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The Misadventures of Quinxy von Besiex truths, lies, and everything in between


Balsamiq Suqs for Mockups

balsamiqThere are many pieces of software which achieve levels of success I cannot understand given their crappiness.  I've already made known my disdain (yet usage of) Evernote. Today I'll talk about Balsamiq, a tool for creating software mockups.

Most of my complaints and frustrations center around the their fervent belief that they know better than their users what features we want and how things should work.  They impose a rigidity which is painful, limiting, and often mind-bogglingly stupid.

Here are my chief complaints:

  1. Their UI library (see top bar in screen shot) insists on using stupidly huge image buttons.  Hope you have a high resolution monitor, because if you don't you're in for some screen robbing ugly.  Many programs in similar situations at least give you a small button option.  Not Balsamiq!  Workaround: Use ctrl+l to hide/show the UI library.  But why should I have to do that?  Make a small icon version!
  2. Stupidest Arrows Ever!  Their arrow element is the most unbelievably stupid implementation of a connecting arrow in any software since the mid-1970s.  Want to draw an arrow between things? In normal programs (Visio, any vector drawing program, etc.) you just drag the end points and optionally drag some middle item to change the curvature. Not so in Balsamiq! Balsamiq is just weird about arrows. The arrow you drag from the UI library can only move through 90 degrees without using one property panel item to flip it to cover 180 degrees and then you have to use another property panel item to let you flip the curvature to give you the remaining 180 degrees.  It's just confusing, screwy, and painful to use.  How on earth can people supposedly focused on great design, ready to preach to everyone about great design, create this monstrosity?
  3. Want to duplicate an item by ctrl+dragging like in most programs?  Nope!  Your only option is ctrl+d (or ctrl+c, ctrl+v)
  4. Want to duplicate an item and shift the copy horizontally or vertically only? Nope, when you duplicate or copy/paste it offsets the copy both horizontally and vertically (down and to the right) so you need to go back and re-align the item horizontally or vertically.  This wouldn't be the case if you allowed ctrl+drag!
  5. The Property Inspector (the properties panel for any object you have selected, and which you need to use) is supremely annoying, it feels like it is constantly in my way.  And their docking solution is weak and no help (it still takes up a lot of canvas real estate), and their collapse solution is of little help (since you can't see or use the contents).  Why couldn't they do what everyone else more intelligently does and make the content more compact and horizontal or vertical so it could fit in the space used in part by the UI library?
  6. The send backward feature of most intelligent programs understands that if you are performing that operation you must want the object(s) you have selected to move behind things that it is on top of. You therefore don't need to click send backward many times because you are only sending it back one time for each object below it. Not so with Balsamiq! It seems to move you backward by your z-order, meaning, if there are a billion things below you in the z-order, even if only 2 of them are under you, you're going to have to click back potentially billions of times until you happen to pass the z-order of the two items in question. Thanks, Balsamiq!  Workaround: It's not super useful, but grouping can help you through some of this.
  7. There is a companion site to the software, Mockups to Go, which has user submitted libraries of common UI elements (such as Android Lollipop UI elements).  This is potentially great!  But, don't expect to be able to copy things from the Mockups to Go files you download and use them in your existing file, because for some reason things don't look the same when you copy them into your existing documents.  Why?  I don't know.  Some missing meta information, some lost reference to something?  Whatever the case may be, it seems to mean you can only use the Mockups to Go items by using their document to build your mockup, which is limiting, frustrating and weird (in part because of the next item).
  8. Need more room on your canvas? Not so fast!  They limit the size of your canvas, you can only make it so wide or high.  Beyond that you need to create a new file.  Why not a new page instead of a new file?  See next item.
  9. Each Balsamiq file is one page, no multi-paging here, despite their restricting the size of your pages and forcing you to use multiple pages, which is therefore forcing you to use multiple files.  Hope you're good and consistent about naming schemes for pages spread across many files.
  10. Pasting in or importing an image? Hope you like messy file systems!  Balsamiq doesn't include pasted or imported images in their file format, nope they create an image file of your clipboard paste and put that in the file system, and reference imported images.  Hope you don't expect to move files around!  Maybe their main file format is XML or something, but come on, lots of XML-based programs at least zip up their meta file with their file assets, so the user just as one file to deal with.  Why couldn't you do this?
  11. Exporting a PNG? Want to pick your own name for the file? Nope! It exports the first time as the same name as the document, on subsequent exports it asks you if you want to over-write the original or pick another name. Why don't you just do it like everyone else? Let me pick a name, default to that name in the save dialog on every other save, letting me choose each time with minimal fuss.
  12. Want to scroll over to an area off the current canvas size? Nope, you can't. You need to add some object you don't want to then drag it outside to give you more room so you can perhaps think or get a more comfortable look at something.  Other programs let you scroll into empty areas, but not Balsamiq!
  13. Want to change the thickness of a vertical or horizontal line? Not allowed.  I get that this isn't a drawing program, it's a mockup program, but line thickness can convey importance and meaning and help you build widgets you might want to mockup.  But, nope, we can't be trusted to use line thickness wisely, apparently.
  14. Mouse pointer to show context related behavior? Nope, no built in mouse pointers to help you show how mouse hovers might work in a UI.
  15. Balsamiq uses simple markup to let you use text to create items which are bolded, italicized, linked, etc.  They also let you create checkbox groups this way using [ ] and [x] and the link.  But what they don't do is make these things consistently available.  One text element might support these sorts of markup many others don't.  What the hell?  Be consistent!  Why do I have to remember that this thing is a checkbox group text field and this other thing is a label text.  It's frustrating to want to add something and discover I'm using the wrong kind of text element.
  16. Want to set color of text inside an input widget? Like a light gray instead of black?  I don't know if you can.  You can't do it by using the properties inspector, where you'd expect to. Perhaps you can with markup, but I get tired of trying things in an unintuitive program.
  17. Changing the line spacing on a block of text? Not possible!  I don't want this to do fancy stuff, but a few times I've been trying to align lines of text with content from another widget (like rows of checkboxes from a checkbox group with lines of text) and it can't be done.
  18. When I try to switch between open (already loaded) documents (of moderate complexity) it takes more than 10 seconds, and that's on a nearly new top of the line i7, with 16 GB RAM, and SSD.
  19. And last but not least...  Balsamiq is a Java program, and suffers from everything that Java desktop programs do, such as clumsy, non-native interface, poor startup performance, poor UI refresh performance, etc.  I love Java, have worked in Java for years, but desktop Java programs never feel as nice as using native ones.

I am tired of fighting with this software to get things done, tired of limitations they defend as "intentional" to promote proper use of the tool.  Trust your users, empower your users, don't talk down to them, don't limit them.  Less is not always more. Sometimes a little more is more.

I am happy to have returned to the freedom and power of Visio, where arrows work and I am trusted to decide whether something should be rotated or not.



IT Innovation’s End Game: Eliminating God

In less than a century information technology has moved from crude practice, into systematized theory tested through crude prototypes, into early maturity, becoming a force critical to and ultimately driving every modern scientific endeavor. Every branch of science now relies on IT for such things as research, data collection, modeling, simulation, analysis, and results dissemination; IT can be just as much a part of protein folding simulations as aerodynamic flow simulations as Higgs Boson discovery as exoplanet data study and can help globally distributed teams work as one.

But one cannot help but wonder where it is all going, what is IT innovation’s ultimate end game? Will the forces that have always conspired to drive IT innovation ever be satiated and fade away?

I strongly suspect that the ultimate end game of IT innovation is to unseat God from His heavenly throne, to render Him a kitschy relic of less enlightened days. Belief in Him may linger as a curiosity, a nostalgic comfort from which systems of meaning, value, and ethics can be traced. But His role will be otherwise entirely supplanted. But what has He got to do with IT?

Let us first try and consider the history and forces which have driven information technology to this point. IT has its origin thousands and thousands of years ago in our earliest oral traditions and writings. We were engaged then, as we are now, in the storage, retrieval, and analysis of data. Where once a bard’s tale might have been the medium for passing along valuable life lessons, now it is more likely found on a wiki page. Where once a notch made in stone recorded the position in the sky of an unfamiliar comet for later analysis, now a row in a database is preferred. The means have changed, but the ends which information technology have served have remained the same.

We have used IT to help us understand the world in which we live, used IT to help us improve our situation within the world, and used IT to pass along the progress we have made to contemporaries as well as subsequent generations. Modern IT has not changed our nature, merely granted us the benefits of increased storage capacity, increased analytical power (manifest as computational power and an ever-deepening (and broadening) understanding of related fields such as data analysis, artificial intelligence, and math), and increasing ability to disseminate information.

When we look at our relationship with God (and religions generally) we see that for most of recorded time He has been the source of our understanding of the world in which we live, He has been our ultimate hedge against our inability to improve our situation within it (He gives reason and meaning to death and suffering), and His recorded and disseminated teachings have developed to included not only religious teachings, but also those of a more practical, ethical/moral, socially beneficial nature, that get shared and passed down for others’ benefit.

As IT furthers the progress of all areas of science it seems only natural that He will have increasingly little place left in it. We need only look at a few areas of science to see this. Medicine has as its goal the eradication of disease and improvement of everyone’s quality of life. As gene therapies, stem cell research, cloning, nanotechnology, and the like mature, lifespans will surely be extended further and further until death has been eliminated as a requirement. Furthering this end, it seems inevitable that minds will ultimately become further and further separated from physical bodies. What might begin as nanotechnological repairs of synapses or enhancements to lost memory will likely grow to carry more and more of the load of conscious thought until minds become entirely separable from biological brains. At that point we may choose to linger in the wetware of biological forms or may choose to exist only within virtual worlds built of information matrices. Either way, the question of what happens when we die, a question He has always had a ready answer for, will lose its urgency, lose its criticality, and perhaps lose all meaning. Similarly, quantum mechanics and astronomy may ultimately find its grand unified theory and be able to explain our origins to almost everyone’s satisfaction, rendering His answers effectively irrelevant. And philosophy, often seeming partnered in a dance with religion, will likely find itself emboldened, breaking into a solo, to a tune that now is not bounded by a series of lifespans but by a more comfortable, less angsty, quasi-infinite pondering. And even its most fundamental questions of “What is right?” and “What is wrong?” may not need be answered so much as peoples’ preference would need to be known, so those with compatible beliefs systems could be properly collocated, either in physical or virtual spaces. The domain of God will have yielded to the domain of science. If He retains any value it may be in continuing to supply people with some greater sense of meaning, but it will be a nostalgic group that pines for His comfort, there will be substitutes aplenty without the complexity belief in Him brings.

Through innovation, IT will bring all this, directly and indirectly. God will lose His place. It is time others see this as the natural consequence of IT innovation, either to embrace it or to rebel against it.

^ Quinxy

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Evernote is the Worst, It’s like Hipster Software

evernote-logo-designThere are few things I hate more than when something barely worthy of note being over-hyped.  Evernote enjoys a popularity and success it has never deserved.  What it does it does only barely, arguably tolerably.  I have been a premium user for 3 years, falling for and into that only because a free premium account came with my LiveScribe pen.  Since that initial period I have stupidly, accidentally been auto-renewed (forgetting  to cancel in time); though to be fair I do not know what alternative I would use.

What has driven me nuts about Evernote is that from its debut until now it has been little more than a painfully buggy and seriously crippled MS WordPad-like app which could sync between your devices and had a web interface.  And it's just never evolved much beyond that.

Evernote is still extremely and horrifically buggy as an editor.  The worst bugs I experience almost daily are:

  • Lossy copying/cutting/pasting
  • Broken undo
  • Unpredictable and lousy content editing.

When I go to edit a note I will routinely cut some content from one place to paste in another location and find that the paste only remembered a small fraction of what I'd cut.  I cut 10 lines and it pastes only 3 of them.  This happens 10-30% of the time (primarily with lines which involve checkboxes).  This bugginess is pretty unforgivable.  You surely do not expect your text editing software to take literary license and make decisions about what content deserves to stay in your documents.

Worse, though, is that in these moments undo doesn't.  Perhaps related to the bug which loses the content the undo feature simply refuses to go back and restore the missing content back to its original location.  The content is just wholly and completely gone, for good.  I've had to resort to resurrecting past saves of the document to find the missing content.  And I now have to try and remember to alter my edit workflow and always copy, never cut, then go back and delete only when I'm sure the content has been faithfully copied.  And, of course this requires me to try and remember exactly what I'm moving within Evernote to be sure it didn't fiddle with it.  Ugh.  If I was not heavily invested in having my content in their stupid system I would surely flee to any competitor at this point.

And as if their system could get worse, editing a note is highly unpredictable.  You might be on a mobile device and find that rather than just let you edit normally it for some reason will not let you edit chunks of your note, or will only let you edit it in chunks.  I use no fancy features, I rarely paste in any photos, it's just text and checkboxes and maybe a URL or two.  And somehow this confuses it.  Formatting can change for no apparent reason, regions refuse to be modified, etc.  And these issues occur if you stick with the same platform or jump between them.

It is all just absolutely awful.  And when I try and find solutions, bug fixes, etc., I find nothing.  And I've always used the latest versions.  It just seems to me that if you can't produce a good, reliable editor then you have no business being in the document management business, and that's why I am forever amazed that Evernote has had any success, let alone the rabid success they've had.  Perhaps everyone else feels as stuck with them as I do.

evernote_crapAnother thing that bugs me, they are always promoting the "Trunk" area of their site, as if it was some sort of app store, or Chrome extension gallery, but for the most part it is just a collection of tangential merchandise, much of it not even that related (e.g., offering pens for sale).  Just a couple hours after writing this rant I received yet another email from Evernote trying to sell me something that arguably has nothing to do with document management. A back pack, seriously? Fix your damn bugs! Improve your OCR! Focus on doing your core business well, not peddling other crap.

And so that's why I feel like Evernote is like a Hipster.  It presents this veneer of cool utility while really, truly being utterly devoid of any real marked specialness or competence.

^ Q

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Remapping your 101 Key Keyboards (e.g., IBM Model M) to Restore the Windows Key, Menu Key, Media / App Keys on Windows

Thought I'd share this for others using an older 101 key keyboard (like the venerable 1980s/1990s IBM Model M) on Windows.

Using this registry entry I get back my Windows and Menu key:

  • <Shift Lock> is now the <Windows> key
  • <Right Alt> is now the <Menu> key

Just save this code as .reg and double click the file to merge it into the registry, then reboot (or download the file from the link below).

Windows Registry File:

Windows Registry Editor Version 5.00
[HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Keyboard Layout]
"Scancode Map"=hex:00,00,00,00,00,00,00,00,03,00,00,00,5c,e0,3a,00,5d,e0,38,e0,00,00,00,00

You can add your own remapping by reading this Microsoft document which describes the format of this registry key and using these scan codes.

I also wrote a little Autohotkey script to make my entirely ignored number pad useful again, with media, volume, and app launching keys.

Here are some basics:

  • <Number Pad 5> is Volume Mute
  • <Number Pad 8> is Volume Up
  • <Number Pad 2> is Volume Down
  • <Number Pad 6> is Next Tab (<Ctrl> + <Tab>)
  • <Number Pad 4> is Previous Tab (<Ctrl> + <Shift> + <Tab>)
  • <Number Pad 1> is Previous Media Track (works in Spotify, Winamp, WMP, etc.)
  • <Number Pad 3> is Next Media Track (works in Spotify, Winamp, WMP, etc.)
  • <Number Pad 0> is Play/Pause Media Track (works in Spotify, WMP, etc.)
  • <Number Pad *> launches Task Manager
  • <Number Pad /> launches default browser with http://google.com

AutoHotkey Script:

SetNumLockState, AlwaysOn
Numpad8::Send {Volume_Up 5} ; increase sound level
Numpad2::Send {Volume_Down 5} ; decrease sound level
Numpad5::Send {Volume_Mute} ; Mute sound
Numpad6::Send {LCtrl down}{Tab}{LCtrl up} ; Next tab (ctrl+tab)
Numpad4::Send {Shift down}{LCtrl down}{Tab}{LCtrl up}{Shift up} ; Previous tab (ctrl+tab)
NumpadMult::Send {Shift down}{LCtrl down}{Esc}{LCtrl up}{Shift up} ; Task manager
NumpadDiv::Run, http://google.com ; Browser to Google
Numpad0::Send {Media_Play_Pause} ; Pause/play media track
Numpad1::Send {Media_Prev} ; Previous media track
Numpad3::Send {Media_Next} ; Next media track

You can just paste that into Autohotkey, compile it into an EXE, or download my compiled exe below.

Download remap_keyboard.zip (374 kb).

Instructions for Download:

Download the file, unzip it, double click the registry file to add the registry entry (reboot to activate the change), and then run the common_remaps.exe to start the number pad remapping.  I added it to my Startup folder in the Windows menu.

(The AutoHotkey script forces Num Lock on so that the hotkeys will work, you can remove that line in the script if you don't need this.)

Users on Deskthority alerted me to the tools Key Tweak and Sharp Keys, tools which lets you do much of the above automagically, through a nice GUI!  That said, the advantage of the AutoHotkey script is that you can script complex and even context-dependent interactions, which only matters if you need or want to do it.)


My Move Away from the Das Keyboard and Back to the IBM Model M

modelm_4My Das Keyboard experiment was short lived.  I sent it back after a week.  The Das Keyboard was good, don't get me wrong, but it just wasn't good enough.  I was looking for something that would feel to me like an improvement over the venerable IBM Model M, and it just wasn't.  The feel of the Cherry MX Blue keyswitches was good, but not quite the same as the buckling spring Model M keys.  And the click of the Cherry MX Blue keys seemed a little higher pitched.  At $140 the Das Keyboard was too expensive to keep when I could get a refurbished IBM Model M off eBay for half the price.  And so I did.  I got a 1991 IBM Model M (1394540).  The guy who did the refurbish job made it like new, truly impressive.  And with a little "blue cube" USB to PS/2 converter it's working great on my Windows box.  The only thing I had to do was to remap some keys so I could add some of the modern functionality we expect from keyboards, restoring the Windows key, menu key, media control keys, and app launching keys.

Ah, the joys of typing on the IBM Model M.

^ Quinxy

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My Move to the Das Keyboard Ultimate Model S

metadot-das-keyboard-ultimate-i50-800I'm a mostly self-taught typer.  Years of doing it have meant that I do it respectably quickly and without the need to look down (except for very infrequently used keys, e.g., F7), but the problem with being self taught is that I've never kept my fingers over the home row, and that has meant I do two big things wrong: a) if my keys went off the keyboard, perhaps to reach for the mouse or a drink, my initial resumed keystrokes are highly likely to miss unless I look down and re-orient my fingers, meaning at best I slow down and at worst I make typos, and b) my typing is dominated by my index and middle fingers, leaving my ring and pinkie fingers doing relatively little (the ring fingers jump in occasionally, but aside from the right pinky hitting return the pinkies do almost nothing), and this surely causes a slow down.  So, wanting to finally tackle this problem, wanting to boost speed and reduce typos I decided to take action.  Also, I was having nostalgic pangs for the keyboards from the 1980s, like the much loved and wonderfully clickey-clacky IBM Model M keyboard.  As a result, after a little research I went with the Das Keyboard Ultimate Model S keyboard, with the Cherry MX Blue key switch option.  This keyboard setup is pretty well regarded as the most IBM Model M-like (apparently you can also still buy remakes of the original, but the Das Keyboard seemed a better option for me).  What makes this keyboard "ultimate" is the lack of lettering on the keys, they are all, without exception, black.  No hints as to what key represents what letter, beyond your muscle memory (and normal memory).  I first learned of the keyboard about a decade ago, but dismissed it entirely as some sort of joke, seeing it as a novelty keyboard meant primarily for programmers in an office so that they might brag about their l33t typing skills.  With no one to brag to, and now a buyer, I suspect my initial dismissal was hasty.  I'm now only a day into using this keyboard and my greatest relief thus far is that I'm able to type at more or less my normal rate.  The only significant problem I'm encountering is when I switch from writing prose to coding and need to use the keys farthest away from the center, where my accuracy without looking is poor.  I've been trying to force my fingers into the home row and onto their proper keys, but then all my fingers rebel, the pinkies furious that they are being asked to do work they've never done, and my index and middle finger annoyed they're suddenly almost idle.

We'll see what comes, my old speed was 75 wpm...  here's hoping I get up to 85-90 wpm once my fingers get used to this.


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Note to Self: Clean Out Laptop Vents More Often!

I recently had a problem where my laptop shut down to protect itself from heat after only a few minutes of playing a game.  I'd played the game quite a bit in recent weeks, so I couldn't figure out why the computer shut down this time.  I installed Core Temp to keep track of just how hot my CPU was getting and sure enough it would instantly jump up to 200-215 F the moment the game started and hover there (max CPU temperature before shutdown is ~221 F).  Not knowing what the temperatures were expected to be playing this game, I didn't know if my situation was highly unusual or totally normal (seemed unusual, but I wasn't sure as the laptop wasn't meant for gaming).  I made a mental note to clean out the CPU and GPU vents on the laptop.  Today I did that and wow, doing the exact same thing the CPU temperatures are now 160 F instead of 210 F, a huge 50 F drop (25% drop)!  I had no idea it could make so much of a difference.  I really must remember to clean out the vents/fans once a month.

^ Q

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Sketchup Hanging on Start? Disable OpenGL Acceleration via Registry

My Sketchup 2013 copy suddenly stopped working right. First it would hang if I tried to add a scene, then it just hang and race the processor once it started up. I tried all the latest drivers for my AMD Radeon 7800M, but no change.

I knew I could at least run Sketchup if I could disable the use of OpenGL hardware acceleration.

The registry key that you need to modify is in this registry branch:
HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\SketchUp\SketchUp 2013\Preferences

Modify this registry key:

And make it now equal to 0 (it's of type REG_DWORD)


Sketchup should now start!

Of course it'll perform very poorly if you're working with a big/complex model and you're using "View > Face Style > Shaded" or  "View > Face Style > Shaded with Textures" so remember you can switch to "View > Face Style > Wireframe" when you can get by without seeing the faces and textures because that will still perform very well.

Working without the hardware acceleration is better than not being able to use Sketchup at all.  Not sure if my problem is truly a driver problem as Tremble/Sketchup would have me believe or if it's a bug in Sketchup.

^ Quinxy

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More LinkedIn Connections Doesn’t Mean More LinkedIn Profile Views

linkedin__1217linkedinI was a bit surprised to realize just how uncorrelated the number of first degree LinkedIn connections and the number LinkedIn profile page views can be.

My profile views are quite low (~7/day), with at least half of that coming from people I'm sending invites to.  At best I might be getting 2 or 3 visits/day which are effectively unsolicited (coming in from search/etc.).  And yet according to LinkedIn's "How You Rank"  my modest 200+ connections profile is getting more profile views than people with hundreds of times more connections, specifically people with 29,500+, 20,000+, 7,500+, 6,000+,  4,000+ first degree connections.

Those insanely connected users are clearly heavily invested in their LinkedIn account profile, many of them have hundreds of skill endorsements, dozens of recommendations, and their profiles are rich in detail some even including clips from them presenting at this or that event.  And yet I have more profile views.  Which certainly strongly suggests that simply having billions of connections and a thorough and fully endorsed/recommended profile isn't much use in driving traffic to your profile.  I had expected people that many connections and those LinkedIn credentials would be highly favored in LinkedIn's search and thus would inherit quite a few daily profile views, but not necessarily so.

The recommendation people make about being active in the LinkedIn news feed comments and in groups in order to get profile views would seem to be perhaps the only way to generate correlated activity on your profile.

Update: It's two weeks later now and last week I had 216 profile views last week (31/day).  Most of these I suspect were from people who I had invited checking out my profile.  This activity has been enough to put me in the top 2% of profile views from people in my network (#36 out of 1910).  Many of those in my network appear to be powerhouse social media users, so ranking above them certainly further suggest that even the most socially active people do not see large volumes of LinkedIn profile views.  I'll be curious to learn how many residual hits a day I get as my campaign of friendliness winds down, they would then be coming through search and LinkedIn comment activity.

^ Q


Rack2-Filer Smart is a Terrible, Awful, No Good Upgrade – Don’t Do It!

See below for details on recent, important update which makes this software almost as good as it used to be!

I've always had a love hate relationship with PFU's (Fujitsu's) Rack2-Filer.  I love that it is a computer-based alternative to a real/non-portable filing cabinet, but I hate that it has always striven to be nothing more than exactly that.  Where other companies might have rethought what it means to store and access virtual documents and delivered a bevvy of features to make that experience brilliant, PFU created a bewilderingly crippled experience almost as bad as real life.  The interface was a virtual cabinet with virtual shelves on which go virtual binders.  They mind-numbingly impose real and hard limits on how many virtual pages you can put in a binder, how many binders go on a shelf, how many shelves go in a cabinet.  Still...  as awful as it is, and it is awful, there is a certain strange, agreeable functionality about it all.

5-28-2013 8-39-54 PM 5-28-2013 8-41-24 PM

PFU recently released Rack2-Filer Smart as a replacement for Rack2-Filer.  I was eager to upgrade because one of the biggest offenses of the older product was its inability to be accessed from other devices, like Android or iOS tablets.  When I saw that Rack2-Filer Smart apps showed up in the app stores and realized you needed to upgrade your desktop client to use it I wanted to upgrade (I also prayed they would improve their software).  Ugh.  Upgrading was not a good decision.

PFU (a Fujitsu company) is just about the most incompetent software company I've ever encountered.  They are mired in stupid.  Whatever they might do right, however many brilliant people they might have, they've got just enough horribly inept and stupid people to ensure that their success will be forever limited.

The first major problem I encountered was that they provided trial links on their site to download and try out the Rack2-Filer Smart software but no buy links.  I even installed the trial thinking it would have buy links.  It did not.  There is no way to buy a downloadable version of their software online, despite them letting you download a trial.  That's pretty stupid.  Then I went searching for a physical version to buy.  As I own the old version and don't want to throw my money away I looked for and found an upgrade version on their and other e-commerce sites.  All "unavailable"/"sold out".  There were no copies to be had anywhere.  Huh?  I could buy they full version but no upgrade version.  I even checked eBay and found nothing.  A week or two later eBay let me know that someone was now selling Rack2-Filer Smart on eBay, and I got a full  (non-upgrade) copy for what seems now the going rate of $59 (presumably a copy included with a Fujitsu scanner sale).

5-28-2013 8-40-46 PM 5-28-2013 8-40-18 PM

And thus began my unpleasant experience with Rack2-Filer Smart...

First the import of my previous libraries failed.  One of the 49 cabinets it was trying to import would fail without any sort of useful message.  It suggested my drive might be full or there were file permission issues.  It took me an hour but by a process of elimination and guesstimation I worked out that it couldn't read it's own damn .ini file format, there was some OCR text in the OCR text section of the .ini that must have been causing some problem.  I removed the OCR section from that .ini and it would now import.  Stupid PFU.

With Rack2-Filer Smart now working the real horror began.  They seem to have rewritten everything, and in their rush to get it out decided to leave out tons of very useful features that people like me surely relied upon.  And, adding insult to injury, they decided to go all skeumorphy  and try and pretty up this pig of a program by slapping some lipstick on it in the form of photo-realistic shelf backgrounds and binder spines.

Here is my list of seriously horrible things they've changed/done in this latest release:

  • No more index sheet as the first page in a binder.  You now need to click to pop-open a list of sections.
  • No more drag and drop re-ordering of divider sections from the aforementioned index sheet, and the aforementioned pop-open list of sections has no drag and drop.  The nearest thing you can do is use the thumbnail view in the pop-open window to select, cut, and paste the items.  Works, but it requires a lot more clicking.  You'll see.  It's awful.
  • When you open the Binder Viewer it isn't maximized by default, and when you maximize it it doesn't bother zooming the display, so you've got your binder and its pages un-readably small on a normal sized modern screen.  No setting to fix this.  Idiotic. It means I have to click maximize and then the fill double-page view buttons every single time I open a binder.
  • Binder tabs are now useless.  The old version was pretty good about letting you see the tabs of adjacent divider sheets.  This new version is horrible, instead of dynamically placing the tabs the new version has only five spots for them, so your view of tabs is perpetually obscured.  And the font size on the tabs is huge so every single tab label is cut off and unreadable.  No settings to alter this.
  • You can't easily flip between sections.  I used to be able to press ctrl+right arrow to jump to the next divider section to the right.  That feature is gone, can't seem to find a replacement key combination.  And because most tabs are hidden behind other tabs you're just screwed and have to use that dumb pop-open list.
  • You can't easily flip between pages.  The old version let you disable the stupid/slow page turning effect.  The new version has no such option.  Pages turn deadly slow even on a super fast computer.
  • No right click context menu to add dividers, delete pages, etc.  One of the most awful changes is the elimination of the right click menu.  You now need to use the stupid left hand control options, which takes five clicks to accomplish what I used to be able to do in one or two.  And you have to memorize which items are behind which side menu icons, this is awful.
  • Main View (Library/etc.) is absurd.  They decided that putting a JPEG of an actual office behind the fake shelf makes for quality software.  It does not.  It's straight out of 1998.  And, again, the window doesn't launch maximized and auto zoom, so it looks like crap and is barely readable, hiding the second level titles because it's so small.
  • Import is flawed (see my comment above)
  • Android / iOS app connection is seriously stupid and un-intuitive.  Any normal human expects the following experience: Go to your tablet, open the app, see the list of libraries, open the one you want, see the cabinets, open the one you want, see the binders, open the one you want.  Browse the binder.  How hard could that be?  This idiotic version works in a completely different way.  You need to be on the desktop computer and mark a binder as "exported" and only then does it run the server required for remote access and you can only access the exported binder.  And when the remote app connects it can only see that exported binder.  Maybe you can export more than one at a time.  I didn't get that impression, but I gave up on the feature pretty quick.  Oh, and it seems to download the entire binder, rather than fetching only what it needs as it needs it, which makes some sense in terms of local performance, but a "streaming"-ish option would have been nice.

I wasted a lot of time trying to figure out how to work around Rack2-Filer Smart's buggy legacy import and I wasted a lot more time trying to figure out why the Android app wouldn't connect (nothing mentions that the server doesn't run unless a binder is "exported") and how their concept of app-desktop interaction requires this odd "export"-based strategy.

(Now, in the interests of full disclosure there may be some better way to access use this software...  it looks like both app and desktop can sync with Drop Box and Sugar Sync, which may allow you to use it without this export bullsh*t, but as I have neither a Drop Box nor a Sugar Sync account and as I'm pretty fed up with my experience thus far I'll save that investigation for another day.)

PFU sure knows how to make a bad product and that's exactly what they've delivered, a tone def mess that will now makes everything I do with their software take more time and more mouse clicks.  And it's a real pity because with a few dozen (or hundred) additional man hours they could have at least made this product no worse than their last one.

Unless you absolutely, positively must have their crappy version of a tablet connected Rack2-Filer experience I would stay away from this upgrade like the plague.  I pray it matures and they add back all the features/shortcuts they removed.

UPDATE as of 9/9/2013 (version V1.0L20)
Finaly PFU has released an update that has begun to bring previous features back!  The previous updates seemed to be nothing more than bug fixes.

I can joyously report that one of the most glaring omissions, the context menu (or right click menu) has returned!!!  Finally Rack2-Filer Smart is usable again!  It's still not where it was, before their dumb "Smart" update, but I at least now have have reason to hope the rest of the problems will be fixed as well.

Also, another petty but important fix is that the binder window now remembers its previous size and zoom level, meaning you no longer need to enlarge and zoom every single time you open a binder.  Sadly the main window still lacks this memory.

A huge improvement in this update is in the importing of scanned documents.  If you have a binder open and do a scan it will now insert the scanned documents into your current location, a vast improvement over the previous behavior which would tell you to close the binder, at which point it would insert any scanned documents at the front of the binder forcing you to awkwardly move them to their final destination.

I also noticed that page flipping seems faster, but there is still no ability to turn off the stupid page flip effect.  For the love of Pete, guys, please let us skip your stupid page flip animation!

Tabs can now be dragged to be repositioned! Maybe they could previously, but if they could it certainly wasn't obvious (it isn't obvious now, either, but I happened to discover it).

And the software is still lacking vital shortcut keys, no page flipping hotkeys (the old ctrl+right/left arrow IIRC to jump to next divider doesn't work), and ctrl+f doesn't place you in the search box.

Apparently this version also includes some sort of change in binder structure such that your binders are converted once they are opened and saved, and made incompatible with previous versions.  Not a big deal for most people, I'm sure, but something to be aware of if you're syncing data with a slightly older version you can't upgrade (e.g., in a work environment).

All in all a good day for Rack2-Filter Smart, the first day I used it when my mind wasn't filled with cursing and regrets.  Keep the improvements up guys!  Bring back ALL the functionality you took away!

^ Quinxy