Chandler 0.5 - First Impressions: The good, the bad and the ugly
I've been "using" Chandler 0.4 in the past on Mac OS X. It was intriguing but, frankly, there was so little that could be done that I didn't go beyond kicking the tires. I was much more interested by what I read on OSAF's website on how Chandler was conceptualized and what it could potentially do.
This was several months ago, in the meantime, the devs at OSAF worked, 0.5 was born and I got hired... So now is a good time to go over the app again.
First, the application is much more usable than 0.4. As rough as it still is, it's clear there's been a tremendous amount of work put in this release. Poke around long enough and the basis of a solid calendar app is there: events can be created, the data can be navigated, the left right flow makes sense and the layout is immediately familiar. All of this is good and there's a sense that a workable calendaring app can't be that far away.
Also to be noted, downloading and installing the app is effortless, something that can't be said of lots of open source apps. It's easy to find in the OSAF website and curious users will have no problem finding it and starting to play with it.
I will not go into a detailed list of bugs: there are lots of them and everybody is well aware of this. Here's a short list in no particular order:
- Performance is an issue (not as bad as 0.4 though).
- UI weirdnesses abound (Quit is in File and Chandler menus, About is in Chandler and Help menus, About box displays multiple times, etc...).
- The focus is handled in a consistent but invisible way (the focus stays on the selected day and can get out of view, leading to confusing edits).
- There's discontinuity between the 3 panes: select All in the side bar, select an event in the summary view, switch to Calendar view: I'm expecting the calendar to open centered on the event I just selected but the selection is lost and the calendar gets to today.
- There's little UI feedback when switching from week to day view (confusing especially when there's nothing in the calendar).
- What is the "+" button on the right side of the week days supposed to do?
- Comments attached to an event are lost if deselect/select
... And The Ugly
I was working from home today so Kelly and I were sharing our home office and our unique DSL connection (I really need to buy an Airport base...). While I was off line, I dabbled in Chandler 0.5. At some point, I grabbed her attention and said: "Look, this is the app I'm working on!". Kelly is a Silicon Valley veteran, having worked at WordStar?
, TOPS, Sybase, Netgravity, among others. She's seen her share of demos and prototypes. She looked at the screen, puzzled, then she looked at me, worried: "Is that it?" (translate: "Did you leave a stable job at Macromedia for this?") "This looks like it was hacked by a couple of Unix guys... The UI looks terrible..." I calmed her down: "I know. Well, I guess that's why they hired me...". She went back to her screen more calm, thinking: obviously, Philippe is not going to be out of a job for at least several months...
I'm partly joking of course (though the anecdote is true) and certainly not uncovering something no one knows but, as the App dev manager, I need to stress this: the first impression of Chandler is that the UI looks just terrible. Misalignment of widgets, clipping of text, mixed styles, inconsistent icon size, etc... all that needs attention. The quality of rendering also is terrible (no alpha blending of sprites, aliased curves, text not alpha blended on bitmap backgrounds, etc...).
It's a "skin deep" view of things of course but that's one that is important: we need to win the heart of a large number of users early on so that a fair number of them will turn to contributors to the project. They need to feel intrigued, excited and eager to use Chandler. Right now, the UI look and feel is too high of a barrier for even casual adoption by enthusiasts (heck, we're not even using it in house...) and we need to do whatever it takes so that this barrier fades away. Better then, we need to make the UI attractive, something that will draw users and developers in.
I know that the App team has what it takes to deliver just this and I just can't wait diving deeper into the project myself. As I saw in Kelly's eyes, we have a lot of work in front of us.