|BrainBlog is the Brains4All weblog. Established 2004 in The Netherlands. Brains have been working in IT since 1983, working on the internet since 1993, and using their own agile development process for design and application development since 2003. We talk about about design and usability, the industry of software and web development, web applications and simplicity, beautiful and spectacular things.|
March 30, 2006 |
I ran across the 9rules blog network. "A community of the best weblogs in the world on a variety of topics." as they describe themselves. I love their 9 rules:
1. Love what you do.
March 29, 2006 |
The Royal Dutch Library is publishing a remarkably beautiful early 13th century document online next Thursday. The manuscript is also on display up to April 30th.
The medieval handwriting that has been part of the collection for over 200 years is the only one in which the story of Beatrice survives. The Royal Library has digitized the handwriting and plans to publish it integrally on a special website.
The poem tells the story of a nun who leaves the monastery with here lover. During 7 years they live happily and have two children. Then bad times arrive and Beatrice's lover leaves her. She is forced to prostitute herself to provide for herself and her children. Another 7 years go by in sin and bitter poverty, but she stays close to her calling and prays regularly.
I am just inspired by the beautiful handwriting and artwork in the Manuscript.
EU Warns Microsoft Over Vista
Microsoft cannot sell Windows Vista in Europe, says European commissary of Antitrust, Kroes, if it includes all kinds of other products by Microsoft. This warning was send to Microsoft CEO Ballmer by the European committee last week. According to this article.
The European commission has been struggling with Microsoft for years. According to Kroes's spokesman this warning does not concern an official inquiry. "We assume Microsoft will cooperate to overcome our objections, since it is in the company’s best interest to understand it is not wise to face another Anti trust ruling."
The commission is afraid that with the development of Vista there also will be too little information available for competitors, resulting in an attack on the free European market for operating systems or software that runs on Windows.
Microsoft is selling software products like Media Player along with its OS. That way it sidelines competitors that also deliver media player software. The commission has outlawed the Media Player construction. The European court in Luxembourg has yet to rule on that matter though.
Kroes has warned Microsoft not to engage in the linked sale of operating systems and other software as well. It is not unlikely that Microsoft is planning to do so. Microsoft has designed its search engine to rival Google. Anti virus vendors are afraid the next Windows will already contain virus scanning software. (Microsoft bought RAV some time ago). Also Microsoft is constantly claiming how well it would integrate RSS right into Vista. That could really harm blog reading software and aggregation websites.
The letter from Kroes is not the first set back for Microsoft in Vista development. Earlier the corporation announced it had to delay the introduction by several months because of large software rewrites.
March 25, 2006 |
There has been a lot of buzz for 14dayz around the net since we started our beta. Check it out, the good, the bad and the ugly. We have no secrets.
This one is the greatest compliments one could ever get.
Thank you all for mentioning us. Even the critics. We learn the most from you.
March 24, 2006 |
We've about wrapped up the first week of 14Dayz beta testing. First of all let me again show my appreciation to the dedication with which some of you have worked to help us.
Stuff we've addressed this week at your request:
- We've talked to Christian Heidel and he had some interesting points. Accept from a small oddity in the Projects chapter, Christian says 14Dayz works great on IE7 too.
- I've been talking to Patrick Akua about using 14Dayz for projections. While we didn't plan for this to happen, it turns out to be quite feasible in 14dayz as it is.
- We've discussed the need to send a password in an email to you or your team members when you invite them. Do you have a need to have a clickable link to login to the service fast? We appreciate your views. What do you like more? Security or ease of use?
All in all we are looking back on what we feel is an extremely successful week of 14Dayz beta testing, except for the outage earlier today. (The server was fine, I checked) We are all looking forward to next week. I’d like to say a word of appreciation to my colleagues, Serge, Bart and Jan and to all the beta testers who have joined us, writing, commenting or silently testing. We do so much love to hear from you, bad or good. I do hope to talk to more testers over the weekend and next week.
"Apologies to all customers for the 20-minute outage to our network just now. This was caused by a core router suffering a kernel panic during a routine reconfiguration and swallowing all our network traffic. This took a little while to sort due to a crucial password being inaccessible. We will be upgrading our routers and reviewing our emergency access procedures to minimise the chances of such an outage repeating itself."
At least that is what our hosting partner tells us. Well nothing was lost (accept connectivity:) and everything is back up again. Carry on.
March 21, 2006 |
Interest in 14Dayz has been booming beyond our wildest beliefs. We felt there was a market for an easy to use get out of my face time tracker, but this is insane. Over a thousand people have signed up to be informed or to help with beta testing inside of just a few days. Thank you for your interest. Beta testers, please be patient. We're sending out invitations all the time.
There has been some unexpected coverage in the Dutch press as well. Emerce, BlueAce and Nieuwe Revu picking up on it, thanks. The Dutch will be pleased to know a Dutch version is also in the works. Other languages will follow later.
Most beta testers made a point about (the lack of) navigation. Point well taken. I have posted the new concept for you to look over at the top of this post. Click on it to see it in full. Please tell us what you think.
Other feedback has resulted in the inclusion of the possibility to add categories from within' the time sheet. Press '+' in the categories select box or select "New Category". For you that means you don't have to leave the time sheet to add a new category. Please let us know if this has improved usability of the time sheets.
Thanks again for joining us in the beta test and thanks for being such a productive feedback team. We hope to show you that we take your feedback seriously.
March 19, 2006 |
* more information, pricing and terms on your invitation. so get yourself invited already.
March 17, 2006 |
Today we have silently begun sending off the first invitations to beta testers. We were all very excited upon delivering a product that we all have a very good feeling about in such a short amount of time (guess where the name comes from). We'll be sending off more in the next couple of days. Don’t worry if you are not invited yet. You’re next!
Serge remarked brilliantly that "in the old days" we had a rule not to release on Fridays. Why did we have that rule? Many applications were breaking down over the weekend. Serge made me see how far we've come in those past few years. By adopting change as a constant, by focusing on simplicity, by excelling every day and feeling good about it we are now so confident that we just look at each other and release it. It'll hold.
All ready we've had some valuable feedback from some of our beta testers. Serge wrote up from Russia "one of the Russian leading bloggers for web 2.0 services." he had some excellent tips to make 14Dayz even more user friendly. Saul Weiner wrote this raving review on his blog. Thanks for your feedback!
Warning Event Notification
March 16, 2006 |
Excuse me? I was working on some issues with Daniel from Medical Media when we were both flabbergasted by the sudden and unexplained appearance of this popup. "What?"
Now when you hear me ranting about software being too complex, this is what I am talking about. That is un-usability that is. I can’t even go into everything that is wrong with that.
If you are ever in a discussion, advocating simple software; Show 'em this screen.
I rest my case.
More copy paste web on Ajaxian
March 15, 2006 |
I was playing with some new blog stats I found at http://performancing.com/ the other day. When I noticed Ajaxian picked up on the Copy-Paste-Web post from last week. Thanks to Chris Cornutt for the write up. Metapundit remarks that there is prior art, well conceptual art anyway on the lesscode.org blog from October 2005. Now why do I like that name? In the lesscode discussion I found some other links to similar activities. Amongst them is Bogle's Blog who refers to unAPI. "unAPI is a tiny HTTP API for the few basic operations necessary to copy discrete, identified content from any kind of web application."
I've been meaning to get some copy-paste demo pages up myself to interact with Ozzies demo, and we still need to put some content behind those great looking buttons Serge has designed for our new website. (Thanks for pointing out the dead links, linb.) :) But we've been too busy with the upcoming launch on 14Dayz online time tracking, which we are all really excited about... Maybe when the dust settles next week I'll whip something up.
I have stated before that the core technology for 14Dayz online time tracking was developed to help lawyers comply with recent Dutch legislation for time tracking in bankruptcies. During development lawyers and their secretaries were closely involved in perfecting the system.
One of our biggest challenges in convincing lawyers and their secretaries was asserting that a web based application like 14Dayz can work as fast as a stand alone application installed on their computer. We realized that to satisfy these customers we not only had to prove logging hours can be made just as fast as a traditional system, or a spread sheet for that matter. We had to prove online time tracking could actually be a whole lot faster.
We’ve studied to our customers’ experiences and worked with them again and again to squeeze out every single burst of data entry speed, whilst keeping the user interface clean, easy and simple. And we were successful: Every secretary and lawyer that now uses this system is convinced logging hours online is just as fast as or faster than traditional time tracking in stand alone software.
Functionalities introduced at our clients request:
How simple is it?
You see the time sheet for this team member for this particular date. Select the project, category or sub category you want to log these hours on, enter a short description and enter the time. Now enter the next line, you can see the line you entered being saved in the background.
What makes it different?
Research tools like systems thinking and mind maps have helped to discover the best way to present the time sheet in the user interface that is instantly recognizable and intuitive to grasp.
Short cuts, how to enter time:
March 9, 2006 |
Lets talk some more about our vision on time tracking. I've detailed the design and usability decisions that went into the design and layout of the Main Menu in a previous post. Serge Nijsten has designed the screen and user interface. Click on the image above to see the full image.
What we offer is a simple web based time tracking tool for groups of loosely connected professionals that collaborate on a professional basis. Finally distributed teams can also have simple and easy to use time tracking software that does what you need and then leaves you alone.
We are drivers in the movement for better software. Too many features make software complex and tedious to use, install or maintain. That is why we believe in simple but well crafted solutions. Traditional time tracking software is bothersome because there are so many features you do not need getting in the way of what you need to do:
Log hours. Create specifications. Get paid.
What functionality is there then?
To enable easy-to-use time tracking effectively there are only a few things you need to actually do:
In 14Dayz work is organized by using Projects, Categories and Sub categories. This setup is simple and flexible. It allows you the freedom to organize your work so that it matches your style and preferences closely. For example you can choose to setup your clients as projects. You can have a single 14Dayz project for each contract you do. That way you have multiple projects for the same client in 14Dayz. You could choose to set up releases or iterations as a Project.
In 14Dayz this chapter is called Projects, which is just a name. We called it Projects because that is the natural way to use 14Dayz. There is no need for you to do the same. You can have projects that are files, folders, clients, releases, sites, locations, events, contracts or products. It's up to you.
I use 14Dayz daily to keep track of the time spend on all projects at Brains4All. Coming from a project manager background I know how hectic things can get. Most project managers need to manage multiple projects concurrently. There are always dynamics. A project that's hot can end up in the fridge for a long time and then all of a sudden live up again.
To accommodate these dynamics in your projects you can activate or deactivate them at will. When you deactivate a project team members can no longer log hours to this project and a deactivated project doesn't count towards your plan. The plan you choose defines the number of projects you can have active at one time.
Most of the information that you can enter for a project is optional. All you need is a name for your project and a project lead or administrator. This is the team member responsible for this project. When I have a prospect or a new request for proposal I enter a new project in 14Dayz. That way I can start logging hours from even before the project starts. This allows me to see the complete amount of time taken up by acquisition as well as a total number of hours spend on the project as a whole, including acquisition.
I assign a project number and a project lead. Then I enter the project name and maybe add a short description. Saving is done in the background using AJAX technologies excellently provided by prototype and scriptaculous. There is no need to wait for a page reload. You can enter series of projects one after another quickly.
I have organized my work into projects for all our products and contracts. I use some overhead projects as well. I have projects for events we help organize and there's even a Gold card project for self-development of team members where they can log their hours spend on researching new technologies (like Comet) they find interesting or contributing to communities they love.
Here's a part of my active project list:
- 14Dayz - Online time tracking
Jan, my partner and co-founder of Brains4All has come up with an all together different setup for his projects. Jan has optimized his project list for speed in the time sheet data entry. I'll talk to him about posting his list here as well. It will be interesting to see how others have organized their work in 14Dayz as its setup is very flexible. Share and Enjoy!
To summarize: 14Dayz projects' feature is simple and therefore flexible. All you really need is a name for your project and your home free. Projects can be activated or deactivated at will by the project lead. You don't want to spend a long time creating projects, you've got hours to log!
Brains4All products apply the "simplest thing that could possibly work" routine. No annoying features that you'll find in other time tracking software and get in your way. Instead, use only the options you really need.
Ray Ozzie whose Groovenet Networks was acquired by Microsoft about a year ago, also know as "The Creator of Lotus Notes" has demoed an interesting concept at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference this week.
March 5, 2006 |
Alex Russell, from dojotoolkit, has found time in his busy schedule to dedicate an article to explaining about Server side push Ajax and has finally put a name on it: Comet. Alex hopes that analogous to AJAX, the technique will finally take off big-time when it is easier to communicate about by calling it by its name.
In short, Comet is the technique of continuously updating the browser screen by using server side pushed events instead of polling or pull events by the browser. In many ways the technique is similar or can be viewed as an extension to AJAX if you will. Alex describes possible scenarios for application as well. Not every web application is going to need it or even profit from it. "Comet improves application responsiveness for collaborative, multi-user applications..." A few obstacles are there to overcome, since each client browser has to maintain an open (if idle) connection to the server. Handling that amount of connections requires new techniques on the server side as well. Luckily for us, the discussion in the comments exposed an already flowering community and some server side techniques already implemented. Twisted seems to be a well cooked candidate, written in python. There's even an O'Reilly book out. What a formidable coincidence.
For those of you familiar with JotSpot live it is an example of a web 2.0 application using this technique.
An excellent introduction to twisted by Ken Kinder, Event-Driven Programming with Twisted and Python
Saul Weiners' web 2.0 blog
March 4, 2006 |
Saul Weiner, who by the way runs a great blog about web 2.0 which I think you should check out, writes a short entry where he is comparing our upcoming product 14Dayz to Tadalist. Well.., in some ways 14Dayz is not like tadalist.
First of all 14Dayz is not a completely free product. It sports an always free plan for personal use and allows for free trials of each of the commercial plans. Second; 14Dayz is not a todo list, nor does it have one. Tadalist is about the future, stuff you are planning to get to eventually. 14Dayz is about "what really happened while you were making other plans." Sure, you can click the box and have that satisfied feeling of fulfillment of getting things done. However plans change (if they're good ones) and I always have to prioritize what I need to do over what I want to do over what would be nice to do. Also I find that I always end up doing stuff I hadn't planned on doing at all! Stuff that wasn't in my to do list. Still I write that up in 14Dayz. That allows me to review what I've done and how I spend my time. It also enables me to get paid, which allows me to pay for all the other things I need to do, like fixing our house.
In other ways 14Dayz is a lot like Tadalist and that is perhaps what Saul is referring to. 14Dayz is a simple web application. 14Dayz is easy to use. Why? How?
The core technology of 14Dayz has been built to help lawyers comply to recent Dutch legislation for time tracking in bankruptcies. So it is not a new app. It's a mesh up :). During development we have been working closely with lawyers (as in sitting next to...) and their secretaries to perfect the system. Because of the target audience, which was not very technical, we had to keep the application as simple as possible. And because secretaries often log the lawyers hours, data entry had to be fast. So we've worked with the secretaries to make it fast. We've worked with the lawyers and examined the way lawyers enter data and made it easy. After launch we've had a steady flow of requests to implement time tracking for other applications and wider fields of use as well. 14Dayz is that product. And that is why we believe 14Dayz is going to be easy, fast and fun to use web based time tracking for everyone.
Of course you get to decide that for yourself in 14dayz if you join our beta testing effort.Saul, thanks for a great blog and thanks for the write up.
I know we have been scarce with information. That is why I am currently writing up all the stuff that was in our brains when we built it. Take for example this fragment of the 14Dayz Main Menu. Its design was driven by the actual expected use of the product that we researched at start up. Then in small incremental iterations, working closely with the customers, we evolved and improved upon it.
The main menu is like the city central of an application. It's job is to get you where you need to be fast. However not every task is as important as any other task. Not every task is as frequently executed as others. You have to show that in your design otherwise users will get lost and frustrated. Furthermore the UI design has to connect with the flow of the actual tasks being executed. We call that aligned with the customer. It is the designers' job to get that right with the layout. It is the programmers' job to get that right with the behaviour.
In the example of the 14Dayz main menu what is the most important and most used task executed? Right; Logging hours into the time sheet. So that is the most prominent in the UI design. It gets your attention right away. Pick a name of the list, press the Go button and you're on your way. Another important function is Reports. Because it is slightly less used compared to the time sheet it is smaller in size and in a less prominent position. However the main menu allows you to interface with the most used filter functions in the reports section. You don't have to go to reports first and wait for a general report to be made. Then adjust the filters and wait for the report you want. Just bring up the project or team member you want to get a report for and again press the Go button. The report you want is shown instantly.But please, let us know what you think of the user interface design. Your comments are most welcome.