Don’t get me wrong, it’s an awesome tool for sharing digital media, and it’s free, so you can’t really complain about it. But it’s ugly. Like really really ugly. Ugly in the way it looks, and more importantly ugly in the way that it works. Ugly to the point of making you only want to use it when you absolutely have to. So ugly that it makes me want to actually pay them for a good looking and nice to use version, instead of having to use the free damn ugly and user unfriendly version.
The main problem for them is that it’s written in Java, most likely for source sharing with the Windows version. But code sharing isn’t an excuse for a shoddy user interface. Shoddy interfaces are usually due to shoddy development practices or a lack of user interface engineering experience.
Let’s start with the first thing that appears when you open the application, a little window prompting you to sign in. The text all over this window seems to be just randomly placed and aligned, with some text right aligned with the window edge and others centre aligned, spacing between each seemingly randomly selected. The “Not a member of SpinXpress2 yet?” text for example is right aligned between the “Forgot your password?” text and a button, which are bother centred, with all three having different font sizes and different vertical spacing. It just looks dumb and amateurish.
The “LOG IN” button, what should be the most significant button in the window, is butt up against the right edge. And buried under the gaudy orange and green logo and tacky “GET SHARE PUBLISH” text, in the top left of the window, is a very small unlabelled button, that you miss if you’re not looking for it. It’s actually a second login button. The “LOG IN” text that appears on the right is some kind of link to this other button.
And why “LOG IN” in capitals? If it’s a text prompt, why not “Log in” or “Log In”. Speaking of “LOG IN”, nobody uses “LOG IN”. Ever. It’s either “LOGIN”, or most sites these days use the more user recognisable “Sign In”. There’s a “SIGN UP HERE” pseudo-button underneath it, so it doesn’t make any sense.
Now I’ve run the application previously, so my email address is already in the Email field, but it’s disabled. Why? Why can’t I enter a different email here to log in as someone else? And if there’s a reason, then why doesn’t it tell me? Or failing that, why put it in an edit box, make it static text!
But my favourite part of this window is the almost a quarter of the height of it that is just blank at the bottom. It makes you think you’re missing something.
So instead of logging in, I decide to check the preferences to see what else I can do. Surprise! Not only isn’t there a preferences dialog, but there isn’t even a menu bar, so you can’t even quit the damn thing! Later I figured out that the red traffic light on the window title bar actually quits as well as closing the window. Very un-Apple guidelines.
And strangely, behind this window is a floating graphic with a thermometer in it. It has no window controls, so you can’t close it, resize it, hide it or move it. Once you’ve signed in, sorry, logged in, the thermometer continues for a few seconds until the main window opens. Why? It only takes a few seconds. Just change the cursor or something. A better idea might be to open the main SpinXpress window, and login from there and show a thermometer from there. You can only ever login as your original email address, so why not just take me straight to my workspace?
So now we come to the main window. The first time in, a large window text pane will appear on every single page you look at, asking if you came here from Ourmedia, and explaining what SpinXpress is all about. Problem is, it takes up most of the window, and hides what’s underneath it, including most of the FAQ. A menu bar has now appeared as well, but all you get is a really badly thought out File menu.
This window is slightly better layed out, but it looks like it’s using WebKit or similar to layout each of the right hand content panes, which is probably why it looks so ugly. Text regularly gets painted over by graphics, doesn’t fit in the pane correctly, and looks like a badly designed web page.
The left hand pane (or it a web frame?) at times changes the background to almost the same colour as the item text, a shade of blue, which means you can hardly read it. Why they thought a menu needed to be blue in the first place is completely beyond me, let alone the background being the same colour! And considering the right hand pane looks like a web page, these left pane items look like hyperlinks, so they’re a little disconcerting when you click on them, no knowing what to expect them to do. It would be nice if the font was slightly smaller though, so you can actually see the text without the tips of the descenders being clipped by the item underneath it.
I then clicked on Share Media, Groups, New Group in this list, and it prompted me to set up a new group. But it wouldn’t let me cancel it, either with clicking on another menu item, using the standard cancel keys, or via the menu bar. At this point you are locked into creating a group, regardless whether you want to or not. You can however at this point hit OA-Q to quit.
I could go on for hours detailing all the problems with the user interface, many of which are simple no brainers. So it begs the question, is anyone testing or running any kind of quality assurance on this thing before it goes out the door? Certainly not for the Mac version. And this is the scary part. What developers don’t understand about user interfaces, usually corresponds with what else they don’t know about the platform they’re developing for. Mac developers know that the Mac UI is an integral part of Mac software development, as much a part as say accessing the file system, interfacing with the help system, managing NIBs and other resources correctly, writing to the Foundation and AppKit frameworks etc. Mac developers know about the user interface guidelines.
But then so do Windows developers and even Java developers. The Java Look and Feel Design Guidelines came out in 2001, and in the edition I have here, page 62 talks about Layout and Visual Alignment, none of which seems to have been adhered to in the Mac version of SpinXpress.
But does it work? Yes, it seems to work very well. But then I haven’t tested dropping the network from underneath it, force quitting during a transfer, or entering crap into various dialogs etc. So yes, it seems to work quit well, but who knows… And anyway, it’s free so I’m not complaining. 🙂 Yet.