modified to understand what combinations work and set the appropriate configuration files for them to download at next OS update. I spent some time hacking on the thin client detail screen which now better understands the monitors, their type and what exactly is displaying on each half.  When requested, the portal breaks their current screen into two pieces and then displays it on the UI on the appropriate monitor.  Mouse over on the monitor displays all supported resolutions, and the new OS build queries their devices and returns the make and model of monitor.  This is going to save us lots of time.

I cleaned up the [ Summary ] tab which displays actionable tiles of user problems.  These are not warnings, but issues where it's mandatory for action to be taken.  I have cleaned up exactly what is displayed and done some alignments of the widgets.  In the shot below it's alerting our support staff that some printers have stuck queues, that some users had some software problems because of missing network permissions and that some users had the power drop on their workstations.  Hovering mouse over these tiles displays the problem along with the most likely way to resolve the issue.

I monitor support calls and have hallway conversations with users all the time.  The intermediate UI that comes up when you double-click on a picture from Nautilus had some issues.  It's always interesting to me to see how users react and use software, and the things that I didn't think of during the design stage.  Very often I have better ideas, but am always trying to work these issues within the hours of the day.  These changes require very few coding changes, it's just mostly about the presentation and UI.  The show below shows the old UI (left) and the new one (right).  The new UI is not yet live and a shell right now in Glade until I feel all the changes look good and then I'll move the code over -- which will be easy.  If you are interested in user interaction, here are the changes:
  • Users seem to like having art on each button, they seem to remember steps by artwork and not the words; each button now has art.
  • The users were not finding the button to PrintToSelectedPrinter easily, so the button was moved to the right of selected the printer.  No call is made to the GNOME printer UI, it has way too many options for this purpose.
  • The users were not seeing easily that you could DeliverWithEvolutionBypass (SMTP dump to Groupwise) based on the entry email box below.  This should be more clear.
  • The 'Size of This File' area while a good start; did not really tell them anything they could understand and use.  The new UI will alert them of "suitability" with Evolution and LibreOffice.  Everyone is shooting 10 megapixel now which is not needed for email and document construction.  I'll make generalized statements (Good, Too Big, Too Small, etc) about the pictures.
  • The functions that allow you to alter a photo are now under the photo; the functions to do something with the resulting output are all on the right side.
  • Users with dual screens were taking screenshots and then wanting to only print 1/2 of the screen.  The current code would print the whole width landscape which is too small.  Buttons are now available to crop the screen.  Going into GIMP and doing this by hand is too many steps for such a basic function.
  • Various alignments and layout techniques improved because I'm slowly learning Glade as time allows.

Once the code is done, I'll connect it for my user account only for testing and then release it to beta testers for wider use and then deploy citywide.  These changes are super easy on a centralized server and are literally just commenting in and out a few lines.   I'll be interested to obtain their feedback.


Anonymous said...

In the image-launch utility thing I notice that you use the name of the software frequently (Evolution, GIMP, etc).

What is your opinion on this? Do users feel comforted or confused with the odd software names in the FOSS world?

Anonymous said...

Again, what's that desktop environment.

Dave Richards said...

@anonymous: There were conversations about whether to display the names of the software applications and we decided to show them. We provide these packages for them to take home for Mac/Windows and the names seem to be getting more visibility now.

@anonymous: It's GNOME with gnome-panel turned off and avant-window-navigator. Gnome-panel had some usability problems that were solved with this new panel.

Anonymous said...

Have you considered taking a break from improving this system to develop 285 clones of yourself for the other major US localities? That's how you can have the biggest impact.

Inspiring stuff!

taiebot said...

Have you considered using cairo-dock as a replacement of AWN?

You can interact with the dock via dbus commands. You can create some very cool applet with bash commands and python etc... So i was thinking you might be able to improve your user experience by having a different dock.

Saurabh Jain said...

It is excellent that you are posting your experience with Joe Average users. I think a lot of thin client or in general IT projects fail because they do not understand the needs of the end user. Excellent reading for someone trying to develop a highly usable system.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm an avid reader of your blogg and i wonder if you plan to release anything regarding to your pxe/thinclient-project? a github-project would be very cool :)