Fixing Mac OS

I just got a shiny new 13 inch MacBook Pro to use at work. Now, I feel that debates around the question “which operating system is better” are silly and believe that all of them have pros and cons. To prove it, I run Ubuntu on  my desktop, Windows 7 on my laptop and now Mac OS on my work laptop.

That being said, in my opinion, one of the greatest weaknesses that Mac OS has is its window management. The operating system believes that it can do a better job than me in arranging and sizing the windows on my screen. This fails drastically once you have more than one screen, or have lots of windows to manage.

To fix this I found a great free tool called “better touch tools“. The app works great for its intended purpose of adding more control over trackpad gestures and keyboard shortcuts, but it also allows you to add the window-snapping function of Windows 7. This means that setting windows side by side or making them full screen can be done with a flick of the mouse, as opposed to painfully dragging the box in the bottom right corner.

For anybody who’s work entails looking at more than one application at a  time or who uses multiple screens, this app is a must!

Apple multi-touch patent is not legal

{{de|Steve Jobs auf der Macworld in San Franci...
Image via Wikipedia

I don’t understand how there can even be any validity to the “heuristic multi-touch” patent that Apple was just granted. Why? Here are the facts as I see it:

  1. In order to obtain a patent you need to prove that you are the original inventor. To quote Wikipedia:

    Section 101 of Title 35 U.S.C. sets out the subject matter that can be patented:

    Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefor, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.

    This means that someone has to prove that they are the person who invented the technology. So for instance someone delivering a presentation on that technology to thousands of people means that there is no way that someone else can apply for the patent afterward.



  2. The Apple patent states the following:

    A computer-implemented method for use in conjunction with a computing device with a touch screen display comprises: detecting one or more finger contacts with the touch screen display, applying one or more heuristics to the one or more finger contacts to determine a command for the device, and processing the command. The one or more heuristics comprise: a heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a one-dimensional vertical screen scrolling command, a heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a two-dimensional screen translation command, and a heuristic for determining that the one or more finger contacts correspond to a command to transition from displaying a respective item in a set of items to displaying a next item in the set of items.



  3. The Apple patent was filed on April 11th 2008
  4. Jeff Han gave this presentation (in front of thousands) at the TED Conference in February 2006:



  5. Jeff Han’s presentation clearly shows all the things listed in Apple’s patent and was produced before the patent application. Therefore the patent is clearly invalid.
  6. Patents have to be non-obvious.
  7. Multi-touch heuristics are obvious. Here is a list posted by Craig Musselman on this post. As you can see multi-touch heuristics are very obvious and have been for a long time (well at least to Hollywood anyway):

    1. gene roddenberry Star trek

    2. Independence day docking tracking screen

    3. jetsons menu system

    4. AI (artificial intelligence) movie

    5. minority report

    6. children of men

    7. Predator



Am I wrong? This seems to be so patently obvious to me. Have I missed something? If I am not wrong, then I hope that Microsoft, Palm and even maybe Jeff’s lawyers are able to prove this and get the patent taken away.

Watching Jeff’s video about a year ago was a turning point in my life. It opened my eyes to the world of possibility that research into human-computer interaction can provide. My life’s goal is now to be a part of that, to be someone who helps to discovers new and intuitive ways to interact with computers. It is such a shame to see his inventions stolen by Apple. I agree that patents are necessary, but   really only for non-obvious things and only when you really, truly invented something yourself. Advances in any field are hampered if people and corporations do not play fair and I really feel that Apple is playing this one really dirty.

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Usability: Can open source software catch up?

Screenshot of kubuntu 8.
Image via Wikipedia

Last week I attended a talk given at the Vancouver User Experience Group (VanUE). The speaker was Greg Bell and he was talking about how in order for really good software to be developed, everyone in the development process needs to have a good understanding of usability. It was a decent talk, although the 3rd year UBC human-computer interaction course had already taught me most of what Greg was trying to get across.

Installing Windows 7
Creative Commons License photo credit: impresa.mccabe

This lecture coincided with me installing Windows 7 on both of my computers and really loving it. Now, Windows 7 is not much different to Vista, except that it is faster and addresses quite a few usability problems. I enjoy it so much in fact, that I will not go back to using the current release of Ubuntu.  Of course, this realization has upsets as it hits home the realization that as Apple and Microsoft (and indeed any big tech company) are starting to see the great importance of usability and putting it at the forefront of their design process, open source solutions (which have just started to catch up to the big boys) might be left in the dust once again. This Article from the University of  Waikato highlights a few of the challenges faced by open source projects when it comes to usability, including (and in my opinion the most important) “Design for usability really ought to take place in advance of any coding”. This leads us back to Greg’s talk at VanUE. I feel that if usability and the importance of design is pushed more heavily in the introductory parts of Computer Science then open source projects can benefit from that usability knowledge being pooled. Until then though, I think that many open source projects are going to start falling even further behind their proprietary counterparts.

This however, does not apply to all open source projects. Those with enough corporate backing (like WordPress with Automattic and Ubuntu with Canonical) are able to forcibly steer their developers towards more usable interfaces. This kind of work has already payed off for WordPress, however, we will have to await another Ubuntu release or two to see whether their efforts to change the way that a much larger (and more traditionally minded) community of open source programmers will actually pay off.

Creative Commons License photo credit: 4_EveR_YounG

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