Category Archives: technology

Website performance and Apollo 13 (the movie)

Since the Google announced that they will include site speed in their ranking algorithm, the issue of website, especially, homepage performance, is now something you definitely have to consider. However, many websites already did a good job in the time before. About half a year ago I also did some research and experimentation on that topic.

When improving the load speed of a website there’s a lot you have to care about. A good overview is Yahoo!s “Best Practices for Speeding Up Your Website“. And there’s actually no one solution or a right solution, there are many ways and you have to look at what your websites purpose and the main paths are. For example, if you need a lot of Javascript but don’t need all code on the homepage, you can postpone loading the big chunks.

After some time thinking about different solutions for a project, I was reminded of the “Apollo 13” movie. During the flight to the moon the space module is damaged and they have to shut some part of the spacecraft down. The main problem before going back is that they may not have enough energy remaining. So they need to figure out the best order to turn parts of the system on and not going over a specific limit. Doesn’t that sound similar? It’s almost the same thing you do when trying to make you page load faster.

Clicktale subscriptions – boost your account

Recently I have been invited to beta test ClickTale. Although I can’t tell much about the service itself yet there was one very interesting thing.

What is ClickTale
ClickTale is a website trackting tool that records the interaction of a user with the page, even mouse gestures. So it gives you the possibility to see how a user acts. You don’t know what he thinks since the mouse movement may not be the same as the eye movement. However, since many people move the cursor pretty soon to clickable areas (to not waste time) it still gives you a good impression. The visitors for the site are randomly selected to ensure that not just a special group (the early morning office surfers) are selected for all your available recordings.

Subscription models
As many other web services ClickTale has several subscription model to choose from. They allow for different amount of recordings per day. This is ok for sites where you want to test continuously, but this is not the usual case. For those who do tests every once in a while when a new feature is released ClickTale offers one-time boosts that give you a certain amount of recordings.
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In my opinion this is a very reasonable choice to give the users what they need. I haven’t seen any other web service using this model. Sure, Backpack or Basecamp let you change your subscription each month, but this might not be the right thing sometimes. This is not to say that every service should have one-time boost but for this service this definitely makes sense.

37signals new product launched – Highrise

Chicago based 37signals just launched Highrise, an online shared contact manager. It looks quite similar to their existing and successful applications, Basecamp, Backpack, Campfire and completes the “suite” of easy to use personal and business web applications.

Unlike Google or many others, 37signals does not try to replace currently existing desktop applications, such as Word, with a web version (Word will be around for some more years, so competing against is really hard and maybe even sensless). Instead, they create products that solve problems better than many others by making it just simple, easy and a pleasure to use.

Since Highrise is out just a few hours ago, I won’t give any detailed review yet. However, one feature I already like. Adding categories to tasks:

Highrise_task_categories

This makes the task list a lot easier to view. Also, look at the grouping in GTD style.

A new way to communicate – VOX by SixApart

A friend told me yesterday about a new blog tool on the web – SixAparts Vox.com. First I was not suprised, but after a while I was completely exited.

So what is different with vox.com. It has one feature I always missed and that was for many people a reason to not have a blog – privacy control. It lets you decide who can read your post. Whether it’s the whole world, your friends or your family. Now you can decide who can read your posts and view your photos.

Why is that so important? Many people use their weblogs to communicate with friends and so on. However, weblogs can be read by the whole world. This is not how it should be – only your friends should be able to read it. So, many people switched back to good old email and sent an email to all their friends. Sometimes with very long text and images. Now, you can manage to do that with a blog tool and still get the privacy you had with email.

Another aspect is, that a new way to communicate will emerge. Lets look at an email conversation with 4 people. You write the first one to 3 of your friends, and all 3 reply to your first one. So, how do you integrate their comments in your email to all 4 again. Actually you can’t do that very well and even more, if those 4 reply to all 4 participants, it doesn’t get better. I am sure you had that experience.

I already used Basecamp to communicate with more than one person in an email like way and it was a lot easier than with email. Everybody sees each others comment and will react on this comment. Also, you can view the conversation more easily.

Now with vox.com you can start conversations, not just blog posts, with others using your blog tool and don’t have to use email anymore. Sure, there are still uses for email but this opens up a whole new world.

One nice thought about someone else – Matt’s karma reminders

Matt from 37signals wrote today about his additional reminders he has set up in Backpack. Basically it’s the same note every week “There are things in life that you shouldn’t take for granted”. I was impressed. Yet again I have to admit. I know 37signals since I have been studying at CU Boulder in 2001. Since that time I’ve been a admirer of their work and closly watched their blog. At reboot 7 and 8 I also met David and Jason.

The main reason why I like those guys so much is because the do care not only about their visionary, great work, but also because they changed the way I think about being a part time developer and that there are some more things in life than just your work. That’s what makes them so exceptional and I am happy to have met them.

Matt says thank you on behalf of 37signals to all readers but I think everyone should say thank you for so many inspiring thoughts and for being the way they are. THANKS A LOT 37signals.

What can we expect from Leopard’s Core Animation?

At Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference Steve Jobs and his collegues presented some nice new features of the upcoming OS Leopard. One thing that draw my attention a lot was Core Animation. With it a whole new way of interaction might be possible if developers see them.

One application that already is on a good way but proably couldn’t use Core Animation yet is CoverFlow, a nice application to flip through your iTunes albums. For people who remember the cover art, and I think many people do, this is a pretty way of searching what they want to listen to.

This is only the beginning, I assume people to change the way we work with folders, files, images. Maybe this will lead us someday to something like the scene in “Disclore” where Michael Douglas moves around files in a virtual space.

WriteRoom, Darkroom vs. Word

Last week two applications caught my attention. WriteRoom (Mac) and Dark Room (Windows-clone). They both do share the same concept of distraction free writing. The only thing you can do is write, no highlighting, no bold or italic, just plain writing.

Especially after reading this wonderful article about managing you daily office life I tried the Mac-version. I really have to say that I did like it a lot. You just type in what comes to your mind and don’t care about layout. That you can and have to do later. However, even after writing just two or three things I changed the way I wrote. I paid more attention to the style of my writing so that even without formatted headings you can do a lot with basic text layout.

So is it a replacement for word? Yes and no. Sometimes I just want to type in stuff and word will not be the tool to layout it at the end, e.g. when writing emails. However, as I neve used layout techniques to a high extend I tried the Word full screen feature. This is almost the same as with WriteRoom, it doesn’t show anything but text and grey background. Then I set up my keyboard shortcuts to have some for heading 1 to 3 and that’s all I need now. It saves the same purpose of distracting free writing for me since there are no toolbars and so on. So, give it a try and see for yourself how different writing can be.

Screen Resolution – 4:3 vs 16:9

In his new Alertbox Jakob Nielsen talks about his new findings about screen resolution and imporved productivity when using big screens. His recommendation is to use a basic layout optimized for 1024×768 and make it liquid so it will adopt 800×600 or 1280×1024. The most important thing in his alertbox for me was that there is a

need for a new paradigm in the future

.

The reason behind that is not only the screens getting bigger and bigger. There is another trend in screen resolution going on for a while that hardly gets noticed. Many screens do not fit onto the 4:3 layout of applications and web sites anymore. Since many laptops have been optimized for DVD playback or Apple sells the cinema displays designers have to think about different layouts even more – how to build for 16:9.

Offline we still use the portrait format for writing and sharing information. We have books in that format, newspapers and the plain paper are sold in portrait. On the screen we have been used to a landscape format. Since the early beginning of TV we have been accustomed to that format and now this goes on with computers. A few years ago first cinemas and then home TV moved to 16:9 format instead of using 4:3. That was because our eye’s viewing area is landscape instead of portrait and wider than high.

So how do we handle this situation? We have to accept that we no longer have controll over the screen size. Sure, we may write applications and design web sites that share the least common deliminator. But would you really like to have a web site 800×600? That’s where Jakob Nielson’s suggestion comes in place – make liquid layouts that will adopt to a lot of different sizes and proportions. You may not get every case but it should be able to be viewed in at least 5 to 6 different orientations and sizes.

Windows on MacBookPro – which software do you need

Last week I bought a MacBook Pro because I can now use Windows XP on it as well. I had to wait so long, since I need Windows only for 4 applications, that do not exist in Mac and probably will never be.

Many people do now write on how to install Windows on the Mac. I would like to focus on one thing that is also important. What software do you need on your Windows installation besides the ones you really have to install (the ones that don’t exist on Mac).

Besides that I think it is hard to tell which software you will NEED – but you can make a list of software you DO NO NEED (on your Windows installation).
- DVD Player
- PDF Reader
- different browsers
- CD/DVD burning software
- Printer driver
- …

The reason behind that is, the more software you have available on Windows the less likely you need to switch to Mac – but isn’t that what you wanted to do?