KDE 4 UI critique

Human beings have different kinds of memory; they remember things in different ways. Three common classes of memory are spatial memory, visual memory and verbal memory. (There’s also chronological memory, but that’s not relevant to my point here.)

I have excellent spatial memory. It’s what I rely on most. For example, if I start to think about how to get to a given place in town, I literally find 3D visualizations of my route flashing into my consciousness. I also have pretty good visual memory; when I make the journey, I verify that I’m going the right way by comparing the visual appearance of buildings and landscape that I pass with the scenes I remember.

My linguistic memory is terrible. If you asked me to name the actual streets on the route, I’d have a hard time remembering them. My mental map of London, for example, only has 6 street names. This makes me a really bad person to get directions from. “You take the narrow road that heads off at a thirty degree angle, right at the place with the green copper roof, over the light colored bridge…”

There’s an upside to my condition. If you rely on verbal memory to navigate, as soon as you step outside your known area you are pretty much lost until you can find a familiar street name. In contrast, I have a pretty good chance of navigating between two known points, even if the area in between is totally new to me.

This hierarchy of types of memory also applies in my interaction with computers. When I want to find my password manager, I don’t remember its name. Instead, I remember that it’s in the bottom hierarchical menu of my KDE menu, positioned near the top, and has a green icon.

I know this experimentally, incidentally: back in the System 6 days there was a joke Mac INIT that removed all the text from the menus. I tried it, and was quite startled to discover that I could still use most of my favorite applications.

With that background out of the way, I would like to talk about why for me, the new KDE 4 application launcher is a user interface disaster of epic proportions.

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MT headed?

SixApart have finally released MovableType as open source software under the GPL. I may take a look at it, as it has a working plugin called Privacy that provides for locked postings people have to authenticate to read–something WordPress doesn’t seem able to do at the moment.

MT supports pretty much everything else I need that WordPress has, including categories, tags, OpenID, Atom, and search. Intriguingly, it also allows multiple users with separate sites via a single MT installation. I’m almost tempted to set up a service for anyone I know who wants to leave LJ-land…

Spots before the eyes

I guess I wasn’t paying attention to the Leopard previews earlier in the year, because OS X just blew my mind.

I was editing an e-mail message, and decided to idly click on Time Machine to see what it was doing. Instead of the Finder going into Time Machine mode, my e-mail went into time machine mode. I clicked the back arrow a couple of times, and there was what my e-mail inbox looked like 2 days ago, complete with since deleted messages.

It’s the same with the Address Book. You can step back through how your address book looked at different moments in the past.

My general impression of Leopard is that it’s good. Proper multi-threading in Finder and Mail makes a big difference. But this Time Machine thing is the most amazing backup tool ever. I got a big hard disk at Costco at the weekend, and backing up is now totally painless, there isn’t even an application to run. You just have to make sure a suitable disk is plugged in for long enough to copy the changes over, once a day or so.

Backing up isn’t sexy and it isn’t fun, which is why most people don’t bother to do it. Now there’s no excuse to skip backing up. Or at least, not if you’re a Mac user.