Microsoft Expression

Today I was checking out the Microsoft Expression Studio. Overall, I’d say it looks pretty good. Some of the user interfaces even look really nice in the screenshots. I think that I like this new trend towards dark interfaces (also in Aperture and Lightroom).

I watched one of the promotional videos on Microsoft’s site to get a feel for the software, since I wasn’t at a Windows machine to try it out on my own. Two parts of the video struck me as funny. You can find the video here:

We’re not trying to reinforce any stereotypes here about how designers are artsy and laid back while developers are nerdy and uptight.

Designer and Developer

Here they were showing us how easy it is to make buttons. Did they really mean for that to say ‘butt’?

Did they mean for that button to be a butt?

Clippy’s Revenge

Just plain funny:

Transitioning to FontExplorer X

Close to a year ago now I made the decision to transition the 34 computer lab (all Macs) that I manage to a new font management application. We had been using Font Reserve for many years. It worked (kind of1), but was ugly and students found it hard to use. The biggest problem though was that the application hadn’t been updated in several years. In fact, the last update was a [poor] port to OS X from the OS9 version.

Last Spring we updated all of the computers to Tiger. Extensis (the manufacturer of Font Reserve) had just released Suitcase Fusion, which was to be the consolidation of Font Reserve and Suitcase. We got the memo, Font Reserve is dead. I had high hopes for Suitcase Fusion, which had gotten some good reviews, so we ordered up a copy and I settled down to testing it.

Unfortunately, I was less than impressed with Suitcase Fusion. I didn’t like the way that it looked. I found that it was really hard to actually view the fonts. This becomes a real problem when you have over 2,000 fonts. It’s an especially big problem for graphic design students who are just starting out and don’t yet know a lot about different typefaces.

The biggest problem that I had with Suitcase Fusion was it’s lack of options in regards to actually managing the fonts. All of a user’s fonts are stored in this location:

/Users/<username>/Library/Application Support/Extensis/Suitcase/Suitcase Font Database.suitcasevault

This of course is a special format that can’t be read by any other program. Notice how the vault is stored in the user’s library? Okay, now put yourself in a computer lab environment with networked home folders. The vault is stored in the user’s home folder which resides on our server. Every single user has their own vault, stored remotely. There is no option to reconfigure this. In the past with Font Reserve, we were about to create a ‘font database’ that resided on each computer in the /Users/Shared/ folder. All of the fonts were local, and every user had access to them.

So unfortunately, this lacking feature was a complete show stopper for me. To be honest though, I really wasn’t very impressed anyway. I used the program on my own computer and it only took about a week before I started seeing web pages and HTML emails covered in funny and unreadable characters. After some research it turned out that the culprit was a double activation of Helvetica. Deactivating the extra copy solved the problems. The thing was, I had been using Suitcase Fusion the whole time. One of the major reasons to use any font management software is to prevent your computer from activating duplicate fonts!

Enter FontExplorer. She rushed in to save us all from the miserable hell of the broken promises made by the font management companies. She was our knight in shining armor…Well, okay, so not exactly. There is however a lot to be excited about in FontExplorer X.

The user interface is very sleek and easy to use. It’s modeled after iTunes, so anyone who can figure that out can use FontExplorer. That’s most people I think. FontExplorer makes it really easy to view the fonts. This helps ease the problems of deciding which ones you want to use in the first place. There is also a built in search function what works really well. Considering how smoothly the program runs and how easy it is to use, I thought it was the obvious choice for our labs. Font Management is an odd concept if you don’t know much about computers and fonts, so anything that makes it easier to see and understand is huge.

Since we started using FontExplorer in the labs, there have been good and bad things. On the good side, students seem to love it. They seem to find it much more intuitive than Font Reserve ever was. They also like how easy it makes it to browse our fonts. This is important, because we have the entire Adobe Font Folio library which comes with over 2,200 typefaces.

On the bad side, I found out the hard way that you get what you pay for. First of all, FontExplorer doesn’t work with networked user accounts. At least it doesn’t right out of the box in the way one might expect it to. I devised a way to script around this, so eventually we did get it working (More on that in the future).

There are also some really bad issues between FontExplorer and Quark 6.5. I wouldn’t say that this is exactly a FontExplorer issue per say. I think that it is somewhere between Quark and FontExplorer, and probably more Quark’s fault. Either way, it’s been really difficult dealing with these problems and trying to troubleshoot them. There just isn’t currently any real solutions, beyond moving to Quark 7. That’s not an option for us right now.

So, a year later, I guess I’m still on the fence about whether or not moving to FontExplorer was the right decision. It’s a really nice program that has some amazing features. In some ways, FontExplorer is light years ahead of all of the other font management software. This isn’t a small feat, since the other applications have been around for a long time and FontExplorer is still in its infancy. There are some reliability issues to be concerned about, mostly with Quark. I really hope that Linotype continues to aggressively develop this application. If they smooth out some of the kinks, it could be one of the best font management applications on the market. As stands now, it’s a mixed bag.

  1. Actually it didn’t really work. You were supposed to be able to ‘temporarily’ activate fonts, meaning they would automatically deactivate when the user logged out. As it turned out, this feature was broken. With our huge number of fonts, and more and more being activated over time, we had all sorts of seemingly unrelated problems with the computers. For example: Microsoft Word would take several minutes to open while it scanned all of the fonts. Eventually I solved this problem by creating a really ugly hackish script that essentially replaced the entire Font Reserve font database with a default one each time a user logged out. This effectively deactivated all of the fonts. Boy was it ugly though and there were also the inexplicably long logout times…

Excited About Vista?

The other night my mother was asking me if I was excited about Vista coming out. She wanted to know if I planned on upgrading soon. When she asked what I thought about it, the first thought that came to mind was, “Who cares?”

The reality is Vista doesn’t bring anything to the table that I haven’t already been using for quite some time. Even though I don’t own one, I spend most of my time on a Mac. I manage an all Mac computer lab for work, we don’t even get to touch PCs. I keep a PC at home for two reasons: to play games and to keep my PC skills up to snuff. Tiger has all of the features that Vista is bringing, and more. This article from Mac User does a good job of highlighting that:

The idea of upgrading a Windows machine gives me a case of cold sweats. It’s just no fun. And in Vistas case, everything I’ve read so far points to the fact that users should be prepared for having to do a lot of tinkering. Most drivers are not yet released, and many that are are still in beta. Apple just announced that iTunes users should wait to upgrade until the next major iTunes update.

I’m not excited about the user interface changes in Vista. To give credit where due, I’ve heard a lot of good things about the changes (I have yet to touch Vista). The problem is, I don’t want to have to “learn” another OS. I’ve spent enough time with Internet Explorer 7 to decide that I hate the new no tool bar. It didn’t bother me so much until I installed a developer extension (made by Microsoft) and then spent about 15 minutes figuring out how to display the thing.

The other breaking point for me is the cost. Vista is really expensive. I know that Apple seems to update their OS just about every year, but at least the $129 price tag is reasonable and they give you features to be excited about. I don’t think that any of the lower end versions of Vista are going to be what I’ll want, so I’ll probably end up with something more expensive. Right now my employer offers $5 copies of Windows XP Pro for ‘working at home.’ I hope they’ll work a similar deal for Vista eventually.

The way that I see it, the only thing that Vista really offers is Direct X 10. Unfortunately, much of the hardware doesn’t support it yet. More importantly, we’re at least year away from seeing some games that make decent use of it.

Don’t mistake me, I will upgrade to Vista eventually. My career in computer support requires it. And, as soon the Direct X 10 games start coming out, I won’t have a choice. But right now, I’m staying put with XP. It’s proven to be ‘okay.’ At least we know it’s demons well and how to fight them.

Bill Gates Interview with Newsweek

Some of the assertions by Bill Gates in this interview are really quite astounding:

As usual, John Gruber has done a great job of highlighting the all the ridiculous points (and proving them wrong):