Category Archives: Rant

Apple’s Yosemite Font Change

Last week Apple released Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite. While there’s plenty of iOS integration work, the most immediately obvious change is the appearance. New theme, new transparency, and new font. Yes, the font changed which typically isn’t a huge source of contention. This time around, the font isn’t quite as readable on non-Retina displays but looks great on Retina. My MacBook Pro is a late-2011 model so it doesn’t have Retina. Yes, it’s slightly fuzzier and less readable than fonts on Mavericks.

Some people on the Internet have been speculating this is Apple planning for the future when Retina is on all devices. They talk about how Apple is happy to design for the future like when they removed floppy drives, optical drives, iOS 7 thin fonts and lines, etc. Apple does tend to be ambitious when it comes to obsoleting hardware for the sake of functionality. In this instance though, I disagree.

In this case, I think they were trying to go for a fresh look which is closer to iOS. It has nothing to do with preparing for the future. They changed a font – they didn’t change the hardware or the icons. A simple preference could change it back so the concept of “designing for the future” seems off to me. Also, very few Apple computers on the market are Retina compatible. MacBook Pros and iMac are it. Apple’s flagship computer, the Mac Pro, won’t easily do Retina since Apple doesn’t have a Retina external monitor. The very popular MacBook Air doesn’t support Retina either. What percentage of Apple devices sold last year are Retina compatible? 40%? That’s a low number considering the adoption rate of Retina is going to be slow since it requires a costly hardware upgrade. I estimate it will be another 5 years until Retina is on a strong majority of Apple computers in use.

Helvetica’s use on the non-Retina display isn’t so bad for me. But I disagree with the idea they’re designing for the future. I think they’re designing for aesthetics with little care to older devices. If this were a major change to the OS, I would agree. It isn’t. It’s a font choice.

Corporate Applications vs. Browser Rapid Release Cycles

I write this post not as a web developer but instead as a user of corporate applications. The latest and greatest web applications are important and I fully encourage their adoption. Rapid browser releases have accelerated the use of these and for that I am grateful. It does have the side effect of causing heart ache with users of systems which cannot be upgraded as frequently (read: most of them).

The days of “Best viewed in Netscape” are still in my memory but probably not in the memory of young developers, maybe even in their mid-20s. Depending on your browser of choice, a web page may or may not work. Perhaps it would mostly work. Or if you were lucky, it would work perfectly in both IE and Netscape. Web development has improved and for most functions all web browsers will work. Thank you to all responsible parties for the evolution. Unfortunately, I have concerns around web applications which cannot be upgraded as frequently as many web applications can. Corporate web applications.

Yes. Corporate web applications mostly suck. But for millions of people in the world, they're a fact of life. In a day, I may run product configurations in one web application, submit PTO in another, and submit documents for review in a third. These may be bad examples since the latter two very much seem to require IE. But lets say they didn't. Lets also say I had to configure corporate infrastructure components. The examples given are just two random ones, but both are configured largely through a web interface. Both are potentially mission critical to your company and are treated with care. Changes are completed during specific “change windows” or risk reprimand. Mission critical infrastructure components are deliberately not bleeding edge as that lends to a stable environment. Whatever browser support a vendor releases a version with is what may be in place for years.

This mentality flies in the face of the rapid development world of the web. New feature? Push. Tweak to CSS? Push. Okay, maybe not as aggressive as I imply but it sure moves faster than corporate applications and infrastructure which are upgraded every two years. The result is a server or appliance running code which is a year old supporting, say, Firefox 21 and 22 and Internet Explorer 9, 10, and 11. Firefox releases a new major version approximately every six weeks. IE is slower but is releasing browsers at a more rapid pace than before. As I write this, Firefox 28 is running on my computer.

I've focused on just one or two applications. But what if you run an ERP system which is compatible with IE 8? A database administration front end compatible with IE 9 or 10. Appliance front ends compatible with Firefox 21 and 22. Firefox and Chrome auto-update (can be disabled) but then you're left with security vulnerabilities. A rat's nest of browser dependencies quickly appears and the user is stuck navigating it.

Admittedly, most applications do work with future versions. Moving to Firefox 28 when something is compatible with 27 typically doesn't break it. But I have certainly seen compatibility problems with a gap of more than a handful of versions. But a corporation requiring a stable environment cannot be upgrading code every time a new browser is released every three or six weeks. Furthermore, vendors aren't releasing updates when browsers are updated so there is nothing to even upgrade to.

Browser compatibility due to rapid release cycles is hardly the largest problem web developers and corporate IT has to deal with. However, it is a challenge of some size and one which is exacerbated by multiple browsers with frequent releases. I don't really have a solution but I think the answer lies in the middle. On one hand, a release every six weeks feels a bit much to me and generally unnecessary (my opinion). On the other hand, corporate IT is often overly stagnant and rigid (example: resistance to BYOD). Finally, the vendors would need an upgradable front-end patch method which upgrades only the web code and leaves the middle and back end application layers alone.

Web development and compatibility has improved greatly over the past decade. I fear the possibility of icons on corporate applications saying “Best viewed in Firefox 28, 29, and 30 and IE 10”.

Innovative Keyboards

Some digital ink has been spilled recently regarding the unique keyboard layout the Lenovo X1 Carbon has. If you haven’t seen it…

Take a moment and see how they moved away from the standard layout us touch typists know so well. To start, I’m not enamored by the backspace and delete keys being so close together. Perhaps using it will not be much of a challenge but I prefer a separate key or perhaps a modifier (as in the case of Apple) to use the delete action. My next complaint is Home and End where the caps key is. Yes, caps lock is terrible, albeit slightly useful at times. As a lightweight emacs user, I’m a fan of swapping the caps lock and control keys (note: I don’t actually do that today). Short of migrating both home and end to control, emacs users would be stuck on this laptop. A light at the top right of the left shift key implies caps lock functionality exists but it is not immediately obvious how.

Tilde key makes its home to the right of the space bar. Not that I use that key a lot, especially on Windows, but the location is odd. The layout implies it was placed at the bottom right to prevent the need for another row of keys. Which brings me to the function keys.

Watch the video first.

Interesting idea but I want keys on my keyboard. If I wanted a touch screen, I’d use a tablet. Better would be actual keys which change their function. As a non-Windows user, I’m also wondering how that works in Linux. Not for a minute do I believe Lenovo cares about Linux users but it’s a concern I have, especially if I am going to lay down over $1,000 for the laptop.

I give Lenovo credit for trying something new, especially with the function row but it’s not something I think I’d enjoy. If I alt+f4 a window, I want to be sure I’m hitting the proper key. The layout of the home, end, and tilde key leave much to be desired. The caps lock key’s biggest downfall is not its existence but its prime real estate on the keyboard. I doubt home and end are used frequent enough where they merit such privileged placement. Control on the other hand…

My work laptop is a 15″ Lenovo which in general is nice despite its heft and a few other things. Periodically I think about requesting an X1 Carbon since it seems like such a nice system. Unfortunately this new keyboard design makes me think I’m going to wait a generation until the keyboard comes back to earth.