Scott Hanselman

Shadows of future versions of Outlook?

December 20, '03 Comments [11] Posted in Programming | Tools
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An interesting story out of Microsoft Research.  From an internal alias, but OK'ed for public consumption:

Microsoft Research

When Words Collide:  Organizing Your E-mail Inbox (feel free to share this message with your customers!)

The daily flood of e-mail messages is like a baby's cry — insistent but mysterious. You genuinely want to understand the meaning, but you can't always grasp the language.

Gina Venolia, a user interface engineer with Microsoft Research, wants to make it easy for you to understand even the most complex conversations. She's designed an e-mail interface that focuses on conversations instead of messages, putting what's most important about communication first - the people.

"I like slogans," says Venolia. "And for quite a while my slogan was, "It's about people!" Venolia says that she thought about this a lot after producing a batch of applications that were supposed to be about communication, but just created more layers of intricacy for the user to decipher.

Then, about five years ago she attended an all-day meeting. Doodling on a paper napkin, she came up with a list of all the different ways she could send information digitally: e-mail, attached documents, instant messages, shared files, FTP, Web sites, the telephone. "I ended up with over a dozen things. And each one of them had its own tool and its own quirks. I thought, 'something is wrong here'," said Venolia.

To find some answers, she started observing and surveying people to learn about their e-mail habits. What emerged was some organizing principles about how to communicate digitally. She discovered that people focus on conversations instead of a single message. She also found out that digital conversations aren't as ephemeral as spoken conversations. People often want to preserve them or turn them into action items.

As a result, she designed an innovative interface, code-named Grand Central, which organizes messages into conversations, and allows people to easily store and retrieve conversations.

Focus On Conversations
Current e-mail tools are like looking at a conversation with a magnifying glass. It's easy to see the details but difficult to get an overall picture. In Venolia's interface you view conversations as a whole instead of as individual messages. The initial message is shown at the top, and the most recent reply at the bottom, followed by the text box to input your response, similar to a chat format:

Grand Central UI
The Grand Central Conversation Interface

She found out that about half the time you use e-mail, it's a no-brainer. Someone sends you a message, you reply, they reply back, and it's done. But if there's nine people on the 'to' line, and each one is throwing his or her hat into the conversational ring -- making decisions, offering suggestions, providing links to back up their story, or jumping in to IM you -- it becomes harder to understand who is saying what to whom. In Venolia's interface you can see what a message is a reply to by looking at the heavy black lines that join the messages

Finding an email conversation weeks or months after you've finished it can be maddening. You might look for it under a person's name, but maybe that person isn't someone who you do business with regularly, so you don't quite remember the name. Or you could look for it by date - but if it was months ago, that could be a problem, especially if you aren't sure whether it was March or May or June. There are multiple ways to remember facts and information. So why shouldn't you be able to store and retrieve it in multiple ways? Venolia's interface allows you find conversations by date, person and other attributes or to label your conversations using keywords of your own.

Conversation Clues
Grand Central UIIn a conversation where a message gets multiple replies, a simple chronological view of the messages isn't enough to convey the relationships between the replies. For example, if a message gets two replies, and each of those two got a single reply, your conversation would now have branches. Grand Central handles these relationships by showing lines along the left edges of the messages. You can see at a glance how many branches a conversation has. To help you follow just one person's views - say your boss or the company guru -- Grand Central uses colored lines to connect replies from the same person.

It doesn't stop here. Venolia has also designed the user interface to give you some metrics about your conversations - you can find out at-a-glance just who you communicate with the most, and whether you are the originator, recipient or a participant. You can also see a complete list of the attachments, URLS, and images that are found in all your messages, in case you don't want to hunt through past e-mails to find that one document or Web site reference that you want.

Grand Central is designed to help people keep track of conversations as they're happening, easily integrate different digital communication methods, turn a conversation into a follow-up task, and find and reference past conversations and the digital information that comes with them.

Her innovative concepts show future promise for a medium that has become our number one communication tool. "My goal is to make things better for people who use e-mail, which is just about everyone. E-mail overload is everywhere. People can spend over an hour and a half on e-mail a day. And it's not just knowledge workers — it's everyone. Grand Central is just a picture of how it could be made easier in the future," said Venolia. 

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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My Tablet PC - the Verdict

December 20, '03 Comments [4] Posted in Reviews | Speaking | PDC
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My Toshiba M205 Tablet PC came today.  It's all thanks to Shaun McAravey at SoftSource.  I did some work with Shaun and they paid me with this Tablet.

(Aside: If you ever need some serious .NET consulting or training, talk to Shaun and Ben Hickman over at SoftSource.  Shaun was instrumental in introducing me to .NET back when it was codenamed "Lightning."  Anyone remember that?)

Screen: The screen is only 12.1 inches, but it's got 1400x1050 resolution.  Let that sink in and do the math.   That's ~120dpi and it shows.  It's the clearest screen I've ever seen.  Now, just because it's high resolution doesn't mean we need to suffer with small fonts.  You know I'm all about the large fonts.  So I'm running large icons and 14 pt. fonts.  But those extra dots sure smooth out with ClearType. 

Power/Memory:  The battery life on this thing is nuts.  It is really smart about shutting the Hard Drive and slowing the Processor down.  It's a 1.5Ghz processor and it's got just the right amount of kick.  I got only 512MB of RAM, but apparently I can put up to 2 Gigs in this.  Mark my words, I will have 2 Gigs in this one day.

Applications:  Toshiba REALLY included some nice Applications/Applets that I'd call OS Power Toys.  They act a lot like the way ALT-TAB works.  For example, FN-F2 cycles through the power modes, including High, Low, Normal, Presentation and DVD.  It's VERY intuitive.  You can also suspend-to-RAM and Hibernate from these keys, and TURN OF THE TOUCHPAD.  Yay!

Size:  It's the perfect size.  Not for a complete desktop replacement for a developer, but I could totally switch to this machine for my personal non-dev box.  (Of course, I still installed VS.NET 2003 on it).  The screen is only 12.1 inches, but the whole thing doesn't weight more than 6 or so pounds, so it was a good tradeoff.  Also, remember the resolution is CRAZY for 12.1 inches.  I'd say it's about 80% of the size of my Compaq Evo.

Look and Feel:  The optional docking station is very cool since presents the machine almost as a portable screen.  When you go to a meeting you just take the whole PC with you in Tablet mode.  The whole thing feels very sturdy, but there is always that concern that the thing that connects the screen to the body might break one day.  Still, I've used all the Compaq Tablets and a bunch of others at PDC, and now that I have this one in my hand, looking back on the other Tablets, this is the most sturdy I've used.

Other Cool Stuff: Rather than having the Stylus stuck somewhere in the screen, it slides out from the right side of the base of the system.  You pop it in and it clicks in secure.  Push on it and it pops out.

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Technology Predictions for 2004

December 19, '03 Comments [3] Posted in Web Services
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.NET Developer's Journal has posted Technology Predictions for 2004 and they'll be in the print magazine this month.  My predictions are included as well.  Here they are:

  • The year of the smart personal object: Microsoft's Wrist Net (MSNDirect) watches will launch, introducing SPOT (Smart Personal Objects Technology) to the world. Previous technologies have failed miserably. (Remember the Java Ring?) Since watches are the only piece of personal jewelry that folks will wear consistently (not counting iPods), a smart watch that presents the weather, traffic, instant messages, e-mail, stock quotes, appointments, etc., will be the perfect complement to an increasingly information-cluttered world. For those who can't decide between a PDA, a phone, a Smartphone, or a smart PDA phone, a smart watch for only $179 may be just the ticket. Expect to see lots of .NET Web services pop up around Wrist Net. As a diabetic, I expect to have one that tells my wife my blood sugar level wirelessly ASAP!

  • The year of the WS-I: The Web Services Interoperability Organization's Basic Profile will start to take root. It's been out a while, but this will be the year when there will be no excuse for not being WS-I compliant. As chief architect of my company, I'll tell you that we'll be much less likely to do business with vendors that aren't presenting WS-I-compliant services.

  • The end of unmanaged business code: Good luck to you if you are still creating new business functionality in VB6 or ASP in 2004. With the introduction of .NET 2.0, there will be simply no good excuse to avoid .NET. Expect to see 90% of all new meaningful projects on Windows to include a .NET component.

What are your Technology Predictions for 2004?

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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The Retirement Cycle begins again...

December 18, '03 Comments [0] Posted in Programming
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Time to start thinking seriously about Windows 2003 if you aren't already!

Today, Microsoft announced the retirement schedule for the Windows 2000 Server family of products. The schedule will give businesses, resellers and system builders a clear guide for the products’ phase out, which will occur in stages over more than two years. From April 1, 2006, the products will no longer be available.

But, the software will start disappearing from some sales channels as early as next April, which means some businesses in the process of Windows 2000 Server installations must complete software purchases within the next four-and-a-half months or start looking seriously at Windows Server 2003; Microsoft released the new version in April….

Read more: http://www.microsoftmonitor.com/archives/002008.html

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Pattern Master @ Microsoft

December 12, '03 Comments [2] Posted in Speaking | XML
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Holy Crap! 

I'm supposed to be on vacation, but it doesn't look like this news has hit the blogosphere. Ward Cunningham, inventor of the Wiki and general pattern wonk, has joined Microsoft. He's got a wiki page up for tips. I got to meet him on Tuesday and promised not to blog his arrival until he posted it on his site. Welcome Ward! I'll be doing some very cool things with him, but more on that later. In the meantime, check out Testing Software Patterns on the MSDN Architecture Center.

Speaking of wikis, the source code FlexWiki, another .NET based wiki, is available online. I need to dig thru FlexWiki to see if having DevHawk Wiki around anymore makes any sense. [DevHawk]

About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.