Open Source Design: Versions and Forking

It’s almost the new year so I’m getting started early in trying something new.

I moved to using only HTML/CSS for almost all of my mock-up purposes a while ago (see Why we skip Photoshop) . It’s just as fast, interactive, and removes much of the translation issues that that happen when an image is converted into HTML.

While the switch to HTML mock-ups has been good, I’ve continued to encounter the same issues I had with Photoshop images where I have to systematically save new versions of the original source and output.

Versions?

I’ve had many different approaches in trying to version my files.

No index file, just use the HTML list page the web server provides.

  • version 1/
    • prototype.psd
    • prototype.png
  • version 1.1/
    • prototype.psd
    • prototype.png
  • version 2/
    • prototype.psd
    • prototype.png

Or just appending the version numbers to each of the files as you save them.

  • prototype-1.psd
  • prototype-1.png
  • prototype-1.1.psd
  • prototype-1.1.png
  • prototype-2.psd
  • prototype-2.png

Later I end up with a mess of files with version numbers and I don’t really remember what happened changed in each of the versions. This is both true for myself and for anyone else who browsed my designs later.

I’ve also tried creating an index.html file so I could link to all the different versions and describe them but that index file is hard to maintain; eventually getting old and out of date.

Forking?

Oh so you want to participate in the design process? A remix of my mock-up simply means you have to choose a version and then copy all the files onto your own web server and try to get my attention so we can discuss your changes.

Active?

Am I still working on this mock-up or have I moved on? You’ll probably never really know because there’s no easy way to tell. If I have an index.html file then hopefully I put the last active date on it or if I don’t you could use the last modified time in the directory listing.

A New Way!

My new trick that I’ve recently started trying is to use GitHub Pages to host my HTML mock-ups. So far it seems to fix my version and forking problems.

Versions

I’m keeping a simple rule that each check-in must work (I can’t break the whole thing) and I should describe the changes in my commit messages as much as possible so myself and others can understand why the mock-up might have changed drastically.

There is no version numbering to deal with here since git does all the versioning. The GitHub page only displays the latest version, which is a little bit of a setback, but anyone can clone the source and then checkout the older versions locally.

Forking

Not only does GitHub provide a super simple way for people to fork my mock-ups but it also allows me to see what those people are doing by keeping track of the forks and their progress. I could actually incorporate changes from someone else into my mock-ups by merging them in.

Active

It’s pretty easy to see from the source view the last time I was actively working on a mock-up. And you could drop over to my profile view to see what other mock-ups I was more actively working on.e Bonus!

Next

I’m going to try to add some standard pieces to my pages so it’s easy to find the source code and perhaps a README page which quickly describes how to see the older versions of the mock-ups.

Any other ideas?

Thunderbird Conversations

Jonathan Protzenko, who worked with us over the summer, released Thunderbird Conversations the other day.

If you haven’t tried it out already you really should. We’ve been demoing it on the road for quite a while and I’ve been using it as my main way to interact with Thunderbird for weeks now.

Check out the TB Conversations Video for how it works.

Note: Thunderbird 3.3 is required for Thunderbird Conversations

See the Thunderbird Conversations post on the Mozilla Labs site for all the details.

Gathering Facebook Identities from Email

Looking at the announcement of the Facebook Graph API from Facebook F8 it seems like it will be a little easier to work with the Facebook system.

In Raindrop we already have some integration with Facebook in order to identify emails coming from the Facebook system and help you filter them out. But there is a lot more that can be done to help keep your email, Facebook, and other contacts in a cohesive form.

So here’s a quick code example written in Python to grab Facebook identities from emails sent by Facebook. This could be used to gather Facebook identities and then possibly merge those with twitter and email contacts.

First we need to import a couple things.

import email, json, urllib2

Then we’ll need to grab an email message.  I used Thunderbird to save a Facebook notification email message as an EML file locally, I called that file ‘facebook.eml’ as you can see below.

msg = email.message_from_file(open('facebook.eml'))

Now we have a parsed email message msg object and we want to look for the X-Facebook-Notify header in the email so we can extract what happened.

fb_notifiy = [tuple(t.strip().split("=")) for t in \
              msg.get('X-Facebook-Notify').split(";")]

The object fb_notify contains tuples of information about the type of notification.  Here is an example of an object you might see.

[('event_wall',),
 ('eid', '14102494623'),
 ('from', '21602578'),
 ('mailid', '12bf28cG149a112G63016bG21') ]

Using fb_notify we’ll do a really simple grab of the from attribute because that is what is going to be publicly available from the Facebook Graph.

from_identity = json.load(urllib2.urlopen("http://graph.facebook.com/%s" % fb_notify[2][1]))

Here’s an example from_identity object:

{u'first_name': u'Bryan',
 u'last_name': u'Clark',
 u'id': u'21602578',
 u'name': u'Bryan Clark' }

The from_identity can be used to more clearly identify who Facebook is sending this notification on behalf of and we could try merging this Facebook identity with other identities we already have in our contacts.

I saved all this code into this gist if you want to take a look at it in code only form with syntax highlighting.

Quick Filtering in Thunderbird

Today we’ve released a new add-on the Mozilla Messaging team has been working on for a little while, the Quick Filter.  A new single folder search and filter system that will work alongside our previously released Thunderbird global search.

The Quick Filter add-on is reminiscent of the old quick search system of Thunderbird 2.0  but we’ve improved it in a number of areas.  Here’s how it’s changed from the 2.0 days:

Search Message Types

Unread, Starred, Contact, Tags, Attachments are all types of searches you can toggle to turn on.

A Tag search presents the array of possible tags to help you filter down even more.

Filter Results Count

If your search returns a lot of results we let you know the search bar will let you know how many messages match.

And if even if the search query is too strict and there are no results the Quick Filter will display this inline.

Better Search Type Options

The old quick search tended confuse people because the search type settings were hidden in this popup menu:

In the new Quick Filter we’ve brought those options out every time you focus on the search entry so you always know what kind of search you are performing.

Space Saving Options

Last but not least we’ve worked hard to make sure that if you are using the Quick Filter on a smaller screen it converts down to icons only mode automatically.

Note for Techies: This change was made possible by the CSS  @media rule

Try it out!

You’ll need to be running Thunderbird 3 and then from the Add-on Manager (Tools -> Add-on)  search for “quick filter”.

Give Feedback!

We’re looking for feedback before this lands in Thunderbird as a core feature so any praise and/or comments you have would be greatly appreciated.  Leave your comments in the Quick Filter add-on reviews.

Something you might have already noticed is that this is a separate toolbar just for quick filtering but you can show or hide it as you need it.  Try out the keyboard shortcut and see how it feels.

Thanks for taking a look!

Try other web apps in Thunderbird tabs

Colin Dean converted the code from my post on Google Calendar in Thunderbird tabs and created a GMail tab for Thunderbird.

If you’re interested in trying what a web application would look like running inside a Thunderbird tab without modifying an extension use the following code snippet.

Open the Error Console from the Tools Menu

tools-error-console

Copy & Paste this code into the input entry at the top:

Components.classes['@mozilla.org/appshell/window-mediator;1']
          .getService(Components.interfaces.nsIWindowMediator)
          .getMostRecentWindow("mail:3pane")
          .document.getElementById("tabmail")
          .openTab("contentTab",{contentPage:"http://tinyvid.tv/show/2h9led44g152z"})

update: here’s a text input which you can easily copy and paste the above code from.

Change the provided link ( http://tinyvid.tv/show/2h9led44g152z ) at the end to the web application you’d like to try, like http://twitter.com for example.  Click the ( Evaluate ) button.

error-console

It’s Party Time! ( if you didn’t change the link,  http://tinyvid.tv/show/2h9led44g152z )

its-party-time-in-a-thunderbird-tab

You can continue to iterate the tab application by creating a new click handler, however at that point it might be worthwhile to start with the extension code instead of working in the error console.

Jetpack for Thunderbird

In the hopefully not too distant future Thunderbird will gain Jetpack as it’s new extension model and it will be no longer necessary for add-ons like this these be created but instead a simple Jetpack which can do the same things without restarts or complicated installs.

If you’re interested in this take a look at Andrew’s recent Jetpack in Thunderbird post.

Above code snippet courtesy of Magnus in

Google Calendar in Thunderbird tabs

If you’re a Google Calendar user like myself you might want to check out this really simple add-on for Thunderbird, which should be available as an official add-on for the coming Thunderbird 3 release.

The Google Calendar Tab

As simple as it sounds, this adds the Google Calendar web interface as a new tab directly into Thunderbird.  Creating and viewing events works just as it would in a browser like Firefox. :)

Google Calendar Tab

If your calendar is setup to show popup alerts you’ll continue to see them from the calendar tab while in other, mail, tabs.

Here’s my family Pinochle game reminder alert showing.

Google Calendar Alerts

There is no official release of this extension yet, however you could grab the latest XPI, download and install it into the latest (at least rc1) Shredder release.

More Extensions

It’s easy to get started integrating a web application like Twitter, Remember the Milk, and other sites into Thunderbird.  Once you get the initial pieces you can start working on better integration into your email conversations.

If you’re interested in creating an extension similar to this one, here are a couple links you probably want to check out:

Lightning

This calendar extension only handles a single url for Google Calendar.  If you’re looking for actual calendar integration with different calendars, including google calendar, you’ll want to check out the Lightning Calendar extension which also runs inside Thunderbird tabs.

Raindrop & Jetpack

The other day I did a quick hack using Raindrop & Jetpack to get new mail notifications from Raindrop.  In total it took me less than an hour.  It’s no Joe Shaw hack, so I don’t expect to get in the paper for this but I figured I’d share anyway. :)

This Jetpack checks Raindrop to see if there are new messages and bubbles them up as notifications if there are.  Here’s the source code:

var messages = {}; 

function checkMail() {
 var api="http://localhost:5984/raindrop/_api/inflow/conversations/home?limit=10";
 jQuery.getJSON(api,
               function(data, textStatus){
                 jQuery.each(data, function(i,item){
                   if (item.unread) {
                     if (!messages[item.id] || messages[item.id] != item.messages.length) {
                       var n={title: item.subject,
                              body : item.messages[0].schemas["rd.msg.body"]["body_preview"],
                              icon : 'http://localhost:5984/raindrop/inflow/i/logo.png'};
                       jetpack.notifications.show(n);
                     }
                     messages[item.id] = item.messages.length;
                   }
               });
 });
}
setInterval(checkMail, 10000);

To try this out you’ll need Raindrop installed and running and Jetpack installed in Firefox.

Go to about:jetpack and copy the above code into the Develop tab, then click the try out this code link just below the Bespin editor.

If you don’t want to do all that you can just watch the video below (no sound, so you might want to play some music)

Continue reading

Raindrop

Raindrop Shadow Logo

Today Mozilla Messaging released the Raindrop project

Raindrop is an experiment in the design of a new messaging platform in the open.

What I like most about Raindrop is our process.  We started with some simple designs, created a couple iterations and now we’ve opened up the whole process to share.  This isn’t another email client or a twitter client, we have been designing for the way people communicate on the web today.  And we’re looking to make it awesome.

If you’re a developer or just have lots of patience you could grab the source code, follow the instructions and get raindrop up and running.  But that’s not what we’re launching, we’re launching the next version, the one that we design and develop in the open.  Read that again, there is no download. :)

Design

Starting today, new raindrop designs will be uploaded into the Raindrop Design flickr group for discussion and review.  As designs are ready to be implemented we’ll be blogging about them in the Raindrop Design Blog.

Develop

Discussion of code and extension development takes place on the Raindrop Development Google Group.  We’re currently built on CouchDB, Python, and JavaScript(if you’re trying to get raindrop up and running make sure you read the INSTALL doc carefully)

Extend

From the ground up Raindrop was built as a set of extensions on top of extensions.  This architecture was a design choice so that others could easily continue extend on top of our work.

There are places to add Data Miners which can search messages for regular expressions and User Interface Extensions which can modify the layout and design of messages presented.

Check out James’ video on Raindrop Software Components for more on the extensions system.

Cubed Mail

Lately I’ve been working a lot on the Thunderbird add-ons developers user experience.  Often times designers don’t get to work on developer experiences because developers tend to do those pieces themselves without much design.  With a lot of others I’ve spent a good amount of time working on the whole experience of development, docs, and extension types so hopefully the Thunderbird 3 add-on developer experience will be significantly better.

To get into the user experience of an add-on developer I recently made a Jetpack, Bugzilla Air Traffic Control, to examine what it is like to develop inside Jetpack.  I’ve also been creating a number of example extensions that take advantage of the new code that has landed in Thunderbird recently and learn the pitfalls of extension development.

So in honor of the hacks.mozilla.org recent article called 3D transforms in Firefox 3.5 – the isocube I added a similar hack to my tabbed message example extension.  I give you…

Cubed Email Messages

messages-in-a-cube

To demonstrate the awesome interactiveness that I didn’t add to my email extension I also have a pure HTML demo available.   Try out the email cube test demo for yourself.  This demo requires Firefox 3.5, go get it if you don’t have it.

If you’re asking “why email in a cube,?” then I’ll ask you why not?  This demo reminds me that Thunderbird has all the same Firefox goodness that’s coming out in 3.5 but we have yet to take advantage of much of it.  Hopefully as we make more progress in the coming months we’ll do just that.

And if you’re asking yourself… Is this what Bryan gets paid to do?  Well then we’re asking ourselves the same question; though I don’t think I’m referring to myself in the third person.

The pattern is not full

This past Friday I made my first Jetpack and on Sunday while lazily waiting for chores to finish themselves I posted my Jetpack on userscripts.org.

Bugzilla – Air Traffic Control

For Jetpackers a mid-air collision is an especially scary thing.

Mid-air collision!

So this Jetpack does a pretty simple thing to help you avoid the mid-air collision by notifying you before it’s about to happen.

Mid-air collision warning

For every tab you have with a bug open this Jetpack does a simple check in the background to see if someone else has modified the bug while you were looking at it.

Code

The code for this is pretty simple and in total it probably took me only an hour to get up and running and then a bunch more time polishing things off.  Here’s the break down.

I have a simple regex to find urls that are showing a bug:

var show_bug_regex = /^https:\/\/bugzilla\.mozilla\.org\/show_bug\.cgi\?id=(\d+)/;

Then I check if the url matches whenever a new page is loaded in a tab:

jetpack.tabs.onReady(function(doc) {
  // here we setup our persistent check
  var match = this.url.match(show_bug_regex);
  if (match) {
    init(this);
    this.bug_id = match[1];
    startCheckingTab(this);
  }
});

Also for good measure I do a similar check when a tab is focused, in case the Jetpack wasn’t installed or running during the original load.

jetpack.tabs.onFocus(function() {
  // here we just double check out status
  var match = this.url.match(show_bug_regex);
  if (match) {

    /* if we've already notified then we aren't checking anymore */
    if ( alreadyNotifiedTab(this) )
      return;

    if ( ! areCheckingTab(this) ) {
      // they focused a url match that we haven't been checking!
      init(this);
      this.bug_id = match[1];
      startCheckingTab(this);
    } else {
      resetCheckingTabInterval(this);
    }
  }
});

The start checking function simply runs an ajax request against the bug on an interval.  All that was needed for this was to know if the bug had changed from the last time we looked so we build a url that only retrieves the delta_ts field to create a Date object.

"https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=" + bug_id +  "&ctype=xml&field=delta_ts";

That’s about it.  If you want to check out the source or install it yourself you can go to the Bugzilla – Air Traffic Control page at userscripts.

Negotiate with your users

I always advocate against simple (and especially modal) dialogs in user interfaces because they aren’t there to help the user get past the problem, more like work through the emotional issues the software is having.

Dialogs aren’t the real evil, though they usually aren’t great, it’s the lack of real negotiation.  In the book Getting to Yes it states that you “Make emotions explicit and acknowledge them as legitimate…”, however don’t stop there.

Acknowledge Me!

A useful dialog would negotiate with your users.  Give them actions and power to change their situation.  Don’t ask users to acknowledge your troubles and stop the negotiation there.  ReconnectTry Again!  Even simple actions can help people correct the situation.

question: dualbutton css

How do you make the dualbutton always appear like the last two sets of screenshots (as it does on hover)?

I’m looking to make dualbuttons always show their dropdown button with a real button like look.  This dualbutton reply button is  going to land in Thunderbird 3 soon and I’d like the style to look correct for both Linux and Windows (Mac is using its own button style).

dualbutton-dropdown-hover

However this doesn’t appear to be some kind of toolkit CSS hover issue. The windows CSS is decidedly worse than the Linux right now so that may be a separate issue all together; and if so we can attempt that in the same way we handled the Mac.

Hints, answers, and the like are greatly appreciated in the comments.

Testing RTL in Thunderbird

For bug 484166 we’re moving away from the old search icon  to the newer Firefox search icon .  Included in this change we need to ensure this icon works for RTL as well as LTR.   With bug 481860 offering a way to use css to transform the image I just needed to test that the transform works.

Here are some notes I have from my limited experience working to test application UI in both LTR and RTL.  Please drop a comment if you have better experiences, I’d love to be able to save a bit of time.

GNOME RTL

In the GNOME world to do a simple test of an RTL language you could start up the application with the LANG environment variable set to an appropriate language.  For instance:

LANG=he_IL eog

LANG=he_IL eog

Thunderbird RTL

With Thunderbird I’ve found a number of options to make this happen.

The UILocale flag can be added your command arguments.

thunderbird -UILocale he

However Thunderbird, as compiled from hg, or download nightly likely doesn’t contain the translations needed to run that test successfully.

For the nightly build you’ll want to grab a translation XPI from the comm-central-l10n nightly builds.  You can drag any of those XPI links into the Thunderbird add-on manager window to install them.  (saves a bit of time compared to downloading and installing)

For your compiled builds the process seems a bit longer and more difficult getting the translations from l10n-central built in.  I gave up half way through as there is an easy method out there already, at least for simple testing.

Force RTL Extension

An easy alternative approach is to use the Force RTL extension, which I only just found out about today.  The extension provides an option in the tools menu to trigger RTL mode, which is really a lot better than trying a language you don’t understand.  If all you need is to test layout in an RTL this works really well.

Earth Hour WordPress Plugin

I just installed the Earth Hour plugin for wordpress.  So if you’re trying to read my blog this Saturday during Earth Hour you’ll be getting less pixels than normal.

Earth Hour 2009

After which transmission will continue normally, the same spotty and random posts as ever.

Thunderbird 3 beta 2

It’s been a little while since the release of Thunderbird beta 2 and today we’re automatically offering the upgrade to all our existing alpha and beta users.

thunderbird-logo

Upgrading from Previous Development Releases

At 12:00pm today (12:00 PDT) updates will start to be picked up by Thunderbird Alpha and Beta users.  In the following 24 – 48 hours you should be offered the update if you’re running a previous development release.

Alternatively, you can pick it quicker by going to the menu, selecting Help and then “Check for updates…”

Take a look a the Thunderbird 3.0 Beta 2 Release Notes for more information, we have one additional note for POP3 users.

Design by Committee

I like to look at this painting every so often to remind myself how things can go so wrong even when they seem like they are going right.

If you haven’t seen this image before, the description of the project is amazing.  An effort to find the “People’s Choice” art award a market survey queried respondents from around the globe on what aspects of art they enjoyed.

Results were tallied for various countries and “The Web”, the paintings were created to spec with total disregard for an overall vision / goal / theme and the results are completely unappealing.  I originally found this site via the excellent email on Design from Dan Winship of years back.

U.S.A. - Most wanted Painting

Design & Choice

I was talking with someone about Design about a year ago and we go into the topic of choice vs. decisions, we debated this.

Committees make decisions

Making decisions is the process of evaluating and understanding the options from various possibilities and then merging and pruning the list of possible options until only 1 option remains; which could be a hybrid of the original possible options.

Design makes choices

Making choices is the process of evaluating and understanding the options from various possibilities, then selecting one of the options.  The design process suggests that this selection be iterated on and further choices made.  Part of design choices means knowing that other options are valid but possibly lack a clear expression or vision.

Decisions vs. Choices

The difference between choices and decisions is subtle , some of it has to do with the quality of your ingredients and some of it has to do with compromise at the wrong stage of development.  Is the process all that matters?  A process that is used to constantly create new possible options and choose from those instead of making Frankenstein out of the options given?  The design process will constantly emphasize the goal in the iteration of options leading to a choice.  I don’t think that definition clear, but it’s the best we came up with.

Allowing More Choice

If design requires choices that defines a vision and other designers incorporate that design with their own vision…  How do we create this space where design can make choices according to a single vision and still allow other designers [1] to continue making further choices toward their own vision?  And further, how do you have a meaningful community other designers can make their own?

[1] As in, “Everyone is a designer”, by choice or by accident.

Looking at User Experience for Thunderbird 3

Over the past year the Thunderbird platform has received a large number of updates, however it is also seeing a number of improvements to it’s over all user experience.   In a recent email I tried to write out some of the major improvements that are in the works for the next bird release, here’s a summary of that mail.

Search

With some needed changes to the Thunderbird platform it has become possible to provide efficient full text search over messages and their headers.  This will enable Thunderbird to offer a much improved search experience over the previous search methods.  Search can start over the full text of a message and then be filtered against specific attributes like sender or subject to narrow down the set of results.  We can also offer auto-complete on subjects and people in the search entry to help prevent spelling mistakes and partial matches from slowing down the search process.

Tabs

We’ve been doing a lot of thinking about how people use tabs which lead us to a tab mail implementation that should improve searching, reading, and processing; hopefully also saving that state.  Currently a search over mail will destroy the state of your message list by filtering down the messages in the exposed view.  With searches opening in new tabs your current view can remain intact while you explore your mailboxes in new tabs.   Messages can be opened with a middle click, just like in Firefox, to help you process mail quickly by queuing the messages you’d like to read later in tabs; later you can close your opened tabs as you read each message.

Account Auto Configuration

When trying to setup Thunderbird the details of your email accounts host, port, and security settings are so 2008, lets evolve.  Long in the works has been a better, easier way to setup an email account.  Our design goal was to get an email account setup with absolute the minimal number of questions.

  • Name
  • Email Address
  • Password

With those 3 items Thunderbird can infer all other details automatically, with exception cases handled gracefully.  It has been difficult work to make this happen, but we are well on our way and we know that when we finish it will have been worth it.

Message Archive

Thanks to the recent improvements to enabling cross-folder search we are able to implement an archive system for IMAP and  POP clients.  With a single button Thunderbird users can automatically file messages from their Inbox and other folders into the archive folder system.  We’ve pushed the Archives folder into the list of special folders such that it will sort with your Inbox, Sent Mail, and Drafts.  If you’re interested, take a look at the archive bug for more of the technical details, otherwise just take a deep breath… its coming.

Activity Manager

Notifications and download progress concerning your mail accounts are important events, however they aren’t events that require your full attention.  Earlier last year we looked at how we could reduce the amount of dialog noise Thunderbird generates in order to handle your account details in a more civilized manner.  We took a good look at the Firefox Download Manager and created, what we called, an Activity Manager.   Recent activity on the activity manager has lead to new patches in the review cycle headed toward a coming release.

Theme Improvements

With recent steps forward Thunderbird has finally made room for the Linux Desktop theme space.  I don’t even need to say much else about this change, this list says it all.

And of course lots more

There are many more changes, from the auto-sync offline work to preference cleanups that have happened and/or are still in the works; this list is just a grouping of major areas.  We’ve come a long way, but have an even longer road ahead.

Is George W Bush the worst president?

I’m eagerly downloading the latest Intelligence Squared debate, Bush 43 is the worst president of the last 50 years.  What makes this especially interesting to me is the fact that Karl Rove is participating in the debate the panel, arguing against the motion.

Activity Manager… Activity!

It’s been a while since my first post on the Activity Manager for Thunderbird.  There was a lot of positive feedback from an Activity Manager talk we gave in Barcelona for the EU Mozcamp.  And since that time there has been quite a bit of progress on the Activity Manager code.

Emre recently landed a new “work in progress” patch ( check out the patch in bug 257942 ).  Also there has been a lot of work put into documenting the Activity Manger Interfaces to help other developers properly hook into it and use it.  Please take a look over the interface docs and if you’re so inclined you could grab the patch and apply to a current release, beta or later, to see the current activity manager in action.

Beta 1 Released

David Ascher has a great post about our recent Thunderbird 3 Beta 1 release with info on where you can get it and what it involves.

aboot

This is the blog personality of Bryan Clark. I'm a designer in a world of open source. This blog reflects mostly writing about Design, Open Source, Economics, Beer, Wine, and Dogs. There's more information about me on this site or you can contact me directly at clarkbw@gmail.com.

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