Final last words on 3.1 (for now at least :)

Andrew Clarke (andrew@plinth.demon.co.uk)
Sun, 22 Feb 1998 15:21:38 BST


Ok, as one of the more vocal 'anti-3.x' brigade I think it's time to
voice my last words on the subject (since everyone else has :).

First of all I'm not anti White Pine, well not very anti anyway. I
rather like 2.1.1 which is of course a White Pine product, and yes I'm
comfortable with it, know how to deal with it's nuances (and bugs) and am
on the whole happy with it, and I was actually looking forward to the
next version (and was somewhat sceptical of those who were beta-testing
it saying it's not very good). Then 3.0 was released, and I downloaded
all 10 megabytes of it, installed it and had a shock. It was different,
*radically* different. I couldn't figout out how to do such mundain
things and change my CU nickname (Edit, Current Profile. Nothing like
being logical) and it was buggy. Not just slightly buggy, but seriously
buggy. It would crash on being launched, it would crash after a few
minutes of battling with the user interface to make it take up less
space, it would crash when connecting to a reflector, and eventually it
would trap the NT quickcam drivers causing NT to halt, so I stopped using
it and recommended others to do the same.

I'm not asking White Pine to defend 3.0, in my opinion of a professional
programmer it was release too early, with too little testing and with
enough bugs to satisfy the insect house of London zoo. In short in my
opinion it *was* a disaster.

Then 3.1 was released, which is faster, more stable, has the 'Manual
Dial' function and other improvements. And I still don't use it.

The reason is simple, I absolutely can't stand the user interface.
Actually that's not quite correct, I can't stand certain huge chunks of
the interface, and if you'll forgive me I'll list my reasons why:

1) The chat window, it's tied to the main display and although you can
minimise the amount of space the video pane uses, it's still an ugly
mess. Most other things can be dragged off the main pane, why not the
chat window?

2) The audio controls, I don't use CU audio, I've never gotten it to work
with any degree of sucess and always have it disabled. So WHY can't I
elect not to have those large, pointless audio controls visible? Even a
newbie Visual Basic programmer should be aware of the interface issues
since it effectively halves the available height of the participants
list, which (ironically enough) can be dragged off to the desktop.

3) The Participants list, why is it now so hard to use? The 2.x
participants list is a pain in it's own right (lots of people on a ref
and the unless you're running at a high resolution you can't see the
people on the bottom) but at least it was clear who was a lurker, and who
wasn't. In fact when it's coupled with the audio controls the
participants list is actually *less* useful to use than 2.x simple
because you can't see anywhere near as many as you could before. If this
wasn't flagged as a problem during user testing then you're using the
wrong users to test it.

4) The Video pane, a potentially interesting idea, especially for those
who don't like the 2.x 'windows everywhere' approach, but handled less
than optimally in my opinion. My biggest bugbear with it? It's too
inflexible. Sure I can drag the video windows to the desktop, and yes I
can resize them dynamically (at last), but once there they're a pig to
handle. Attempt to drag them using the title bar is an exercise in
frustration because they snap to a position where the mouse is in the
centre of the window which is counter intuative (and counter standard
Windows standards too). I've yet to be able to find out how I can get
the stats on participant in a useful manner (packet loss, current send
and receive rates etc) withough going through right mouse button hell.
In short, could do better.

5) The Bugs. Build 21 had the resending chat bug, 25 has the 'no send'
bug, both occasionally have problems sending video using the Cornell Grey
codec to non-3.1 users (why? The grey codec should be set in stone by
now). I know this isn't an interface issue, but it's important enough to
warrent mentioning.

Now by now you'll either have be down as a luddite or some idiot who
doesn't like reading helpfiles, which is fair enough, but I've had DOZENS
of people actually take the time to email me with pretty much the same
grievences with 3.x as I have (prompted by my anti-3.x web page and funky
animated button that Jason likes so much :), and dozens more on IRC who
feel the same. In the circle of users who I hang around with (ie, non
corporates) the majority don't like 3.x for most of the above reasons.
White Pine may be less interested in our opinions now, but we should at
least be listened to (or more appropriately, know we are being listened
to). After all, I as a member of the John Q Public brigade may also have
some input into the videoconferencing needs of a very large
multi-national petroleum corporation (they use Intel Proshare BTW).

Just before I finish my rant, let me compliment White Pine's programmers
about some aspects of 3.x I *do* admire. I really like the H.323
support, the improved audio codecs, the improved White Pine Color codec
(it now works!), the improved MJPEG codec (which 2.1.1 can use too, nice
:), the 'no-close' fix (I think it's fixed anyhow) and the multitude of
other internal changes that have improved thing. As a programmer who
relishes low-level work I take my proveribial hat off, now someone hire
some interface people who know what they're doing :)

And then to the future, the CU ActiveX control is intriguing (ActiveX is
dead, don't you read the polls? :), though a smattering of CU Java Beans
would tickle me in lots of interesting ways too, of course you could
always do a Netscape on us and release the code under a GPL-like license
(porcine aviation anyone? :).

Jaded as I am, I am feeling somewhat more confident over CU 3.5 (or 4.0
or whatever) than I do over 3.x. By now I'm sure White Pine are pig sick
of gits like me telling them where they went wrong, and call me
optimistic I'm sure that CU - The Next Generation will be something I
will actually want to upgrade to (you're not going to get a penny out of
me for 3.x however, no matter how awkward it becomes trying to survive
when 3.x continues to have 'issues' with 2.x clients). I don't feel that
accomodating we whingers is that techincally challenging (unless it's
that badly written :).

So to finish, if anyone hears me saying "3.1 sucks more than an unweaned
seal-pup" on IRC, be aware it's in the spirit of product improvement.

Here enteth the rant, you may now go onto your regularly scheduled
program of unsubscribe requests.

Andrew Clarke - aka Os - Luddite Extrordinare - Spelling Optional

--
Andrew Clarke - "If Jesus loves me, why won't he swallow?".
PGP Public Key available on request
"Having your nuts nibbled off by a Laplander, that's a way to die."
 http://www.plinth.demon.co.uk/ - Nothing interesting that way lies