Monthly Archives: April 2011

Then the LAN, Now the Cloud

We use Google Calendar for some things. Who doesn’t? Any Android phone you buy pushes you to use it.

And it’s very cool. Your calendar magically sync’s with the web, available wherever you go.

What’s not to like?

Two decades ago, we touted the LAN. Sit down at any computer in the enterprise, log on and do your work. Super-cool.

Then we rely on the LAN, and when it’s down, lots of expensive people are sitting around.

Now when “the cloud” is down we get the same thing. And, yes, the cloud does go down.

Google says oops

As mysterious and cantankerous as the LAN could be, the cloud is more so. More out of one’s control. Makes me nervous. Am I being curmudgeonly or prudent?

Google unavailable

And though it’s cool that the apps are free, how much leverage do we have over Google to keep it all humming, or fix it fast when it breaks?

Conserving Screen Height: Killing “Height Cruft”

With the onset of HD, monitors are now wider than they are tall. Great for video, but not for computing.

If you’re a developer, consider screen height a limited, precious resource. Conserve it. Trade width for height. Kill height cruft. (Can I coin that?)

Button bars: traditionally horizontal at the top of the app. Can you make it vertical, to the left or right?

Even the traditional menu bar (“File Edit View … Tools Window Help”) crowds you down by its height.

Case study: Amazon’s Instant Video in Internet Explorer. IE adds menu items and multiple button bars at the top. Then amazon’s web-site adds its headers across the top. The video winds up a tiny fraction of its potential size, squeezed by all the height cruft. Not to blame Amazon: there’s a “full screen” button, and F11 in IE takes away a bunch of stuff (if you know about it).

The lesson: when every layer adds its own, it compounds.

Software developers take heed.

As a user, there’s lots you can do to conserve height.

Did you know you can put the Windows task bar to the left or right? I put mine to the left, as narrow as possible. You lose a little of the icons’ descriptions, but mousing over gives them back. It flushes out some bugs, too: some programs start in the upper left corner, winding up under the task bar. (To move the task bar, put the mouse on the middle top edge and drag it to the middle left.)

Most software today lets you move menu bars, and the best ones let you dock them to the left or right, making them vertical. Very nice, though they can truncate text menus. Your word processor has several: don’t live with them crowding you. It’s worth retraining your eye to work with them vertically. (Convince your complaining co-workers, too.)

For working with source code, height is particularly valuable. Source-code flows down, and seeing more at once is better. I have a two-monitor set-up on my desk-top, and my cheap, last-generation NVidia video card lets me turn one monitor sideways. A $40 monitor stand and you’re in business. This has been an indispensable productivity boost for me. Don’t work with all horizontal monitors.

When looking at code, can you bump your font-size down one? You’ll see a lot more.

Update. I promise I’m not making this up: one day after this pontification a client passes along a request to do exactly this: rearrange things to conserve screen height in a program I wrote a couple years ago. File this under eerily prescient or physician heal thyself?