Sunday, June 22, 2003

The Design of Everyday Things

Great article (oldie (2002) but goodie!) on the the user interface design issues facing toilet paper rolls. (yes I'm serious!)

Click here to see it on Donald Norman's site

Every time I give a session on user interface design (VFP Devcon this year), I'm always tempted to go back and look at how to improve my own applications.

Certainly, new work that is being done on Foxfire! 8.0 (click here for a preview) shows some of these ideas but the general problem is always there for every developer: when building a product or a project under deadlines, interface design decisions almost always get shuffled aside until the first day you put it in front of a customer. What a pity!

The basic idea of the inductive user interface is obvious to so many yet so resisted for a great number of reasons. In many ways, it's like the new Help that Microsoft continues to improve (not the one in Fox but rather in Office XP and Messenger), where F1 resizes your application screen to 80% and then shows the help on the right hand side. The links that are placed there make it somewhat easy to find but putting better content into Help isn't the way to do it. It needs to be in the product itself!

When I was watching Beth Massi's great session on the Task Pane at DevCon, I thought of this as well. Two years ago, I commented that perhaps a developer product, like VFP, would not benefit from an Inductive interface. I then suggested that the Component Gallery be improved to make regular development easier to use.

Now, of course, in VFP 8, we see the Task Pane and the Toolbox as easier to access tools. I still can't see myself changing the way I teach FoxPro to new users ( I teach a VFP class about 3 times a year) but you never know...

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Improving the VFP Menu Designer

As many in the community know, I have a strong affinity towards menus, having creating GenMenuX way back when and it still runs even under VFP 8 without any modifications.

One of the questions that came out during the closing session was will there ever be any changes to the Menu Designer?

Now, no one on the panel was a Softie (from MS) so no one can say what their plans are, however, I have been recently working on a new Menu Designer that works with the existing MNX file structure but makes it easier to do all the great things that can be done with VFP 8.

A few key features:
- in-line editing of labels. So you can double-click on a label and change how it reads.
- a property sheet to control what options are selected. The property sheet allows users to set ALL of the available attributes for a menu
- built-in link to GENMENUX and menu generation. In fact, when you save your menu, the MPR file will be automatically created so you can try it out for real.

So where is it? Well, it's still in design phases but when it's ready for at least a beta, it will be posted. The revised menu designer will be Public Domain so anyone who wants to use it, distribute it, play with it, can do so.

Honestly, I kind of liked hearing someone ask about the menu designer at DevCon. It's been so many years since people have thought about menus that one would think they had disappeared completely!

So if you have any comments on what you would like to see in a new menu designer, let me know by emailing!
Just got back from VFP DevCon 2003 in Palm Springs, California - where the lows were 98 degrees and the highs were 110!

Note: Thanks to Ted Roche ( who showed me his Blog and inspired me to do the same!

Overall, it was a great conference! Great to see both old faces and new!

Total Attendance: Around 375.

Highlights: A sneak peak at what MS has planned for Europa, the next version of VFP! Announced items include an improved report designer, the removal of many existing SQL limitations, brand new data types (VarChar and VarBinary) and Index types and lots of other goodies to improve the extensibility of VFP!

See the wiki or Ted's Blog for more details or you can wait until I post them here!

And... there will be a DevCon next year, although they couldn't give us a time or place!