Monday, July 24, 2006

Full Screen Ponderings and the Nature of Shareware

(Note: It's late and I can't be bothered right now to go through and check for spelling errors and missing words, so please excuse any poor grammar.)

During the coding of the new full screen mode for Scrivener (still unfinished, grr), I suddenly realised that I'd made a silly mistake: the new keywords panel in Scrivener is a HUD panel, much (read "just") like the keywords HUD in Aperture. HUD panels look fantastic in full screen, and pretty cool out with normal windows, too. My mistake was that although the HUD panel looked great in the new full screen mode, you couldn't actually do anything useful with it. You use the HUD panel to assign keywords to a document by dragging them from the HUD to either the document in the binder, the document's header view, or the document's keywords list - none of which are visible in full screen mode. Whoops.

Of course, I could just disallow viewing of the keywords HUD in full screen mode, but then there would be absolutely no point to it having the HUD look. Instead, it got me thinking: perhaps there should be a way to assign keywords in full screen mode. But what would be the best way of doing it? Full screen should be a "no distractions" environment, so I didn't want to bring in too many other visual elements. But then I had to question, what does "no distractions" mean in the context of Scrivener? Really, it just means that you don't want to get distracted by other programs, by e-mail, by the internet and so on. It doesn't mean that you don't need access to other parts of Scrivener. This got me thinking more: what are the bare essentials that you would need in full screen, so that you could work on one document at a time without having to leave full screen unless you wanted to start outlining? In other words, if you wanted to concentrate on writing in full screen, what would you need?

Well, you wouldn't need the synopsis (index card) - that is more for outlining purposes. You could add that when you came out of full screen, and full screen should not be about worrying over the wording of a synopsis. And you wouldn't need the references table, because if you want to open up references then you are going to need the main window or another application. But you might want the notes, so that you can refer to your ideas and scribblings. And you might want the keywords list, because as you write, you might think, "I've just added Emily to this scene, I better add her name to the document's keywords."

Thus, full screen now has an optional HUD that allows you to enter notes and keywords. On top of this, of course, you can always fade the background to view other windows (or Scrivener's main window) if you so wish. It looks pretty swish, I think - screenshots tomorrow, if all goes to plan.

My other thought for the day is this: why is it that when users spend big bucks on a piece of software such as Microsoft Word or Adobe Photoshop they do not expect regular updates adding killer new features, but when they spend only a few dollar on a piece of shareware, they expect regular updates and regular new features? This is not a dig at my users in anyway, who have helped shape Scrivener into something I truly love from something with which I was not entirely satisfied, I am just genuinely curious. Actually, though, I think the answer is obvious. There is no way you can get near the developers of MS Word or Adobe Photoshop (actually, that's not entirely fair; the MS Word developers do keep an interesting blog on the MS site - but there's no way you are going to influence the direction of Word). Whereas, with a shareware app, you might find something that you find has some potential for you and you can actually contact the developer and try to sway him or her. Either way, I'm not complaining. Much of the swaying I have had has made Scrivener into a better program. But there will come a time when I will have to sway a little less, and write a little more.


Blogger Kukkurovaca said...

I like a nice empty full-screen interface (though I obviously wouldn't object to an optional panel, as I could turn it off). For me, the metadata stuff is in a whole different brain compartment than the ortho-text stuff.

I think you're right about the urge to influence shareware developers. A few hours of working with word tends mostly to encourage a state of resentful acceptance and denial, whereas a few hours of working with something as interesting and useful as Scrivener makes tends to make users think about the experience that they're having, and inclines them to believe (hopefully correctly) that the designer who made such a cool program might well be interested in ideas about how to make it cooler.

Hopefully that doesn't turn into some kind of demand that you implement my weird little feature right now, so much as a useful process of feedback.

1:34 am  
Blogger kayembi said...

Thanks for the comment. Hopefully I made it clear that I like and enjoy the user feedback. :) Sometimes, as s developer trying to concentrate on a release, it can be overwhelming, but as I said, Scrivener would not be anywhere near as good as I think 1.0 is going to be were it not for the feedback I had for Scrivener Gold. I just find the difference in response towards "big" software and shareware interesting.

When I first released SG on the world and started to receive feedback, I felt that I had to please every user or lose them. That caused SG to bloat and I suddenly implemented weird features that most users would never use such as per-group document templates and buggy, rushed out features such as per-session targets. Of course, this was my fault, not my users'. I think you need a really strong vision of what the software is and what it isn't, so that you can see which user suggestions are really going to move the software forward and which ones aren't right for your particular proram, and moreover, so that you can explain why this is to the user without making them feel that you think their idea is rubbish. In this, I think Blue-Tec (who make Ulysses) have got it right: they have a very strong vision of what Ulysses is and isn't. User suggestions make it in to the program, but only the ones that really fit their philosophy and even then, only after a lot of thought.

As for full screen, full screen will be a big empty interface and you can leave it that way. But if you suddenly want to refer to the notes to your document, or add a keyword, instead of leaving full screen, you can drop the cursor to the bottom of the screen to bring up the tools panel, and click on the "Notes & Keywords" button to bring up the HUD. You can just close it again when you've finished with it. It looks swish, too. :)

8:26 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the implementation of the HUD display, as you describe it, is excellent. Being able to refer to specific notes and apply keywords mid-writing would be very useful.

From your description HUD sounds similar to the full screen mode in the current version of iPhoto. Is that right?

8:39 am  

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