Tuesday, March 07, 2006

eyeOS 0.8.11

The eyeOS project is one that I have been checking in on from time to time. I've been keeping close watch on it because it seems to have a great deal of potential. For those who are not aware, eyeOS is exactly what people have been thinking might happen to the Internet. It is essentially an operating system that runs in your browser.

Now, they have a demo version online, but today, I decided to install their 0.8.11 version on my server and see how it was to work with. First of all, I have to say that this may have actually beaten WordPress for easiest install. If not, it definitely matched it. It was incredibly quick and easy. It was basically the following:

Download the files. Un(tar/zip) them. Upload the whole folder to somewhere on your web server / host. Change the permissions on three folders. Then point your browser at the new main folder, and it starts the install script which only asks you for a password and username. That's it.

Then when you go to your new eyeOS folder on your domain, you see this login page:
EyeOS Login page

After logging in, you are shown a desktop type environment inside your browser:
EyeOS Desktop page

There are several applications buttons on the screen, and I explored through those some. This is a view of eyeEdit (a file editor) and eyeBoard (like a tag board).
EyeOS eyeEdit and eyeBoard

One thing I found interesting about the eyeBoard was that it did function for simultaneous connections (I created another account in eyeOS for a friend and had him log in and type on there also) and essentially worked as a regular tag board or pseudo-chat.

Of course, for more communications there is a full contact book (eyePhones) for you to use, and a calendar system (eyeCalendar) integrated.
EyeOS eyePhones and eyeCalendar

Additionally they offer built in themes, and you can also change the 'desktop' image. This is in the eyeOptions application. I definitely appreciated that because the default scheme was just a touch too light and somewhat hard on the eyes for me. They have two alternate themes built into this version by default, one that is a Mac style, and one that is more Linux like. Amazingly, I could actually see the log out and the trash can when I switched themes :P
EyeOS eyeOptions Changing the Desktop

The only thing that I did notice was this error coming up periodically.
EyeOS Recurring Error Box

This mostly happened when I tried to do too many things too fast (okay, so I was a bit jazzed trying it out). I'd be dragging windows really quickly, or swapping through them, and I'd have this pop up. I just clicked 'continue' and let the script catch up and it was fine every time.

Overall, I really can't express how exciting I think this project idea is. For a long while people have been speculating whether or not we will just start having barebones computers with browsers and that run it all.. and if it were hosted by several main companies, an end user would have their files anywhere, and never have to update their OS. Very nifty.

Probably the most cool thing about this idea: It's not only opensource (GPL) ... but it's made with XHTML, XML, Javascript, and PHP... so this lovely little (only 2.3 megs untarred!!) virtual OS can easily have most Ajax apps merge into it with just a few modifications for interpretation. That said, you need to be using a modern browser to use it.

Very neat stuff. You can donate to the eyeOS project, or you can help out by making little apps or graphics, or various other things any open project usually needs. The new app of the week they are talking about is an add-in blog application.

~Nicole

Cross-posted to take your comments on Beyond Caffeine.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Patents for the Web?

How far will this go? I have read many of the online discussions regarding the new patent granted to Balthaser.

What caused the original panic (myself included) were quotes like the following:

From News.com
"The patent covers all rich-media technology implementations including Flash, Flex, Java, AJAX and XAML and all device footprints which access rich-media Internet applications including desktops, mobile devices, set-top boxes and video game consoles," Balthaser added. "Balthaser will be able to provide licenses for almost any rich-media Internet application across a broad range of devices and networks."


and this headline from Information Week
The patent--issued on Valentine's Day--covers all rich-media technology implementations, including Flash, Flex, Java, Ajax, and XAML, when the rich-media application is accessed on any device over the Internet, according to the patent holders.


From what I can determine from reading the actual patent text (which is beyond ridiculously long) - what they are patenting is ability to create a online interactive web creation application. Does this encompass some existing technology? Likely. Future technology? For certain.

What concerns me is that this definitely allows, and even forces, a monopoly on online interactive web site creation apps. If the patent holds up in court, it will make it extremely difficult for anyone who would attempt to create an online application for creating websites (even if they were to open source it or otherwise provide it for free) because those people would have to license the technology rights to even create an online web site creation app. With the whole Web 2.0 innovation movement, it is so likely that someone would have / could create a better product (I mean truly, the accessibility part of me just cringed at the fact that their web app is flash based and creates flash websites). So much of the new internet, and current technology as a whole, is different. The Open Source movement is gaining in strenght, and the amount of open projects that have been successful is beyond impressive. It feels like taking a step backwards to allow patents on broad-based open concepts like this.

Overall, I find the whole matter quite disturbing.

~Nicole

Cross-posted to take your comments on Beyond Caffeine.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Misleading Resolution

This is one of those topics that bears mentioning periodically - screen resolution statistics are misleading.

Often when people are thinking of creating a fixed-width layout, they are doing so due to what their statistics are telling them. If statistics are saying that 99.5% of their views are from vistors browsing on high resolutions, many people feel safe with breaking out of the box and going above the fixed width recommendation of designing for a minimum of an 800x600 screen resolution. Unfortunately, those statistics are misleading.

To explain why, I'll use myself as a common example of a misleading visitor. The resolution that would read from a visit from me would be 1400x1050. However, that is not the amount of space I actually use when I'm browsing. I like to keep space around my windows so that I can stack things and watch them while I'm working on something else. Like this screen shot I took of my 1400x1050 resolution desktop (image is resized to 800x600 so as to avoid being ridiculously large for viewers who don't use the resolution I do ;)):

Image of a screen shot at 1400x1050 resolution

You see why it would be misleading to assume that just because your stats say I am using 1400x1050 -- that I actually am? The more screen real estate that a person has, the more prone they are to stagger windows just like this. Additionally, take a look at how small my viewport (the portion where your website is actually show, not including the tool bars) is in comparison to my browser window. So... keep that in mind the next time you are tempted to start making a fixed-width webpage just a little bit larger because your stats 'claim' that your users all have loads of screen space.

~Nicole

Cross-posted to take your comments on Beyond Caffeine.

Design Issues

As I've complained about before, I have issues with artistic design. The more I think on it, the more I'm convinced that I must have been attacked by an art supply kit as a small child and been left mentally scarred toward anything artisitc. I remember taking an art class once in school. I remember singing country songs with another person in class... but I don't recall actually doing any art. In spite of my lack of art classes, I can actually draw halfway decent pictures of people, eyes I'm particularly good at. Does this help me with web design art at all? Not in the least.

I've only very recently migrated this blog over here to this new location and am running it on WordPress. However... when it comes to thinking up what sort of design I want to do, I keep hitting mental blocks. The same happens with my personal site. Oddly enough, I don't have this issue with other peoples sites. I can easily design for someone else, I even have marvelous little flashes of artistic flair that pop up when I do... but when it comes to my own sites I have a recurring problem with it. I've tried various techniques to change this, like trying to pretend that I'm designing for someone else. It doesn't work, and I'm still not sure why.

Granted, for any really artsy and graphical sites, I've always sub-contracted an actual graphic artist to do the work. I guess I am just stubborn when it comes to my own website. Regardless, I am finding myself yet again trying to determine what sort of design I want to do. I have lots of things that I'm going to need to do to this new blog still, and coming up with alternate styles and more accessibility for the new blog is a priority. I'm still just not sure what I want.

I'm trying to come up with solutions and ideas for themes that would fit both Beyond Caffeine (this blog) and Website Style (my main website that feeds from my blog). A cross between something fun and lively (stylish?) and something elegant and cafe feeling. At the same time, I tend to prefer clean styles - though I am willing to try something different. Is there a way to blend the two smoothly... that is what I'm going to be figuring out. I plan to reboot them both with a new theme for the May Reboot, so I've got a while to hopefully come up with some ideas. Suggestions are definitely welcome.

Edit: Ironically, the morning after I posted this I came to a realization about the color scheme I wanted for this blog.

~Nicole

Cross-posted to take your comments on Beyond Caffeine.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

More Improvements on IE7 Beta

Microsoft has a new version of their IE7 Beta that will be introduced at the MIX 06 event this month in Vegas. The new beta version, which Andy is calling the IE MIX 06 release, seems to have addressed quite a few of the bugs that were causing issues for CSS in the first IE7 Beta (at least from what I can tell with the screenshots). In her post on the MIX 06 version shown to her and Andy by Markus Mielke, Molly said she is
..very proud to be here today watching history unfold.

I can't help but agree. It is a wonderful thing for developers to see the screenshots given of how the IE7 beta is evolving. Even more encouraging is that they are reportedly trying to fix a few more of the problems in IE7 before the MIX 06 event.

I have to admit that I'm very surprised. Maybe I shouldn't be. Perhaps the fact that I am is an example of exactly how jaded I have become over time toward the Microsoft crew. So, I'll start right off with saying this... I feel bad that I'm surprised you did something you said you would do, but in all honestly, you should understand why that is. IF (*note the slightly hesitant tone*) Microsoft is going to continue to keep making a real effort to better their technology toward standards, then it is only fair that we should all make a real effort to give them a fair shot and not be quite so harsh on them. Okay, enough apologies to Microsoft, I think I've eaten enough hat for one day.

If you want to attend the MIX 06 this month (March 20 through 22), but can't afford the cost - there are a couple of contests going on to get you there completely free. They are open to International entrants, and cover every aspect of getting you there and back so that you don't need anything to go. Keep in mind that there is a very quickly approaching deadline on these contests, as the conference itself is this month.

~Nicole

Cross-posted to take your comments on Beyond Caffeine.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Finished Projects

I've been very busy the last couple of weeks trying to work on three new site designs, hence the slight lack of posting this past week. Whatever possessed me to get myself in the position to have two competition sites due on the same day... I'm still trying to figure out... but finally, I can say that I'm nearly done with all three, and entirely done with the two sites being entered in contests. The only one left is the one I shifted the most time away from - working on my personal site. Go figure. That's just how that happens.

First Things First


Yesterday, I finished up tweaking out the Lovecraft Country website which is being entered in the Expression Engine Shootout contest. The site design is not mine originally, and I'm slated to do a complete remake of the code to strip out the few remaining tables used in the original design. Also, I'll be pulling out quite a few uses of z-index layers which could easily be avoided with good CSS positioning. But, that comes later when I do a full overhaul on the site for the CSS Reboot in May.

For the EE Shootout contest, I had a few things that I absolutely needed to do. The site was using a Javascript image rollover menu bar. I stripped that out and replaced it with a unordered list containing the images and displayed inline. Unfortunately, I first needed to redo the images, because none of them were transparent gifs, and that was important for a menu that was going to flex across a changing image background. Plus, the original text on the menu images was terrible to read, so for some accessibility, I used a more readable font and made the color of the text significantly brighter.
The Lovecraft Country Main Website

The next thing was validation to XHTML. I ran the site through a validator, and found pleasantly few things that needed fixing to bring it up to XHTML 1.0 Transitional. Unfortunately, it will have to wait for the full overhaul to get up to XHTML 1.0 Strict. The only glitch in that validation at all were a few warnings (not errors) from the validator response, and those were caused by some autogenerated scripts from the Expression Engine software itself. Hopefully, when the software is fully upgraded to the current version, those errors will disappear. I then doublechecked the CSS, tossed out a few proprietary rules, and got that up to specs. Then I set to working on the accessibility, and managed to churn it out to nearly a AAA level, and definitely a AA rating.

Of course, one of the biggest time crunches involved was the opening of the forums I had just finished skinning to match the site. The vBulletin powered forums were simple to work with, but they are still acting twitchy with me when I'm trying to implement the new horizontal menu I finished up. So, for now, I'm leaving the menu on the forums static until I can fix that.
The Lovecraft Country New Forums

Lots of things planned for this site in the future, but for now, at least one thing done, and this one is fully entered in the contest.

The Other Contest



Now this contest was for the players of the Castle Marrach online RPG that I play (though I do play far less these days, and that's probably a good thing). They asked us to try to redesign their public Twiki page. Even more fun to do because the current Public Twiki is a full out blank slate. Here's the current design:

The Old Public Twiki

And I just entirely redid it.

The New Public Twiki

I won't go into detail because there was literally nothing there to start with so Everything was done to it. The most interesting factor was that I had to do this using the Twiki wiki system and their codes similar to SSI includes to break out the HTML into chunks so that a non-technical user wouldn't hurt the code.

The only conflict I really had with this design was that I couldn't determine if I wanted the images at the bottom to show through the main area with some transparency.

The New Public Twiki

In the end, I decided not to use the transparency and just let the images slide behind. But, the design was submitted on time (early by a half-day even!)

So... a long couple of weeks, plus working on my primary website redesign which is (thank goodness) nearly complete, and planning for a new seminar on website laws and accessibility... I'm going to just relax for the rest of the night.

~Nicole

Cross-posted to take your comments on Beyond Caffeine.

The Where Should You Travel? Test

YAT (Yet Another Test) I took online. I really liked this one, and I absolutely think the result fits me perfectly. Anyone who knows me well is aware that traveling to Europe and seeing many of the countries there is a dream of mine.

Here is my result:

Train through Europe


You scored 100% culture, 30% social, 31% activity, and 44% adventure!

A train trip through Europe is a fantastic way to enrich yourself with many different cultures within a relatively short distance. The train service in Europe is out of this world and almost always on time. It doesn't lump you together with a group since you prefer to be independent, yet it takes the scariness out of navigating around a new country in a rental car, trying to make sense of the map. The train system brings you from downtown to downtown and there are often hotels within a short walk of the station. You could decide which countries interest you the most and if you are eligible, buy a rail pass in advance to save a bundle of money. Arriving at a European train station is an architectureally beautiul way to introduce yourself to a new city and it sets the perfect scene for your new experience. If you had fun dreaming about where you might go, don't forget to rate my test. Thanks!

About the only thing I don't agree with is the 'scariness' of driving around in a rental car and making sense of a map. I actually prefer to drive myself everywhere, and am very good at reading maps. But I also love trains, so its definitely an appealing idea.

If you feel like trying out The Where Should You Travel? Test, you can find it here.

~Nicole

Cross-posted to take your comments on Beyond Caffeine.