Archive for User Experience

Web for seniors now live

bigscreenlive site

Web does not exclude anyone. While most web 2.0 sites/services are targeting the young, BigscreenLive brings a special service for senior citizens.

UI challenge of creating an interface for seniors is big. We had a great time working with BigScreenLive team in developing it. For developers on the project, putting themselves in the user’s shoe was not easy. After all an apparently simple task might be challenging for seniors. The touch screen interface was also a new for the team. Pramati team had good learning on how to make software interface easy to use. The BigScreenLive team was great to work with on this very interesting project.

Another highlight of the project was use of Ruby on Rails. ROR came very handy in this case where the requirements were extremely loose. It helped us iterate very fast, quick to and fro, and sometimes bring changes in less than 3 days.

Read product review here.

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Netgear agreement with Dekoh

ReadyNAS Photos

Pramati Technologies recently signed an OEM Agreement with NETGEAR, Inc. Under this agreement Dekoh Media Sharing Platform will be shipped with ReadyNAS product targeted at home consumers market. Home users who are experiencing explosive growth in their digital photo collection can buy ReadyNAS ($399 on Amazon now for 500GB) and they will get easy-to-use ReadNAS Photos, which is rebranded and customized Dekoh Photos.

Users can easily import, organize and transfer photos on their PC to their NAS storage for lifelong archival and also sharing with friends or family. Dekoh Photos will enable users to selectively share photos with who they want and no software installation is required for those who would see the pictures and they would be served directly out of NAS.

For those of you technical, who would like to know why Dekoh, here are a few key points:

  • Dekoh simplifies setup required to make NAS content accessible from outside internet, even when the NAS is behind firewall or DSL (no static IP address). Earlier, home users had to install additional open source software, obtain dynamic IP, open ports, etc.
  • Dekoh gives better user experience with its Ajax interface, which today’s web 2.0 users have come to expect. NAS by itself has limited CPU power and memory for sophisticated user tools.

More in my next posting on Dekoh architecture and how it can play a central role at digital homes where device-PC-Web should come together for better user experience.

More and more, hardware vendors are finding that Web 2.0 technologies can be a good way to improve the end user experience of their devices…read posting by Om Malik.

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My interview at blog.Lifebeyondcode.com

Rajesh Setty has published my interview with him Behind the scenes – Dekoh; Interview with Vijay Pullur. I have talked about several topics like our history, why Dekoh?, how is it different from Adobe Apollo and Google gears, enterprise and SaaS ISV use cases for Dekoh etc. Thanks Rajesh for interviewing me and publishing it.

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No need to go beyond the browser

Rich Internet Applications bring a new dimension of richness to web applications. While there are some who are skeptical about RIA value for end users there are others who believe that it is the Future Direction of Applications.

While most people agree that browser is a universal client and in a comparison of Ajax vs RIA – Ajax still rules, there is one prevailing thought that to do anything on the desktop you need to go Beyond the Browser.

This is not true. 

In fact by using browser as the client for RIA as Dekoh does, it is possible to provide a seamless user experience for web and desktop applications. Take a look at this screen shot from Dekoh Photos it is showing the local file-system in a AJAX UI.

Such applications also have the other advantage of gracefully degrading when internet connection is not available. An example of this is Dekoh Calendar. If the user is connected to the internet Dekoh Calendar synchronizes events with Google calendar in both directions. If the user is not connected, the calendar continues to work well locally, just that the sync happens the next time user connects to the internet. This kind of seamless user experience for offline and online operation for an application is possible only when the user interface is in the browser.

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RIA – is it “Rich Interface Application”?

Stephen O’Grady of Redmonk has written this good post Too Rich For My Taste: The RIA Q&A questioning the value of Rich Internet Applications to end users. Some of the observations are  very accurate. Two of them related to Internet Applications are very important:

1. We spend more time using browser based applications  than thick-client desktop applications (exceptions are developers). Browsers are universal client program people are comfortable using.

2. End users are happy using current web interfaces. In the recent years AJAX has made it even better. There is no real need for making application interfaces richer. Don’t fix what is not broken.

The big vendors of RIA, Adobe (Apollo), Microsoft (Siliverlight) and Sun (JavaFX) seem to be making excessive emphasis on richness of interface and pushing their technologies forgetting the above crucial points. The richness of interface is highlighted so much in the demos and talked so much about in their marketing that RIA can be interpreted as “Rich Interface Applications”.

Is there a reason why richness of interface is played up, although RIAs are meant to provide richness in 3 dimensions?

I think the 3 big vendors have a problem with “Internet Applications” part of RIA definition. Internet Applications imply using the browser as the client. Adobe Apollo and Sun’s JavaFX do not run inside the browser, so point #1 above is not in favor of them. If it is not about writing super cool UI Silverlight has no place, so point #2 is not in favor of Microsoft Silverlight.

Does this mean RIA has no role? Should you be a skeptic the way Stephen is?

I think RIA has a big role to play connecting the web to the user. RIA provides a way for web to interact with the user in more ways than current request-response model.

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Adobe’s love and hate for browsers

Adobe has 2 of the most popular browser plugins (see Common plugins for Firefox). Flash is by far the best way to deliver multi-media content to web users because of 2 reasons.
1. Same user experience on all platforms and browsers
2. Ability to stream

Flash Player Penetration is 98% of Internet viewers. This is great for any software! Adobe loves browsers.

Then why did Adobe choose to write Apollo outside the browser? Which clearly puts them On A Collision Course With Web Browsers. Here is why Adobe hates browsers:

From a end user perspective Flash has remained at (in)famous “skip intro” on web sites or as a media player to watch videos or listen to music inside the browser. Flash is not as popular for writing web applications as AJAX is.

The main reason for this is the “back button” in the browsers. Hitting the back button unloads the Flash application losing the application context and any interim session data.

Back button is one of the most used features in browsers. It is hard to change user behavior. This has restricted Flash usage to just media delivery on the web. This I suspect is also the reason why Apollo did not leverage existing browser plugin installations, instead decided to keep it outside the browser chrome.


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Desktop web applications and browser debate

In the last week there has been a lot of debate about Desktop RIA applications. Starting with Alex’s article on Read/Write web Adobe Apollo – On A Collision Course With Web Browsers and then a discussion Which is better, an offline Web App or an online Desktop App?. There were other articles including Zimbra offline announcement and a big discussion on need/use of offline apps here. Finally, I read this nice post from Mike Chambers of Adobe on Why Apollo?. He explains very clearly what Apollo is.  There are a few problems Mike outlines about delivering applications in the browser. Here are my thoughts and ways Dekoh overcomes them.

Conflicting UI:  Since the time Netscape introduced Back button, it has been one of the most used features of the browser. Most sites and web applications work fine with back button and expect people use them. How many popular web applications have you seen that do not work when you use back button? Back button is a problem for Flash based applications, it is not a problem for “web applications” in general.

Distance from the Desktop: For any browser based application there are 2 portions, UI on the browser and a server that serves the logic. When you include the server as part of the desktop platform (as Dekoh does), the distance between desktop goes away. Applications can very well render UI on the browser, as well as integrate with other native desktop apps.

Primarily online experience: Accessing exact same online application in a disconnected mode (Firefox 3?) is different from writing a desktop application that can provide some functionality offline and sync with online counterpart (like ebay demo of Apollo or Google calendar demo of Dekoh).  The online experience problem is relevant to former type. Writing desktop applications and accessing them thru the browser creates a consistent user experience, works across browsers.

Lowest Common Denominator: I agree there are differences between browsers when it comes to complex AJAX applications. But it is not too difficult to write applications that are very usable and run well on all browsers. There are also a number of toolkits that abstract the problem. Mike’s concluding paragraph coincides with my thought. He says The fact that web applications have flourished despite these drawbacks is a testament to the attractiveness of having a platform with a good development model that has the ability to deliver applications to multiple operating systems.

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