Archive for the 'Usability' Category

The Annual A List Apart Web Survey

If you are involved in the web then head over to A List Apart and fill out. their second annual survey of web professionals.

If you are interested in last years results then look here for a nice pdf. There is also raw data for further analysis for if you want to do a Flowing Data and produce some reconstructed graphs.

BlackBerry ‘hack’ – Email Delivery Confirmation

Whilst on the phone with Vodafone sorting our some email delivery issues with my BlackBerry I learned a new trick.

If you put ‘<confirm>‘ in the header line of an email you send to a BlackBerry you will get a delivery confirmation when it has been delivered to the BlackBerry.

Of course you can send PIN message to a BlackBerry as well which is an ‘instant’ way to communicate with other BlackBerry users. They always get a delivery receipt – a second tick appears next to the message. The only downside it that the PIN is the handset ID which will change when you change handset. This means you have to update everyone. This is easy because there is a handy shortcut to generate the pin in a message. Type mypin and it gets replaced with a link that is another BlackBerry user can pin you with directly.

What other BlackBerry hacks do you know?

Photo credit BBCool_Wes – Thanks.

Launchy

I am a big fan of launchy and I have just counted the ways I love it in a new blog over on the SAP Community Network.

Changes at Enso

I have written about Enso before and have even played around with their API a little to create my own little application and had a go at integrating it with SAP GUI but suffice it to say Thomas isn’t going  to get a ‘perf mary’ command just yet.

There are changes afoot over in Chicago. First of all a Mac port is on the way to becoming a reality. Check out the teasing screenshot.

Secondly it is now free – as in no charge and they are thinking about opening the source code.

Thirdly, the main brains behind the outfit have been hired by Mozilla.

These are all great developments and congratulations to the guys involved.

SAP Community Day Munich

This year was my first community day. I was invited by James Governor to do a presentation and thus the entry fee was waived.

For me the best part of the community day was getting to know the main players in the community better. There was only 150 or so delegates so there was plenty of opportunity to chat to people without being overwhelmed by a crowd of thousands.

I was able to get to know, for example, Mark Finnern, Mark Yolton better. Not only through their town hall session but also in one on one conversations at the event and at the after party.

The speed networking was also a highlight. The first session was a random session and the second was organised around topics of interest. I had a good CRM chat that included David Terrar, Gregor Wolf and Tobias Trapp.

The breakout sessions were introduced and James was on the warpath to make sure that mine was the first of the Redmonk Track as I was originally scheduled last.

WordPress meets SAP

PhotoCredit Marilyn Pratt

I had prepared some thoughts on how wordpress and sap could get along. I also had a sneaky bonus slide or two to explain how this could be used at sdn to great improve the blogging platform there. A great discussion ensued and there were some take away thoughts. This spilled over to more converstions in the after party.

You can see the whole presentation on SDN or on Craig’s ustream channel. It is 2 parts 1 and 2.To be honest I don’t think I made the point clear enough about if you can be Australian and English and both a PHP and ABAP programmer that it could be ok to put WordPress and SAP together. Still we had some fun and people seemed to enjoy it.

I think my wife is right. After living in the UK for over 6 years I can still sound outragously Australian. Rock on Kath and Kim!

I was a little relieved after presenting and after rehydrating was able to enjoy the rest of the day much more than if I had spoken last.

I was able to learn about the whole flex development from a Redmonk track session with Matthias Zeller. This was augmented by a very quick demo of Flob by Thomas Jung later in the day. As an aside Thomas also contributes to the ‘ABAP Freak Show’ on the SDN Kyte channel.

Both of these was given much more airtime at the adobe hacker night.

The afternoon ended with the town hall session by the two Marks and then we headed out to the after party in central Munich.

Bruce Sterling, who had been with us all day spoke and as you can see from this video it was thought provoking.

The hall was acoustically challenged which did not make for the best environment for communicating visionary ideas.

Later in the evening I was able to chat with some the regulars on SDN, Thomas Jung, Thomas Ritter, Ed Herrmann, Gali, Maya, Thomas Otter and a host of others. It was a thoroughly enjoyable day and if you are thinking of attending TechEd next year I would add community day to your addenda.

Enso Release Developer API Prototype

More exciting than news of an investment in a social networking site, Enso have released an API to interact with their humanising software. I reviewed the softwarea little while ago and it is really great. Since that time I have also found Launchy and StrokeIT which both do similar things but slightly different ways.

I definitely don’t have the bandwidth to look into this, as fun as it may seem, but it is a great step forward for them. It is also great to see that you are not limited to python (the language not the British comedians) but anything that can drive an XML-RPC interface.

Good work guys and it is great to note that you have grown the team from 4 to 6.

Enso Beta Products

They also have a great set of beta products: Search, Mapping, TeX markup, Translation, Media Remote…

PDF page numbering

This is something that has bugged me for quite some time and maybe it has bugged you too.

It came up for me again while digesting Hasso Plattners Trends and Concepts document.

There is a disconnect between the numbered pages of the document ‘physical’ document and the virtual document.

If, for example, I want to check a quote that Dennis Howlett has referred to in his blog – ‘SAPs 429 page lecture’ and I want to navigate to page 7 I have this handy ‘Go To Page’ (CTRL+SHIFT+N for those who love shortcuts) functionality in Adobe Reader to do just that.
Go To Page
The problem is the page 7 that Dennis is referring to is that page 7 of the physical document as numbered by what ever grand publishing software has been used to create this document. Adobe takes us to the 7th page of the document, which is a completely different thing. It is, in fact, page iii of the introduction.

What I would like is for a little more connection between those two concepts so that when I ‘Go To Page’ 7 I go to the seventh page of the document as decided by the publisher not the seventh page from the front.

Is that too much to ask? 

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Vote early – vote often

WOOOOHOOOOO! I made it to the next stage of Munich Idol SAPTechEd Community Sessions. So go and vote. The voting application is not FireFox friendly so make sure you use the excellent IETab plugin or use Internet Explorer.

There are some great sessions planned. This is the list of the sessions that got my vote:

  • Continuous Availability of Nestlé’s Enterprise Portal – A Case Study.
  • Exploring PHP and SAP development
  • Implementing Dynamic iView Properties
  • Lessons learned from SOA integration with Typo3 WebCMS
  • PHP in the SAP Ecosystem.
  • Processing workflow tasks on a Blackberry handheld using Java Web Dynpro
  • SOA Testing Techniques for NetWeaver Application Server
  • Test-Driven Development with ABAP OO
  • Unit Tests for Enterpise Portal Applications
  • Zero-administration user management: a perfect configuration?

Maybe you can see my bias peeking through: PHP, Testing, TDD, Portal, Blackberry.

I really am not concerned who you vote for (a vote for my PHP sessions would be nice) but please make sure you vote. The community sessions are your chance to shape the conversation.

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Computers Humane? Pull the other one!

A little while ago I was all for throwing my mouse away. I will have some more to say about that in the future but that led Thomas to post about ENSO and how the command line is making a comeback.

I was game, so I have installed ENSO and been giving it a run for its money. (Well it was a trial version so no money has been changed hands yet.)

I am not yet convinced. It has potential, but it has not made the jump into my ‘must-have’ utility kit bag.

I kindly disagreed with a colleague on SDN not so long ago who suggested that the CLI could be a way to increase developers productivity. Now, while I agree there could be many ways to increase SAP developers productivity, I didn’t think that the command line was one of them. The main reason I didn’t agree with Puru was because of the context switch involved. Here I am coding in SE80 or SE38 or SE24 and all of a sudden I have to switch to some other console and type a command in which I have to remember from memory and get exactly right. I am sorry but that argument doesn’t work for me.

Thomas, of course, reminded me that SAP has a command line built in. It is one of the best parts of working in SAP. You can go up to that transaction code box and enter your code and whammo – it’s like a Second Life teleport – you are in your new transaction. Prefix your transaction with /o and you get a new session. Prefix it with /n and you reuse the current session. If you leave out a prefix then it tries to run the command in the context of the current transaction. You can use dot notation to transverse the accelerator keys so ‘.mwd’ will take you to Utilities(M)->Worklist->Display from the SAP Workbench (SE80). (note the M is from the German word for utilities – Hilfsmittel) This can be very useful to get to a menu path very quickly. You can get your cursor into the transaction code box with a CTRL+/. All in all, a very powerful little box. In fact when the new ‘Apollo’ gui was first unveiled on SDN, one of the comments was: ‘Please don’t take away the transaction code box’. Quite. Don’t.

I have said all this to describe how useful the ‘command line’ can be. I generally have a love have relationship with command lines. I usually want to be in the mode that I am not. If I am creating a database I want a lovely gui. If I am trying to update a clients website I want to do something simple like ‘svn up’, which will take the latest code from the repository. I am not against the command line. In fact I am for it. What I dislike about the command line is the ability to remember all the little syntaxes and switches and the inane minutae.

This leads me back to ENSO. What I like about ENSO is it prompts you as you type, in the same way that google suggest does.

ENSO sits between you and every application you have and can work with (almost) all of them. To invoke ENSO you hold down the capslock key and start typing. This leads to some pretty contorted finger movements especially when hitting the tab key to complete a phrase.

So you start typing ‘CA’ and you get the following options: ENSO calculate function

This is very useful as you:

  1. Don’t have to remember the whole command
  2. Can get to where you want to go in about 3-4 key strokes

Some of the basic functions that ENSO performs are:

  1. The calculator trick + – / *
  2. Changing case
  3. Turning on/off caps lock (this key has been taken over remember)
  4. Cut, Copy, Paste

These are available with every ENSO product. I tried the launcher product which has additional commands like:

  1. go – switches to a window or tab
  2. maximize / minimize
  3. open
  4. learn as open

OK. So lets look at how useful some of these functions are. Did I use them and what did ENSO do to my system?

Let us start with the calculator trick. It is acually quite neat. You have 4+9 on your page, you highlight it, type CA with caps lock held down, release and all of a sudden you have 13. If you want a little sum then add = to the end of your sum and low and behold you have 4+9=13. All very fast. I know you can do 4+9=13 in your head. The beauty is that this is available everywhere. In your financial app, your photo editor or your text editor.

The other function I found most useful is the CAPS change function. When coding I like to have some keywords in CAPS. Mostly SQL keywords and not all editors I use support this. SAP has a keywords upper case setting in the pretty print config and PSPad has a change case function built in. Eclipse doesn’t though and I do like my select’s laid out so they are easy to read. So ENSO made it easy to convert:

Select userID, firstname, lastname from users order by lastname

into

SELECT userID, firstname, lastname FROM users ORDER BY lastname

and I am a happy coder.

The upper case function

One of the other key features was the learn as open. This enables you to teach ENSO a command to open some resource. I have shortcuts to particular SAP transactions that I use to make it faster to get to the transaction, system and client I am wanting to use. For example I have a shortcut to ‘SPRO’ on the config client, ‘BSP_WD_WORKBENCH’ on my CRM dev client and ‘SE80’ on my ECC dev client. (Sorry for the jargon – SAP techies will understand. If you didn’t don’t worry – just think of them as bookmarks to URLS)

I created commands in ENSO to open each of these systems and it works a treat. No reaching for the mouse. Just OPEN DEV and off you go.

This all sounds pretty good and yes it is. Let me describe the downsides.

Firstly all the ‘learn as’ commands are stored as favourites in Explorer, in the root folder. As you added more it does tend to get untidy.

Commands in favourites menu

Secondly, it did tend to reuse the same window for new commands. So if I had something important running in one browser window it clobbered it and loaded the result of the command there. Apparently there is a setting in Explorer to work around this.

Thirdly, it always used Explorer. This is probably because it is set as the default on this machine and I need it that way for SAP development. It would be nice to choose which browser to use in ENSO though.

Fourthly it died a couple of times when I used it in the SAP Standard SE80 editor – doing a simple calc command. ENSO curled over, restarted and collected information for a bug report. This was quite impressive in itself. I sent off the info and the ENSO guys responded quickly. I gave them details about how they could get a copy of the SAP Editor from SDN so they could reproduce this.

In summary – are computers humane? They are improving.

Does ENSO help? It is a good step in the right direction and I will be interested to see what else comes out of their lab. Particularly when you are able to use python to extend the base functionality. Perhaps Thomas will get his wish of being able to give Mary a pay rise from the command line.

Is the command line making a comeback? If if can be made usable then yes. If it remains a puzzle wrapped in a enigma then no. Let’s hope we can get the best of a gui and a command line all in one.

[Bonus link: Google command line]

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symfony PHP5 framework » symfony 1.0 released

symfony PHP5 framework » symfony 1.0 released

Rock ON!

More later… I am very interested in symfony.

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