Product Dev

I've no iPhone so multitouch is still something "new" to me. I was also thinking about buying me a smart-phone to help me organize my project tasks, daily ToDos, rendez-vous digitally and for entering some ideas, notes etc quickly. So why not combine that?

The iPhone is one of the best smart phones out there, but it's quite cost-intensive. Without contract one has to pay over 1000€, in Germany. There is only one carrier offering it officially (locked) and although it has the best network, the plans are not very attractive for us. If i look at the amount of hours I call into various networks (per month), it becomes quickly obvious that being at t-mobile would increase my monthly bill by a large chunk. Moreover it comes with tons of restrictions (no VoIP, no IM, no tethering without additional fees etc.).

So I am looking for less-expensive and lock-free alternatives. I had a look at the HTC Hero. It's quite a nice device. The screen is a bit smaller, but it already makes me wonder if it's not too small. The "sense" UI seems nice, and I really like the word-suggestion HTC added to android. the thing is, in portrait mode the keyboard still has plenty of keys and they are very small. I didn't like using it. In landscape mode it seems totally fine BUT when I tried to add a new entry into the calender, the keyboard didn't switch into landscape mode. Bummer! 😐

So i tried the same on the iPhone and surprise: same problem there! It didn't switch the keyboard into landscape for adding calender entries. That really surprised me. In the shop there was also an older G1 with a real (hardware) keyboard and it's using the original android gui. I did the same test there, and you know what? Virtual keyboard aligned to landscape while adding a new calender entry, nice! I pulled out the hardware keyboard and enjoyed that even a lot more. Typing on that was much faster and less error prone. I am not using Google services extensively (don't even use gmail!), so would have to check how I could use it with my stuff. It is also said that battery holds only aprox. for one day.

If you are using a smart phone, what are you using and are you happy with it (also for business purposes)?

Besides this, I also went by one those new multi-though screen-and-computer in-one things. Maybe from HP, a Touchsmart or so. I played a bit around with it and wondered how this could be useful. At a moment I had a drawing application running and draw some diagram flow-charts. After a short amount of time my finger tip actually started to hurt! This was surprising. I hope that this was an issue of that particular screen and that it is not something to deal with on every device.

If you are not following me on twitter, you may want to check out some trailers of the Ubisoft game "RUSE, which shall be multitouch enabled (click for video):

I wonder if this has some efficiency or speed advantages? Or only more immersion?

Looks like Window7 is now available. I wonder why most of the media is so positive about it? There is still a ton of workflow and usability issues that could have been improved… at least as far as I can judge from the release candidate I installed in a VM for exploring.

Also the upgrade price is kinda evil, can't see what justifies it – especially if you consider that most weren't really happy with Vista. Some people say Windows7 is merely a service pack that shows how vista should have been. Well, I can see that there are improvements compared to Vista, but overall? Moreover the system-builder/OEM price is much lower than the upgrade price – that's strange, not?

Something that really makes me chuckle, is the fact that on many places, Windows 7 "new features" description mentions on something like the 4th place: new desktop background images !! woohooo… a killer feature!
:rolleyes:

A few things still annoy me lot: I use several icon-bars in the task-bar – this way they are sorted into 3 categories: "all-time-time" stuff (mail, browser, file-manager, communication-tools etc), development stuff (visual studio, virtools, unity, pspad, winmerge etc) and one for games! :) The thing is, two of them are collapsed, so that there is only the label and the "small arrows" button. So it's like those "stack" things on the Apple OS. I like that but the bad thing is, the label is not a button and there is not an option to make it a button. I know, it's a small thing, but it would a difference !!

Although the developers of tools like 3ds max and Maya found ways to handle big, big vertical pop-up menus, Microsoft comes up with inefficient solutions. If we look at the systems menu from the start menu, it's all one big list that doesn't even fit my screen. Tiny small arrows indicate hidden elements. There is plenty of horizontal space, why not use it? Any why not finally sort them in some categories via tags. One row hardware, one row software, one row apps etc. On OSX they did it and I liked it. No big deal, not? Actually they did something like that if you open the system settings folder as window – except it's more of a hierarchical layout than a horizontal.

They released the widgets from the sidebar, which is a good thing. There is a "notes" widget, that you can resize and finally you get the required space to use it in a meaningful way. But not all widgets are well designed. The RSS reader is not resizable and you can specify and RSS URLS: only news from MS!
Undecided

Btw. why don't they allow to tag program folders, for that installer automatically could create their shortcuts there. This way we could create a folder with the name "2D and video" and tag them with image, 2D, video and the like. Any installer then should know what tags it aims for and preselect those start-folder that fits best. Would bring a solution to those big menus where every guy creates its stuff under root – giving up to structure in a hierarchical way. Or a smarter uninstall mechanism that tracks where I moved the shortcuts to.

Jumplists might be useful, I probably won't like the library folders thing. No idea about "areo-peak" as it didnt work in the VM. Overall I won't upgrade for ~130 €!! 50 would be ok I guess. For ~80 I could get it via OEM… still too much ;P

What about you (those who didn't convert to OSX yet)?

When I recently read about something called "R-Screen" on Dassault Systemes blog "3D Perspectives", it reminded me of something I saw a couple of years ago.

R_Screen

R-Screen is a VR installation created with 3DVIA Virtools (VR pack) and is basically a rotating stereoscopic (rear-pro) screen that aligns towards the viewer based on head-tracking data. It allows to move around a virtual object which increases the feeling of immersion.

Something of similar purpose is Alias Research's "Boom Chameleon" from 1998/99 or so. You basically move a screen attached to a boom around it's center center like a window to the VR world. Nowadays with camera tracked markers, we have this even as Augmented Reality on portable devices! Interesting though how old these concepts are. Another demo shows a Mixed Reality example where objects are staged and affect a virtual scenario. This is called a Tangible Interface.

Alias_Boom Alias Staged Interface

There are a few more (old but interesting) videos online from Alias Research (they take a while to load).

CGGenie did an interesting survey called "Upgrades09". After having published the results (see previous link), they also added a very interesting article about how to interpret the results!

It's title: "CG Survey: a question of cost and satisfaction".

To resume the article and the survey, one could say: professional users are less satisfied with their tools than hobbiest or casual users.

Here some extracts:

3ds Max's users have invested a large amount of money, are likely to be professionally pressured in their usage and timescales and also are likely to be pushing the software to its limits every day.

[…] in more challenging ways and those little niggles might become major blockers, those quirky crashes become fundamental cash burners – even though the actual reality of the event, the flaw or the software limitation wouldn't have changed, the user requirements would have.

This helps to understand why a diversified, professional user/customer base might seem always as unhappy grumbler. They use the tools under tight time-frames and budgets. Working with their tool everyday they see what works efficiently and what not. Moreover, they want to push it to it's edges. They want to be fast(er). And if the tool improves, they move fast towards the new 'edge' … pushing it some more! And moreover not necessarily everybody is pushing it into the same direction …

Obviously it's "a far greater challenge" to satisfy those people. 

This posting could be considered to be a response to this comment of RS. He mentions esperient Creator and Maya Real-Time SDK and asks for opinions… here we go:

Maya's Real-Time SDK

I remember the news about Maya's Real-Time SDK but I never had a look at it in order to see what actually it is, at that time. After so many years (6 – 8?) it doesn't seem to have had any impact or long-term visibility. I guess it's ok to say, that today it's not a real option. A good documentation and a good online community helps a lot during production, thus these are things to consider. So let's have loot at the other product mentioned …

esperient Creator – intro

esperient Creator actually was once Cosmos Creator by Radish Works ( in 2003?). I remember that I once downloaded a trial and had a look at it. I felt more comfortable with Virtools therefore I never dived deeper into it. Already at that time it had plenty of toolbars! Here's a screenshot from it that I found on the old Radish Works site. Compared to the actual version, it looks nearly the same:

cosmos creator

Later it became acquired my Righthemisphere in 2004 and renamed to Deep Creator. I think they raised the prices, too. GameDev.com has a little review about it: Deep Creator 2.2 

In 2007 rights were transfered back to the original author(s) and they released in 2008 esperient Creator 3.0. Recently they released 3.5. So this thing is under active development.

Here, a part of the little story behind the name (taken from their blog):

The name is based on the Latin, Spero, meaning ‘I hope’ that has come into present day French as ‘Espere’ (vb) and Italian as ‘Speranza’ (n). So, in addition to meaning that we provide hope to our customers that we can solve their content and publishing problems, it also has the similarity to the word ‘Experience’ which is a great reflection of the team!

Now let's go into product details, we start with the …

Impressions from the online marketing material

Interesting aspects extracted from the available online material

  • cheap seat prices (currently around 500 US $)
  • free runtime viewer (no additional publishing fees): PC and webplayer (IE only)
  • C-like scripting
    • looks like it has break points (p.s. I was wrong, it's macro recording)
    • syntax highlighting
  • powerwall support
  • built-in physics (Newton engine)
  • upcoming feature: procedural image creation ( with CUDA support?)
  • built-in primitives
  • real time reflections, SSAO, advanced render to texture, object grips on 2D and 3D objects
  • HLSL Shaders
  • Animation Timeline Editor

Ok so far for the theory and the promotion material. Let's have a hands-on their demo!

Editor Window Management

The GUI has a standard windows look. It uses a couple of toolbars, that are rearrangeable. Very nice is that it uses docking panes, so you can arrange your layout like in Visual Studio and other modern application. Right-click on the title region of a pane allows to convert it to a register tab, a floating pane or a docked pane. Making there the pane to tab, puts it into the main, central position as tab. But you can also manually drag a pane into a center of another pane in order to add it there as tab. Tearing off docked panes requires a long drag off, which is a bit less intuitive.

On the left side you have a docked toolbar that allows to show/hide specific panes like script editor, scene materials etc.

esperient creator UI docking

The modified layout is automatically saved and used on the next startup. Moreover you can save and load UI layouts to/from files. In addition to that you can use different MS Office themes. I guess it's using a 3rd party MFC extension that brings all this functionality. Unfortunately none of the themes is really appealing to me. The grey of the default theme is not dark enough (I guess especially here under vista). The "Office 2007  Obsidian" style is dark but the toolbars are using a brighter background colour and therefore pop into your eyes – distracting. I guess adding a couple of variations around this theme might be very satisfying. 

dark themed GUI

Viewport Navigation

The viewport navigation is pretty easy:

MMB = Pan
Alt+MMB = Rotate
RMB = Zoom

I like it. In addition to these there navigation icons are on the right top corner of the 3D window. You hold LMB on such an icon in order to do the viewport translation. Similar to Lightwave and maybe also Cinema4d (?).

To change the view to another perspective you can use 3ds max like shortcuts like (P)erspective and (F)ront. The viewport can be switched to a 4-view mode using the space key. Dragging the middle of the 4 views allows to resize the views on the fly. You can also easily drag them to a border and get 2 views this way – works better than in 3ds max, hehehe 😉

several 3d views

I haven't found a "rotate around selection" mode. There is a "focus/zoom on selection" command but it's not bound to any key. You can define it via the settings, though you don't have total liberty of what key (-combo) to use. But CTRL+F, as example, works.

Selections

There are several selection modes like single-object, rectangle, cycle, polygon etc. Using the 'q' keyboard key, you can toggle between the currently active transformation tool and the selection mode, but you can also select while using the transformation too.

Area selection tools seem a bit hard to use because if they hit an object right on the first click, they select that one and ignore the dragged area. If you are in transformation mode you actually start i.e. moving the object under the mouse. Thus it makes area selections not that solid.

Selections can also be done in the "Secene Objects" window. Selections in the Viewport and the "Scene Objects" window are in sync.

Transformations inside the Viewport

The editor has 3d gizmos for doing in place transformation like scale, rotate and translate. The gizmo itself acts a bit like a "universal gizmo" – arrow-heads
do translations, dragging the white connectors enables the rotation mode and using the center does a uniform scaling. Something very good is, that they have handles for 2-axis manipulation, too. I think it's save to say that it's more like "3ds max" than Maya.

There is also something called "grippers" and which are similar to 3ds max's "manipulators". They are gizmos that allow to modify object properties inside the viewport. For example the angle of a sliced sphere or it's resolution/tessellation.

Transformation gizmo and grippers

Several snapping modes are available: grid, face, edge, vertex, pivot, angle etc. When snapping to a face or edge, it's not always clear what's going on – some visual cues would help.

Changing between different modes otherwise is not always intuitive. Sometimes I got into the pivot-move mode although it was not intended.

There are two coordinate-systems: world and local. Local transformations via the gizmo seem not always to work properly.

Material Editor

The material editor allows you to edit and create new materials. On the left side there is the list of materials and on the right side are the properties of the selected material. Unfortunately is the right side not scrollable, so if you dock that window at the bottom with not much height, you won't be able to access all the properties.

Nice is that you have a quick access to the textures via a texture-browse. Unfortunately it seems a bit slow and there is no mechanism to classify your texture content (which could speed up loading times, too). It combines all texture directories, i guess. Using the asset browser you have a better overview and control.

A material consists of several "stages" which can be added at will (up to 8). This is nice because if gives probably more flexibility and control than i.e. the old Virtools Texture-Effect approach.

Material Editor and colour picker

Something that I do not understand is why they use biiig buttons for the colours. There is a coloured, filled rectangle showing the actual colour, why not use that as button and have this big thingy taking screen space? Also, choosing a colour inside the colour-picker dialog does not change the colour of the material immediately, one has to close the dialog with OK. Interactive colour tweaking is thus not possible and makes adjustments more time-consuming.

Final words on the editor

The editor has some strong points: transformations gizmos, layout and theme customisation etc. Although they have a pop-up slider widget for interactive number adjustings, colour adjusting is not interactive. Moreover some areas require a minimum space which reduces the editor layout flexibility artificially. Funnily, there is no "recent files" list. On the other hand there light-setups presets! Thus "not perfect, but the overall impression of the editor GUI is good!".

Number slider

Ok, that was a lot of talk about the GUI editor itself. But this is how I approach such products. If you are under time pressure, you need solid tools and workflows. Best is, if you can "re-use" some of your knowledge from other tools. In this case being 3ds-max-like or Maya-like, in some areas, helps

Scripting

I am kinda sorry, but this section is going to be very short.

There is an interesting looking script editor. I think it uses the free source code editing widget called Scintilla. Thus it's probably going to be a smooth editing experience. Scripting can be done in Lisp or CScript. If you look at the image below, you can see in the top left corner a list of callbacks. On the top right, there are global variables. For example you can reset your variables inside the the "SceneBegin" callback.

script editor

I was looking for a way to add "custom scripts" to objects but it seems that there is no such concept like attachable scripts or components. Besides using the callbacks, you can add something called "animations". Here, animations are not only keyed transformation data, but also "behaviour" code. For each scene object, there is an "animation" register tab. You can add new 'animation behaviours' from a list of pre-made behaviours.

animation behaviours

I am not sure, but it seems that you cannot script custom 'animation behaviours'. Thus you need to combine callback scripts with the pre-made animation scripts. In addition to that you can add "separators" to divide the list into sections, but not do any real grouping to create re-usable components.

If you look at the scripts you may notice that there is a lot of state checking going on. This clearly shows the problem of not having a higher level logic-management, or not being able to attach custom behaviours that can be enabled or disabled from a 3rd, a 'managing', component.

Non-programmers probably can create some basic interaction without the need of programming knowledge as the 'animation behaviour' parameters allow to select events and targets. But I guess at some moment things can get a bit messy. For scripters, the environment looks a bit inflexible, restricted. You can add custom c++ plugins, but I don't know how much this helps.

Please note, that all these are personal impression – I might be wrong OR the way it works is just fine for you,

Resume

I am not sure for what kind of target audience this is aiming for. It's a bit of everything: a bit of 3D DCC (Digital Content Creation) like 3ds max and a bit of interactivity authoring. It certainly a couple of times cheaper than Quest3D or Unity3D and plenty times cheaper than Virtools. Thus it might be a solution for little projects that only need basic interactions.

If I made mistakes, please correct me. If you are producing with this product, please feel free to tell us about your experiences. For all the others, I hope was an interesting read and helps.

A few days ago I fixed some documentation that was compiled to CHM. There where some images missing when opened on other machines – it worked fine on my machine but that's because it found those images on my hard disk. So I added those images and created a new CHM file.

This time I copied my new CHM to a network machine for testing so I could detect if still some images were missing. Double clicked on the new file and …  bang – no content at all! Huh?!!

:-(

I thought I broke that thing now completely and started investigating …. but after a while I came across this webpage where it says:

if you attempt to load a CHM file remotely from another machine (mapped-network drive for instance), the security policy will place a restriction on loading the HTML content

Doh! 😐

Don't waste your time with this kind of #@!§ ! 😀

I few months ago I bought me a new computer. A nice quad PC. Something I wasn't happy about was that it was bundled with VISTA. But then I thought it would be a good time to re-look at VISTA and learn all its positive and negatives sides, besides that my machine has 4 Gig of RAM which won't be used under XP.

My first contact was over one and half years ago and I had troubles setting up a networking application on it. So my my first contact wasn't positive. And now?

VISTA in a Home Network

Microsoft claims that it always look what the trends will be in future and develop for that. Apparently they didn't foresee that people will have networks at home with mixed OSes. In my case I have machines with XP, VISTA and OS X in the network. So first time I wanted to access the XP machine, I get a pop-up dialog saying that there are incompatible devices in the network. So I got a blank network page and no further information. After some research I found that I have to patch XP.

In addition to that, for being able to access shared folders of OSX, I had to modify the registry. Establishing access to the Internet was painless but beside this, VISTA Home Premium (!) failed to cooperate with my other machines out-of-the-box.

Network Map

Vista's network map also shows router devices. 

System RAM and 32 bit VISTA  

Well, officially it says 4 GB RAM is supported. But I think it's misleading. You need to subtract the amount of VRAM your GFX-card owns. Mine has 512 MB, so the task-manager says that 3581 MB of physical system memory is available. With 1 Gig of VRAM you probably only will be able to address 3 Gigs of your system RAM. At least I think so, but this articles says the address-space is needed by the hard-disks, so maybe the VRAM hasn't this kind of impact …

At a given moment I had to import some CAD data and needed the maximum of my RAM to be available. So I checked my system and strangely most of my memory was used. This is due Vista's SuperFetch, which preloads commonly used applications and data. This is also one of the reasons why on start-up it may take a while until the hard disk stops turning.  Basically this seems to be a nice feature, but for that situation, where I needed the be sure about memory usage, I turned it off via the registry and since then not back on. I think apps now take a little while longer to load but the system-startup is faster. Probably I'll turn it back on one day in order to observe the differences further.

Another aspect was that aprox 2 Gigs are reserved for applications and another 2 Gigs for the kernel. This can be altered using this command:

bcdedit /set increaseuserva 3072

It indeed increased the memory used by the application – it didn't reach 3 Gigs but was more like 2.8 or so. But now the kernel has less space and it might produce side-effects if drivers (like for a 1 Gig VRam Gfx card) assume 2 Gigs. Maybe I'll turn it later back to default of 2048 using.

bcdedit /set increaseuserva

Visual Studio 2003 and Virtools 4.0

Officially Visual Studio .Net 2003 is not supported on Vista. I turned Vista's 'User Access Control' (short UAE) off and it seems to work fine so far, including debugging. Something that does not work are the Virtools 4.0/3.5 wizards. Virtools 4.0 works fine except that the font/typo is kinda blurry. There is some kind of red ghosting it seems – not sure if you can see it on the left screenshot. This must have to do with the font anti-aliasing. Vista uses by default ClearType. If one switches to standard, as shown on the right picture, then the font in Virtools is very nice but then it becomes blurry in other places of Vista. For example window captions.

Virtools 4.0 under Vista   Two methods of font AA in Vista

I don't know how it's in Virtools 4.1 – maybe it's OK there. Otherwise our option is only to switch between both modes for long sessions.

Quick Launch ain't real Stacklets?

In my quick launch toolbar I only have a few common shortcuts (browser, eMail, winamp, trillian, total commander). I use additional, collapsed  shortcut bars for i.e. frequently used development tools like PSPad, Visual Studio and Virtools. There are some inconvenient aspects to this: the button is pretty small as the toolbar name doesn't act as button and under Vista icons become visible when the area with network and active app-icons gets collapsed.

toolbar close to system tray - inconsitence

Currently I am trying something different: RocketDock in combination with the Stacks Docklet plugin, both are free. For the stacklet icons I use some free-ones that can be found on the web like here, here or here. I have it at top of my desktop, I hope it won't disturb me too much. I think I still would prefer to have it inside the taskbar itself!

RocketDock with Stacks Docklet

VISTA Security

The vista firewall doesn't really prevent outgoing traffic from applications. It seems much more configurable than the one that comes with XP but it may give a false sense of security. Luckily since recently my preferred personal firewall is also available for Vista. I think this, in combination with the free AVG for personal use, will provide a better protection.

VISTA Theme Style

The task back is 'back in black'. Unless you use the aero theme where you can tint it and, in combination of transparency, mix it with the desktop background image, there is no real control about it's colour. I am no fan of having it in black and disappointed of the lack of choice. Although VISTA has theming it seems locked (for OEM partners?) and you are still required to use 3rd party solutions.

Vista Start Menu

Thestart menu now contain the program directory instead of displaying them in a pop-up. The named reason for this is that people tend to have that menu as large as the whole screen with plenty of installed programs. Now you start with the root dir as list and you click into subfolders. I don't like it because it requires additional clicking. MS probably count on the new indexed searching and the field where you simply type in the first letters to filter the choose. I disabled indexing because having the harddisk rotating all the time disturbed me. In addition to that I organize my start menu in major categories like: 2D, 3D, video, Web, Tools, Games etc. I don't like if installers doesn't give me the option to choose the exact location but in that case it doesn't prevent me from moving the shortcuts afterwards which of course gives me stuff to cleanup manually after an uninstall.  And that's where I think MS should have done something more sensible like providing some more standard categories (including API) and tracking, when somebody manually moves shortcuts, for the uninstallers.

On the right side there are some common shortcuts, but some are as sub-menus and some simply as buttons. As you can see in the screenshot, I changed most of them to submenus so I don't have to click on them and for that I don't get an additional window. A good thing would have been if even in sub-menu mode, those items are click-able. another annoying thing is speed and consistency. They often pop-up slowly and sometimes not at all. also on the top-righ side there is an icon that fades into another according the menu item under the mouse. For me it has no real benefit and it even doesn't look better. Sometimes one gets the impression that the slow pop-up are related to the icon-fade but I think it's not the case.

Something else that looks strange is the main menu bar. It has some glossy gradient and somehow it looks misplaced in some standard applications. Below in the article there's a screenshot of the resource manager and it gives an impression about what I mean. In some other applications it looks even worse. Also the progress bars are animated – an 'energy impulse' is going from left to right from time to time. In one case I had a window with a couple of these at 100% and the pulsation felt pretty distracting.

Games section

There's a new window where games are listed that registered themselves there via a new API. It shall help to protect kids so they can only play games fitting their age etc. What I miss is a deinstall item in the context-menu. I often play game-demos because they are time-limited and thus a bit less a time-sink 

Wink

 So uninstalling demos is something I do frequently. There are also a few new games like chess and InkBall. I really like InkBall – played it once for a while – a nice casual game where you draw obstacles using a pen to modify trajectories of balls in order to make them roll in holes.

Inkball

Positive aspects of Vista (partly)

Explorer 

There are some things I like in Vista. Although I don't use the explorer much, I really like the way one can choose a new dir on any hierarchical level of the current directory patch. You can also add commonly used folders in the top-left corner as favorites. In some situations I saw a 'directory' pointing to recently used directories which could be VERY handy but unfortunately in many applications this is not available inside the "open file" dialogs. That would have been a really good improvement! 3ds max has such a directory-history but unfortunately also only in one of their open-file dialogs and not everywhere.

Explorer Adress Dropdowns

Resource Manager

Something really good is the new resource manager. That's something I always was looking for, for that the system becomes more transparent. One day I was listing to some music while chilling but the harddisk didn't stop working and working … With the resource manager, which launch button is badly hidden in the task manager, I was able to see what process was using intensively the disk and on what files! I found that Vista did some random backup of my system.

Very useful resource monitor Not so accessible ressource monitor

This surprises me a bit because I thought this wasn't a Home Premium feature. I turned it off and the computer became quiet. This feature is called 'shadow copy' and although using Vista Home Premium, you can't use it to restore parts of the system by intention, it is used by other services and the Window updater. People recommend to not turn it off.

Voice Recognition and TTS

The Voice recognition engine is much better which is really interesting. But when I tried to dictate an eMail in thunderbird with it, it showed that it still has some way to go. The text area of thunderbird is not recognized and thus a global, less user-friendly mode needs to be used.

Also the TTS voice sounds better, but although I have a german Vista version, it's the english voice and only the english one without possibility to download additional languages. 

Windows Sidebar

I like the clock and calendar of
the sidebar because of it's bigger size, but beside this I haven't really used it – maybe notes. Weather and gadgets like this doesn't interest me and for RSS I have better tools. Do you use it?

Additional Tools

Vista comes with some useful tools like snipping (selecting an area for a screenshot), Zoom, Notes etc. Unfortunately all of them have their usability drawbacks. It clearly shows that MS has more techies (coders) and less designers – OR – it's their strategy to only provide basic, not- designed  tools (like MS Paint). I don't know.

Notice App

Resume

Overall the user experience could be much better. Microsoft certainly put a lot of work into this but failed on some important aspects in the domain of usability. Vista has a pretty bad reputation, some people like it but too many aren't happy with it. I think Microsoft is aware of this – even if they deny – as they already announced Windows 7 (MS guys went like this: "No we don't talk about the next windows which is called Windows 7… and btw. it has multi-touch support built-in and maybe it comes sooner as expected, but you know we don't talk about it").

Wink Tongue out

I would have loved if they would have improved Vista over a couple of iterations via service packs. But I guess from the the business side and marketing side they wanted to get rid of the bad reputation of Vista and thus the 7 instead of something in the line of XP or Vista. But I am guessing here.

I think a key feature of Windows should be easy customization. The middle between OS X (few choices)  and Linux (plenty choices). A good approach would have been to introduce some Target-Audience profiles. Some people just want to use their computer, some want it to tweak a bit and others want as much of transparency and control as possible while keeping the GUI-approach. It's a bit like complex DDC tools: they have different layouts – i.e. in 3D for doing light setups, rigging, modeling etc. 

I know that people like Joel think that choices = headaches but I already didn't agree back then when he complained about the shutdown choice in Vista. Too many choices are bad but not enough choices is bad too. It really depends on the personal preference. There's a good reason why GUI customization in complex applications like 3ds max, Silo, Maya or Modo is very important. Besides saving every clicks and distances, personal tastes do play a role for productivity!

What if Vista would have come with theme-creation tools and a community webplatform for sharing and (like Stardock does)? Instead they locked that feature.

I also miss built-it multi-desktop – the first time I experienced it was like 10 years ago on an Irix machine. Alreadythere I wondered why it's not available in windows. Well nowadays there are but it's 3rd party and most of them only deal with windows and not icons on the desktop itself. I tend to have too much icons on the desktop, so multiple desktops probably would help 

Wink

I already mentioned stacking link-shortcut lists for the taskbar. It's like an enhanced quick-toolbar. The new Mac OS X has it and it's nothing revolutionary but it totally makes sense.

Well, this blog post became pretty long. I think there's more to tell but that's it for now. Cheers Cool

p.s.  Some other recent rants about Vista on blog I read: Steve's BlackAndWhite and Aras's The Problem Of Vista

Some time ago I played the demo of Sins of a Solar Empire. It's a space RTS game from Stardocks. It's quite complex and it take a couple of hours until one get enough familiar with everything to be able to play.

To help you, there's a a context info/help panel on the bottom right, that pops-up when the mouse is over an item. On the left side, starting at the top – there is an icon-list of all your assets. At the beginning I was quite often searching for a particular ship (like the 'builder' unit) in the icon-list on the top left while having the ship info, from the icon under my mouse, in the panel on the bottom right.

Now, the thing is, I've a 22" widescreen display and I noticed that it's quite a distance for the eyes to move. Doctors probably will love that as it's like eye-training … hehehehe 

Wink

Not the best tooltip position in this case

… but doing this often feels annoying. Actually one might even move the head too. Thus when searching for an item it's: move mouse to an icon, move eyes, read text, move eyes back, move mouse to the next item, move eyes back to the info panel … repeat until desired item was found.

In addition to that, typically in RTs games, you have the "build" menu section, usually at the bottom, and the amount of resources in your procession, usually at the top. It's not always like that but quite often and it's the same with 'Sins of a Solar Empire'. And the distance on my screen from bottom to top is also quite large. It's of course less the the diagonal but still significant. Thus when you want to check if you have enough resources to order/build the desired unit/component, you may wind up in the same procedure like described above for the info panel. Fortunately this has been solved quite well in this game. The info panel is right beside the build menu and not only it gives information about the unit but also the numbers of required resources will be displayed in red when the player has not enough of them.

All info in proximity

So this is an interesting topic. Today application designers not only need to consider dual-screen setups but also the variety of sizes and aspect ratios.

Ever heard of HeroEngine? I didn't … until today. If you are like me very interested in workflows and tools for interactive real-time 3d content production – you probably want to take a closer look at it.

The HeroEngine is a commercial MMO game engine with plenty of tools and artist-friendly workflows. Something very interesting is the multi-user world editing in real-time. Multiple designers can work on the same 3d scenario at the same time. You can watch a pretty long demo video of that on their site. 

Real-time collaborative world editing with HeroBlade

Although they say it's something "never been seen before", the idea itself is not new. There is a project called VERSE which is a protocol and library for collaborative work in 2D or 3D. There are implementations for 3ds max, blender and gimp. (It also allows to connect different applications like shown here between blender and the funky 'Loq Airou'). Well, back to topic ….

The HeroEngine's World-Building tool comes with a lot of 3d editing gizmos. Many similar to 3d max. In addition to that there are additional 'manipulators' that easily allow to insert new knots in paths and splines or to insert new vertices for altering shapes of regions. For some objects they have additonal handles for volume or orientation – like in splines based extrusions.

paths and spline editing - dragging orange cycles does add new points Adding vertices via a manipulator handle to quickly modify the shape of a region Splines based river

Also interesting is the visual slope-filter control for editing/painting terrain:

Easily adjusting slope filtering
 

Maybe you know Matthew. He was a very active Virtools user for many years and also published some casual games using it. Roughly a year ago he started to use Unity (for diverse reasons) and ported 'I hate clowns'. Now he released a new game using Unity, called Splume. It's a color-match game with a springy physics aspect.

Splume by Flashbang Studios

While  having a short look at it, I see some usability problems – it's a bit off-topic as it's partly due the Unity webplayer

  • I can't see a quick way to mute audio
  • it tracks mouse clicks outside the window or even when I am in another browser TAB
  • I can't pause the game or even better the Unity player. Thus it takes resources while I am at other web pages
  • where do I adjust fullscreen resolution and AA?