Wednesday 18 November 2009

Two steps forward, three steps back

Alternate title: ARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!

Both of you Gentle Readers may have noticed that I've been away from the blog for a while, and that a few posts that were previously published have gone missing. I've been busy fighting some other fires for a while, and my current network access has lacked the stability and efficiency that local propaganda would have you expect.

This evening (Wednesday 18th) I came across a piece of nifty-looking software, MacJournal by Mariner Software. It looks great — software that would let me compose/revise blog posts offline, in a native Mac app with nice organizational features and so on, at an attractive price, and with a 15-day evaluation period thrown in, just so you can try before you buy.

"Cool," I thought; "I'll be able to multitask on my shiny new MBP that's coming Any Day Now™."

Downloading and installing the eval copy went just as you'd expect; drag an icon into a folder, wait for the "Copying" progress dialog to go away, and it's done. Standard Mac user experience; nothing to see here, folks — unless you were expecting a Windows-style "Twenty Questions" installation.

I decided to do a really simple, trivial first exercise: select the five posts I'd written so far in a tutorial series; add the keyword ("label" in parlance) tutorial to them; save them back to Blogger. No animals were harmed in the performance of this experiment, and very explicitly, no content was directly, intentionally edited. (Note the qualifiers; they're important.)

(insert "train wreck" sound effects here.)

The first two parts were (relatively) unmolested; they didn't have any code blocks in them. The latter three did, however, and those were completely deformed. Numerous span elements were added, particularly around links (MacJournal seems to think links shouldn't be underlined, ever). Other formatting was changed; in particular, code tags were replaced by spans that set the font size to 13 points.


It's going to take me a bit of noodling around in the software to figure out how to change the defaults to something that makes sense (at least for me), and until then, I'm back to editing in the browser. If the evaluation period expires before I'm happy with the configuration, then I'll comply with the license and blow it off my system. I'd really rather not do that; the feature list looks good, the interface is clean, and best of all, I don't have this Could not contact line underneath my editing area as I type.

I understand that MacJournal, like most apps, has default ways of laying things out and working with things. I'm well aware of the difference between an "import" and a "copy" of something. But... I believe very strongly that the first rule of software, as medicine, should be "First, do no harm" — and that includes "don't mess with my formatting without even putting up a confirmation dialog asking my permission!" I really don't think that's too much to ask, or too hard to implement — and doing so would a) make a much more positive initial user experience by b) showing that you've thought things through well enough that c) your still-potential user isn't looking at an hour or two of careful, detailed work just to get back to where he was before he touched your product &emdash; or, rather, it touched his work.

Like most Mac users, I've gotten spoiled by how well most software on this platform is thought through to the tiniest details. Like most, I get annoyed when I have to deal with Windows or Linux apps that simply aren't thought through at all, apparently. (Spend a week with Microsoft Office or, even better, Apple iWork on the Mac; I dare you to go back to Office on Windows and be happy with it.) To run into a Mac app that fails such a simple use case so spectacularly (granted, in its default configuration) simply beggars explanation.

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