Project Zebra: The finger power just wasn't there ►

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2021-08-08 📌 Project Zebra: People ignore design that ignores people

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This entry is part of my Project Zebra series covering migration to Linux for personal computing use.

Title reference: Frank Chimero quote. Words that software developers would do well to heed.

Some time back my APC ES 550 UPS shut off suddenly, taking the monitor I was using with a work laptop with it. As it subsequently wouldn't power on for more than a few seconds I assumed the battery had had it and ordered a replacement, as those aren't expensive and it's been well over five years. It's given respectable service on the occasions that there've been power cuts. I can't find the original receipt email but that model was introduced in 2009. Amazon suggests it sold until 2020 and the UPS was originally about £100. Apparently the RJ45-to-USB cable it uses can be a bit tricky to find a replacement for (although it looks like some Cisco hardware and some barcode scanners also use them) – at the moment they're about £7 from sellers in China.

Talking about Amazon, they seem to have hidden the "open orders" link on their site. The page is still currently available via this direct link but that's a really shitty thing to do they were experimenting with a few years ago (2018) and don't seem to have learned their lesson on. So, I had one open order (The Culture: Notes and Drawings, by Ken MacLeod and posthumously by Iain M Banks) that's now been cancelled by the publisher because the book has been split into two projects and don't think I'll be making any more longer term pre-orders. I've no interest in having to jump through hoops to find what hasn't been fulfilled yet.

Iren a segue about hiding things, lot of Android apps are badly designed and automatically scan storage for files of particular types without making this behaviour configurable, which can be unhelpful if eg gallery applications show random WhatsApp files and videos. Android being like Linux, you can prefix folders and files with a dot to mark them as hidden, or to just stop the indexing you can create a blank file called .nomedia in a folder with files you don't want to be included.

And on file systems, apparently the Linux kernel might be getting a better NTFS driver. This would be useful because the existing kernel driver is old and only recommended for read-only use. The alternative most of us use is a FUSE driver (literally Filesystem in USErspace) which suffers from fairly poor performance. I'm not sure why there isn't scope to modify the FUSE driver into one suitable for the Kernel, but Paragon's driver has gained some support from Linus Torvalds.

Since I've got existing partitions and backup devices using NTFS waiting for a performance boost from a kernel driver is distinctly more attractive than shifting everything onto Ext4 partitions and weighing up whether they should be case sensitive or not. And from this user's point of view, case insensitivity is preferable for interoperability so I'm likely to stick with it for partitions used for user files – the OS partition can stay as normal Ext4. Paragon is quite well-established and their driver has previously been a commercial, so its robustness for ordinary usage is something I'd have some confidence in.

OMG Ubuntu flagged a dev article on why Gnome makes an active practice of limiting and removing user options, even at the same time as making cognitively dissonant claims such as "Our software is built to be usable by everyone. We care deeply about user experience". Mind you, as I might have mentioned before, Tobias also thinks that the traditional desktop is dead when it's alive and well despite his best efforts.

Personally I take the view that if a user can't figure out within five minutes how to show/hide and position the desktop elements they find most ergonomic (i.e. involve minimal mouse travel) and best suits their workflow, a DE has failed the most basic test of whether it's user hostile. Minor example: another article pointed out that Gnome also lacks quarter screen tiling which is something I used all the time in Xfce, was glad got added to a Windows 10 feature update and of course works perfectly in KDE Plasma. Just not in Gnome.

This is something Windows continues to be burdened with too, though, with Microsoft apparently keen to turn it into such an embarrassingly restricted knock off of Android that the initial version 11 of currently doesn't allow you to organise an application menu or move the taskbar of (something I'm betting lawyers specialising in workplace injury claims for RSI are rubbing their hands together over, and I'll be right there with them).

"[Start] Named groups and folders of apps are no longer supported and the layout is not currently resizable."
"[Taskbar] Alignment to the bottom of the screen is the only location allowed." Hopefully the chances of it being configurable by the time people bother upgrading or it hits corporates are pretty good though.

Microsoft's also quietly downplaying Quick Access Toolbars in the latest visual refresh of Office. Maybe this is related it it already having taken a longing look at some of the shittier things Gnome does with CSD and deciding to cram search boxes into title bar.

Also in news of interfaces going backwards, Firefox 89 has decided that tabs are old hat and its MDI should look like an old text editor called Yikes 2 I used briefly at either college or uni.