Tag: usability

Google and the bottom search box

When Google rolled out “Instant“, they also removed the bottom search box. Bad idea.

Google Instant is a nice, web 2.0 improvement to Google “classic” where results appear as soon as you type them in the ad hoc text box. Google claims that Instant can save 2 to 5 seconds per search. Maybe.

But, at the same time, they removed the bottom search box. I extensively used this search box: when you enter your search criteria and look at the results, you may want to refine your search, add some terms, remove or exclude others, etc. With a second search box at the bottom, you can directly do it after having browsed the first bunch of results. Without this box at the bottom, you can’t: you have to think to scroll all the way to the top of the page and actually do the change in the only, upper text box. You lose 2 seconds to scroll back to the top of the page and you may lose some idea on the way (especially if you have 1001 ideas at the same time). When you sometimes perform a lot of searches per day, the time you gain with Instant per search is largely lost by the time spent browsing back to the top. I’m not the only one to think it’s was a bad idea.

But if you want to keep Google as (one of your) your search engine(s) and want to get back the second search/text box at the bottom (and optionally get Instant too), just use “Encrypted Google SSL Beta” (URL in clear: https://encrypted.google.com/).

Alt+e, g, a

This is the “shortcut” sequence of keys in order to get the list of changes in a text document in OpenOffice.org. It works very nicely with MS-Word documents, a useful feature when you are obliged to exchange work with colleagues, mentors, etc. who only use the proprietary word processor.

Part of screenshot of the track list in OOoIMHO, the only problem is the way the list of changes is shown to the end-user in OpenOffice.org: as in other word processor software, changes are underlined in a different color for each contributor and a small hint tells you what happened to the hovered block of text, who did it and when; unlike other word processors, you can’t accept/refuse any change by right-clicking on it (you have to do it from the separate window). I do not find this intuitive and, sometimes, annoying …

Although I really appreciate the list of all the changes (notably for bulk acceptance/refusal), I think the end-user should also have the opportunity to accept/reject a change, once at a time, with a right-click of the mouse or any other means (keyboard shortcut e.g.). This is, I think, especially important when you are not reviewing the last version of a document, when a reviewer ask questions in the text (you can’t neither accept neither reject, you have to manually edit the text) or when you still do some modifications to modified text.

Talking about modifications of modified text, OpenOffice.org doesn’t update the list of changes when you modify your text while this list is open. You have to close the list and then re-open it to see your new changes.

My “dream functionality” would be that, next to the actual list of changes, the end-user would be able to:

  • either right-click to obtain a pop-up menu showing the accept and reject options
  • either use two keyboard shortcuts: one for acceptance of the modification under the cursor

I already looked for such add-on on the web, without success. If anyone finds something interesting, let me know …

"Word processors" are not meant to be usable

(… at least for large documents)

Two week-ends ago, I spend a whole day trying to apply a consistent style to a thesis. I spent hours trying to be obeyed by a word processor because it would systematically change the style of some element, somewhere in the 100-or-so pages. Including figures was also a nightmare: we had to keep an eye on the (limited) memory of the computer (otherwise we got unexpected screen freeze, a lot of noise from the hard disk (paging), etc). Generating a bibliography was also another daunting task, even with the use of a dedicated reference manager …

Now I don’t know if I have to blame what we call “word processors” or human laziness …
First, these pieces of software are not really “processing words”. Grep, sed, vim, LaTeX, XSLT… actually are processing words, transforming them from a raw text format to something else, possibly transforming the whole text into something more readable on paper.
Second, word processors tend to let people write whatever they want, in whatever style (some word processors even retain the different style of things pasted into the text), in whatever order. In this aspect they resemble mind mapping software. But if a draft of experiment can be written like this, a good thesis needs a good planned underlying structure (imho). And current word processor software doesn’t push you to do this.

In this aspect, LaTeX may have a steep learning curve but it somehow force you to think about the structure before adding text and embroideries. Changing the style is only done in one place and is easy (once you know the command to type). I already used LaTeX for other reports, presentations and thesis and will certainly keep it for my Ph.D. thesis this year.