Stephen’s Statements A little bit of everything from Stephen Duncan Jr, a Software Developer in Portland, Oregon

Saturday, June 26, 2004

“Crazy” Ideas on Government: Episode I

This will be a ongoing topic. This isn't really about political issues. This is about structure of government: philosophy and civics. It's about ideas that generally don't receive much discussion in that civics class you probably took in high school.

Proposal: All national elected government positions should be voted for by the whole population, rather than on a by-state basis.

Reasoning: While federalism has its purposes, the representation by states was primarily a product of the fact that, at the time of the founding of our nation, individual states did have some sovereignty. They could easily have decided not to join the Union without a constitution that respected that sovereignty. In modern times, however, the national government is now where people primarily look to fulfill the necessary roles a government performs. People move more, and feel tied to their state less. People participate and are interested in the national government far more than state or local governments.

Advantages: Potentially, a significant decrease in localized pork-barrel projects. It would free congressman to vote for what's best for the nation, not what's best for their home state/district. It might also increase voter interest in elections for positions other than President, as people mostly on pay attention to national politics.

Disadvantages: Too hard for voters to know everything about the candidates. The media attention that makes a presidential race work in America can't possibly be stretched across all members of congress being elected in a given election.

Compromise: It's clearly too far-fetched to elect our Representatives at-large. Senators, however, might be feasible. A Senator was initially intended to be a representative more of their state government than of the people, but since the Constitution was amended to proscribe direct election of Senators, that purpose no longer applies. So why not know make the Senate the chamber of congress representing the people nationally, rather than by state? Obviously, a lot of theory work on how apportionment should go with this change would be required. At a minimum, I think some number of senators, perhaps additional ones, should be at-large national senators, rather than representatives of a particular state.

Tuesday, June 8, 2004

OS Consistency?

How important is it for an application to be consistent with the native Operating System? And exactly what does that mean?

This is brought on by work on a new default theme for Firefox, in a peripheral fashion. In a lot of the talk I read about User Interface design focuses on having the app be consistent with the OS's look and feel.

I think a lot of this started with Macs. Mac users are near-fanatical about how great the interface is on their OS. While a lot of it is eye candy, that doesn't make a very convincing argument. So the other facet they can trumpet is the consistency and intuitiveness of the interface. So, as great cross-platform applications come out that Mac users wished to use, they had to complain about the inconsistent look. How these apps just didn't fit in.

The phrase, however, is look and feel. It seems to me that only the "feel" needs to be consistent. The purpose is for user's to be able to use your application without any difficulty. But this isn't enough to make those Mac user's happy. But at least for those of us on Windows or Linux, we have a variety of apps that look quite different. Not even all Microsoft apps look like each other: how similar is Windows Media Player 9 to Internet Explorer 6?

In fact, of course, a unique look for an application is a major branding advantage. You want your application to be memorable and identifiable. Additionally, you want it to by stylish. It's not easy to accomplish that while trying to make your application "fit in" with the OS. Not to mention, what exactly does that mean? It seems in the case of the old Firefox theme, it meant copy the look of the default browser of that OS. Does it make sense to let your competitor define how your application should look?

So far, my conclusion is that most OS's (or desktop environments), such as Windows (which one? 95, 98, 2000, XP, Longhorn?), KDE, or Gnome, haven't yet achieved real consistency anyway, so over-worrying about "fitting-in" should not be the primary concern in UI design at the moment. What do you think?