Flutterby™! : "Skins"

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2001-03-07 02:24:03+00 by Dan Lyke 5 comments

I've been diddling around with Ogg Vorbis 'cause I figured I should finally see what all this digital music fuss is about. So I downloaded a few players, Sonique is the one that finally worked. Kinda. It advertises "a killer user interface". Thanks, I can do without Ted Bundy on my computer. "Hey, let's reimplement all the usual widgets, but make them buggy and unrecognizable!" A decade and a half ago I thought the introduction of standard windowing systems would stagnate user interface design, but between web "designers", Netscape 6, and this crap, I see now why that's a good thing. Down with skins. Please.

[ related topics: Music User Interface ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:15+00 by: camworld

Actually, I see it the other way around. The skins/themes features of software lets people design better/replacement interfaces for software that might otherwise suck hard. It's too bad the default Netscape 6 theme sucks so hard, because it could easily be an example of what good and functional Ui design is all about.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:15+00 by: Dan Lyke

If it worked that way I think I could be for it. But the nature of much of the suckiness in Netscape 6 is deeper than the theme, it's in the underlying structure of the widgets, and I suspect down into the core object model that makes up the bloated mass, and changing that isn't going to happen with graphic design tweaks.

Sonique sucks again because of the implementation of the skin, not so much because of the skin itself. I could adjust to their wacked abomination of a heirarchical menu structure if it didn't tend to shit itself and lose track of which screen elements it's supposed to be drawing at any given time.

I guess my real complaint is that giving control to the Zeldmans or Ideos to put a "new look" won't solve flaws in the underlying technology, in fact mostly when this is done it's in an attempt to gloss over major flaws in the structure. "Hey, we didn't know how to get it right, so let's pretend that's a feature!"

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:16+00 by: scm

Most of the suckiness of Netscape 6 is that they shipped pre-beta software and called it release quality. Netscape 6 corresponds (aprox.) to the 0.6 version of the Mozilla source. They're past 0.8 now, and it is much faster and less buggy than Netscape 6.

I'm drifting off topic here. Netscape 6/Mozilla is themeable because the design choice was made to make the UI cross platform. The themeability means that It can look like Mac app on a Mac, a Windows app on Windows, etc. The UI still needs work, but it is being worked on. As a bonus, you can make it look like a Mac app on Windows.

I don't think there are any underlying flaws in the Mozilla UI (other than it's current beta quality, and it does tend to be a resource hog), and I don't see what is lost by giving UI control to the user.

Back to MP3 (etc.) players, I don't know why they are built the way they are. I don't know who decided that media players needed to be skinnable, and use non standard GUI (generally roll your own) toolkits. It seems to be a big selling point, since Microsoft has followed suit with Windows Media player 7.

Giving Joe six-pack control over the skins on his apps is bound to have some not-very-eye-pleasing results, but it also lets you replace some poor UI choices that application designers make.

I'm getting long winded here. sorry :-). What are my points? I think Netcape 6 is a bad thing, but Mozilla is a good thing. Using non standard widget toolkits is generally a bad thing, but most of the "standard" one's don't seem to offer the developers as much control over the look and feel as they would seem to want, and I see Mozilla a one possible answer to that.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:16+00 by: Larry Burton

I thought the skins thing on the MP3 players was to appeal to the #1 buyer of CDs, teenagers.

#Comment made: 2002-02-21 05:31:16+00 by: Dan Lyke

All the bugs in Netscape 6 that bother me are subtle things that seem to be philosophical. For one thing there's the immense size, and listening to the Mozilla folks talk it doesn't sound like that's going down any time soon.

The problems I have with Netscape 6 (that aren't related to Microsoft deliberately trying to cripple other browsers working with Windows) are that the buttons redraw slowly (even though the HTML rendering engine seems to snap), mouse highlighting on the text fields is just plain weird, the edges aren't bugs, they're just places where people weren't thinking about usability right. And they're intimately tied to the skinability because they're all about reimplementing widgets. And they're not things that skins are going to solve, because they're about how the skins are implemented.

And yes, Larry, I think the skins on MP3 players are designed to appeal to the teenagers who grew up on Sesame Street editing styles (as later adopted by MTV). It's a shame that software designers are bracketing my demographic, the new Windows revisions are clearly targeted towards the senile drooling geriatric crowd, music software and the Mac are going for the "we hate our parents and want to be |{3\/\/L" kids.