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Old 01-08-2012, 08:40 AM   #1
fesja
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Lightbulb Rethinking the user interface

Hi everyone,

I'm new here. I've been using Calibre for more than a year to convert ebooks to my iPad. Now that my parents have a Kindle, I am teaching them how to use Calibre to add ebooks from other stores. However, thinking as them, the user interface is really really complicated. And it shouldn't be.

I have seen other attempts to improve the UX & UI of Calibre that have gone nowhere. So I'm not going to make a wireframe of what I think it should do. Or at least not yet.

First, I want to know what you use from Calibre, how you use it. It has many options, many buttons, many filters. But, what do you use? What's your primary use? How do you send your books to your ebook device? Do you edit the info of the book? How many books do you have on your library? Do you have one or several libraries?

With all your answers, we may work on a new interface than can go somewhere. Right now I see 40 buttons/filters/elements in the default view Calibre. I'm sure 90% of the people only use 3 (add book, convert book, send book to device).

So how do you use it? what do you use?
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Old 01-08-2012, 11:04 AM   #2
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My guess is that you are asking in the wrong forum. The people who visit here will likely be "power users" who use wide range of calibre's functions. For example, I seldom use the three functions you mention, but very frequently use others.

My most-used functions are sorting, the search box, saved searches, restrictions, and the tag browser. Next down the list are edit metadata (both dialog and directly on the GUI), quick view, and connect to device/folder. Next down are send to device/folder, delete from device/folder. Next is edit metadata bulk. And so on.

When I add a new book (an infrequent event), a different set of functions come into play: add, edit metadata, manage authors, manage tags, manage my custom metadata, etc. The goal is to ensure that the metadata for the book is quality, and that the existing books' metadata is still quality in the face of the new book.

I almost never download metadata, I very seldom use the viewer or cover browser or save-to-disk, and I don't use the built-in content server.
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Old 01-08-2012, 11:09 AM   #3
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My most often-used Calibre functions are, in order:

1. Add book (but I do this by dragging a book to the Calibre window. I didn't even know that there was a button for it ).
2. Edit metadata - to clean up the metadata, add series information, or download a cover.
3. Send to device. (But now I do this by the very useful shortcut of simply dragging the book onto the "Device" button on the toolbar.)
4. Convert book (mainly used when I've changed the cover, to make the new cover "stick".)
5. Remove matching book from device (after I've read it.)

And that's really all the Calibre functionality that I use.
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Old 01-08-2012, 11:31 AM   #4
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Since the tool bar is customizable, I am not sure I see a need to 'simplify' the Calibre user interface. In light of your request for information however, the functions that I use frequently are:
Add Books
Search
Column Sorting
Convert format
Edit Meta Data
Save to Disk
Send to Device

cheers
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Old 01-08-2012, 11:39 AM   #5
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Is it possible to export the "configuration" of the Calibre UI as a file, to allow another person to load that same configuration?
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Old 01-08-2012, 12:08 PM   #6
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i thought about that, just after i post it. Can an admin move this thread to the general forum so we can hove more answers and user cases?

thanks for the answers!
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Old 01-08-2012, 02:23 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Leep View Post
Since the tool bar is customizable, I am not sure I see a need to 'simplify' the Calibre user interface.
Exactly what I was thinking. I keep my most-used functions on the toolbar or menubar, and as a result they are rather full.

My particular usage case:

I use calibre daily but usually only put books on the Kindle about once a month.

I use a lot of plugins, both "background" plugins (metadata plugins, for ex) and "interactive" ones (Reading Lists, Kindle Collections, Goodreads Sync, etc).

In a typical session I
  • add books
  • fix anything that can interfere with metadata download
  • download metadata and covers
  • add custom metadata (genre, additional tags, notes)
  • convert if needed
  • run the page numbers/word count plugin
  • add to Reading Lists as needed including List for automatically syncing Kindle on next connection

Every couple of weeks I use Goodreads Sync, depending on how many books I've accumulated in that time.

Several of these actions involve custom columns, and I also use column coloring rules.

I'm sure I'm missing some stuff, but this is off the top of my head based on what I did in calibre yesterday.
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Old 01-08-2012, 03:15 PM   #8
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I think the post by CWatkinsNash in combination with the others above is an example of one of the reasons why the other attempts to change the UI have failed. Trying to get users to define what they use Calibre for and then extrapolating meaningfully from that is an almost impossible task.

For a start your "sample" is going to be heavily biased by those who contribute to these forums, which by their very nature will be biased more towards the power users of calibre who are more comfortable with technology in general (but represent a teeny fraction of the calibre users). The example by CWatkinsNash for instance lists a whole bunch of stuff that I too do on a regular basis as will many others in these forums - but I would also bet the house that the vast majority of calibre users do not do half those things.

I also believe that the vast majority of users use only a fraction of calibre - but quite possibly different fractions as they have different use cases. Some people here are totally into "News", some are massively into conversions. Some are plugin addicts, but the vast majority of calibre users wouldn't have a clue what a plugin is. Some use the web hosting, some the cataloging. Some are metadata perfectionists, many others have never tried it.

Now before you think I am trying to shoot your intent completely down, as I have posted in the past I 100% agree with you that the calibre UI has potential room for improvement. I went through exactly the same process as you in setting up calibre for my parents, installed it, configured it, customised the toolbars and menus to simplify down to minimal for what they might need, and its still very intimidating without patient hand-holding. The same for even technical friends of mine - I have to explain a whole bunch of settings to change away from the defaults etc, because they want something out of the box that just does what they want without spending hours of tinkering and trawling the forums. Some of us are willing to look under the hood and find out what many of those options mean/do, but I would suggest many others just want something to manage their books onto their device with no faffing to spend more time reading.

My parents use case which might be relevant to your own is fairly simple:
- they can browse books using the tag browser (they would never type a search!),
- they import using the second option in the Add dropdown from a Dropbox folder I put them into for them (wish I could make that the default for the Add button),
- they never do conversions or download metadata (since I do it for them)
- they track whether they have read a book in a custom column
- they send books to their Kindle using Send to Device and the Kindle Collections plugin, and remove from their device when read.
- Dad recently decided he wanted to have separate libraries for his and Mum's books, so now he uses the Copy to Library function and switches libraries.

My own usage is far more complex and hence not relevant to this thread I think. That said, even doing things like Conversions there is only ever about four settings I will tinker with depending on the book - setting justification to full, smarten punctuation, heuristic processing on the very rare case of attempting a PDF conversion, and equally rarely doing a split of pages based on a heading style after tinkering in Sigil (just to reduce # of manual splits). All other editing/settings I do in Sigil on the ePub directly.

Some might argue there is almost a case for two different UI's for calibre. However that is a non-starter, as Kovid and the other devs will not want to maintain two UIs. There are some functions of calibre fall into the "advanced" category that you might want to "hide" from beginners - but as an advanced user you will be spitting tacks if stuff you use all the time is now relegated into some obscure popup that takes extra clicks (which is why some UI suggestions here have failed in the past).

One suggestion I made a long time ago is I think more work could be done on the wizard for first-time users. People who want author names as LN, FN should not have to come to the forums and lean what a "tweak" is. Equally people who have a Kindle (which lets face it will be a significant portion of the user base) should not have to come to the forums and learn about metadata plugboards. There are a number of other examples of settings which could be offered just as dropdown defaults on the wizard. If over time the user wants to customise them further they can - but many users in the "beginner" category will not want to have to learn that stuff just to get started, if ever.

Good luck... like many we will be intrigued to see what suggestions you can come up with.
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Old 01-08-2012, 03:23 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fesja View Post
Right now I see 40 buttons/filters/elements in the default view Calibre. I'm sure 90% of the people only use 3 (add book, convert book, send book to device).
Interesting. I think my most common control by far is Fetch News. Which sends it to the device automatically.

Second is reading the selected ebook on the computer.

Third is Delete.

I tend to add and send to device in bulk and less often.

The only enhancement I really desire is an option to fetch just this one news-source (regardless of what's scheduled) right now. For example, to try it out, or grab it just once before hopping onto an airplane. There may be a UI way to do this, but I haven't found it.
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Old 01-08-2012, 03:23 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kiwidude View Post

Some might argue there is almost a case for two different UI's for calibre. However that is a non-starter, as Kovid and the other devs will not want to maintain two UIs. There are some functions of calibre fall into the "advanced" category that you might want to "hide" from beginners - but as an advanced user you will be spitting tacks if stuff you use all the time is now relegated into some obscure popup that takes extra clicks (which is why some UI suggestions here have failed in the past).
That was exactly the reason that I asked above if it's possible to export and import Calibre configurations. If it were possible, one could have different configurations for different use-cases; eg, a beginner's configuration, a Kindle-owner's configuration, etc.
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Old 01-08-2012, 03:42 PM   #11
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My workflow is almost a match of CWN's (I don't do the Last Item).

I tries setting my Calibre up leaning towards modal use.
Menubar has Preferences, Help, Fetch News,
The Main Menu is Library/Device oriented
The Second toolbar is Book Oriented

Having a configuration export/import tool that would log the dependencies (and maybe package them as well) and export the exact configuration (settings, Column coloring rules...)
Import would do the reverse (and warn if there were User (PI) Items that would be removed)
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Old 01-08-2012, 03:57 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
That was exactly the reason that I asked above if it's possible to export and import Calibre configurations. If it were possible, one could have different configurations for different use-cases; eg, a beginner's configuration, a Kindle-owner's configuration, etc.
The problem I have with this as a "solution" is that such things are not mutually exclusive, so the permutations become too large.

Which is where a wizard comes in - by leading the user through a number of questions the configuration can be tuned to get them started. So it could cover stuff the user can decide up front like off top of my head:
- title sort
- author sort
- device (there already)
- storing on the device (wraps the nasty complexity of metadata plugboards with just a dropdown of a couple of standard options)
- adding books (wrapping the regex/reading metadata)
- keeping track of stuff read (e.g. creating a custom column)
- questions which lead to some toolbar/menu simplifying

At any point they could run the wizard again to get this "dumbed down" simplification of Calibre's settings. Power users OTOH can go straight to all the existing preferences and lose nothing.
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Old 01-08-2012, 03:57 PM   #13
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@CWatkinsNash @kiwidude @TechnoCat @HarryT thanks for your answers, reading your use cases will help a lot. I'm a UX developer, and the first thing i do is read and see how users interact.

Obviously in this forum only 5% of Calibre users may interact, and from those, maybe 0.5% will read this thread. So yeah, you all are pro users. But as @kiwidude has shown, he has experiences installing calibre to other users, so all those experiences may help.

The idea that proposes @HarryT may be interesting, to have different configurations that can be selected on the wizard.

In general I feel like calibre has a huge amount of features, but the interface and the preference panel is intimidating. calibre can be a winner app, but it has to be easier to use for first-time users. As it's right now, i'm sure it scares 50% of the users, specially when the apps from Amazon and Apple are each day more user-friendly.

keep posting your user cases! Even if this goes no where, the dev team will have a list of user cases to improve or reaffirm what they are doing.
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Old 01-08-2012, 05:59 PM   #14
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Like most things in life practice makes ease of use.
I think the Calibre ui is quite easy to use and usually requires only several clicks to accomplish most tasks.
However it does require some basic ui literacy/understanding that all ui's generally require.

Perhaps a simple flow chart on MSWord, etc. showing the basic functions would be a simple way for the occasional user.

I've taught friends and family how to use a variety of devices and interfaces by the practice/repeat method. Start with several basic functions and have them repeat it until it becomes second nature. Then move on to another function...
Most people feel they can't use a device or interface because they see it as a complex thing that is so fragile it will break or not function at the press of a wrong button but said person can create a wonderful meal, etc. from scratch or from a cook book, etc that is far more technical and complicated where doing something wrong may indeed screw the pooch...it is just practice and familiarity.
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Old 01-08-2012, 06:51 PM   #15
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several links that i've found in other forums with positive and negative reviews. The main negative review is the user interface:

- http://osx.iusethis.com/app/calibre
- http://www.macworld.com/article/1604...6/calibre.html
- http://www.goodreads.com/ereaders/106-calibre

@Kai a perfect user interface doesn't require any manual or teaching. Although I agree that practice makes ease of use, that doesn't mean we shouldn't aim for a seamless interface.
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