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Old 01-07-2013, 06:02 PM   #1
saoir
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Time for a next level UI ?

Hi all, I hope this is an appropriate Q to post here. I am a Mac user of Calibre and a Kindle Touch for the last 6 months and am very Computer literate over a period of 40 years with both Windows and Mac. I also take part in a lot of discussions about eBooks and the transition form paper to digital.

With eBooks really breaking out past earl, tech type, adopters now - I really feel that the whole eBook format issue and the device dependency issue is holding people back that are ready and willing to move from paper to digital. I have experience of this reluctance and have tried to introduce them to using Calibre to overcome their reluctance ... for managing their eBooks, stripping DRM, changing formats etc.

But the interface is still so so so technical and obscure - Myriads of choices, functions, listings etc. It is FINE for people who are accustomed to using technical applications every day. And those people (incl me) probably find it quite frustrating when ordinary people are bewildered.

I believe that someone somewhere needs to develop Calibre, or a program like it if necessary, that has a much much simplified interface and communicates with non technical readers in their own language.

Is there any intention among the Calibre community to look at this kind of thing ? I see a huge amount of work going on. Great work. Wonderful volunteer work. Making Calibre more powerful and useful all the time. But I see no evidence that someone is looking at the big picture of moving Calibre from the arena of tech tool to mainstream eBook management software.

Am I wrong ?
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Old 01-07-2013, 06:23 PM   #2
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Calibre, at its core, is a database. As such, the best view into the database is a list. Why do people hate lists? The last thing calibre needs is a faux-wood bookshelf view (which doesn't even make any sense -- who puts their paper books on bookshelves with the cover facing out?).

Also, keep in mind that calibre is cross-platform, and developed by a very small set of people. Its UI is designed to work everywhere, which means it's not necessarily the prettiest anywhere but it gets the job done. If the developers had to maintain separate GUIs for Windows, OS X, and *nix, 90% of their time would be spent on keeping each of the different GUIs at feature parity and fixing bugs in the rather than focusing on the important stuff like device support, conversion functionality, etc.
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Old 01-07-2013, 11:40 PM   #3
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I agree that the UI could be prettier and toddos does a good job of explaining the basic limits of expanding the UI's design. But the basic functionality folks are looking for are front and center with very little difficulty for the average user to utilize.

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Originally Posted by saoir View Post
But I see no evidence that someone is looking at the big picture of moving Calibre from the arena of tech tool to mainstream eBook management software.
Calibre made the move from tech tool to mainstream eBook management software between versions 0.4 and 0.5. Since then it has consistently improved in features and usability.

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Am I wrong ?
You're not wrong, it could be prettier. But your not entirely correct either. Calibre has over 13 million users and adds more than 500K new users every month. Functionality and flexibility are keys to calibre. The flexibility allows the more advanced user to get excited about fine tuning everything, yet the functionality is there from the beginning allowing basic users to Add books, Convert books and Send books to their device intuitively.

In my opinion calibre in its present form is not a "tech tool." Calibre is a full fledged eBook Management program that equally caters to hard core techies and folks new to eBooks.

Additionally as you can see in this thread there are multiple ways of customizing the look and feel of calibre to each users liking.

Aesthetically speaking the area that could be open to the most improvement is the look and feel of the content server. maybe some enterprising web developer might contribute some time to this area of calibre development. Multiple folks have started developing a new look for the content server, but no one has finished any of their concepts.

Last edited by DoctorOhh; 01-07-2013 at 11:49 PM.
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Old 01-08-2013, 03:51 PM   #4
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I don't think that saoir is particularly talking about UI aesthetics or the list view of the database but rather the technical level of some of the screens.

The main technical complexity is on the conversion screen, but this is necessary for the level of conversion control available. Perhaps a "Quick Convert" button could be useful for non-techies. This would simply convert to the user's preferred format using default options. Although this would only save 1 button press it would at least hide the conversion option dialogue.

There are also some technical terms which could possibly be simplified: e.g. "Edit Book Metadata" could be "Edit Book Information".

Personally I'm very happy with the UI and maybe most calibre user's are quite eBook savvy. Other users may be well served with the software supplied with their reader, so overall it may not be worth the programming effort to add a simplified UI.
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Old 01-08-2013, 09:49 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DoctorOhh View Post
Calibre has over 13 million users and adds more than 500K new users every month. Functionality and flexibility are keys to calibre.
How many of the 13 million are 'active' - i.e, have used Calibre in the last 3 months, and how many uninstalls are there per month.

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There are also some technical terms which could possibly be simplified: e.g. "Edit Book Metadata" could be "Edit Book Information".
I would add to that the problem of using the same word/term to refer to different things

The most glaring example is "Tag" which is used to refer to the collection of book attributes - author, series, formats, languages, etc, and some custom columns; AND the list of words that characterise the content of the book

If the latter usage was renamed "Keywords" or the former was renamed "Attributes" that would avoid a great deal of confusion.

Someone wrote as advice to technical writers "Use not many words when few would serve, nor different words with the same meaning, nor the same word with different meanings - lest you confuse your readers"

I've introduced 6-8 people to Calibre, I'm pretty sure none of them are active users. They all say they find it too complicated and that they don't have the time and/or inclination to figure it out, most have un-installed it. One has been an editor/translator for most of her working life and another is a literary agent/small publisher. Interestingly two of them retained the Library/Author/Title folder structure; they liked that bit, from that you can guess that they are not technically savvy :lol:

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Old 01-08-2013, 11:08 PM   #6
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I would add to that the problem of using the same word/term to refer to different things

The most glaring example is "Tag" which is used to refer to the collection of book attributes - author, series, formats, languages, etc, and some custom columns; AND the list of words that characterise the content of the book

If the latter usage was renamed "Keywords" or the former was renamed "Attributes" that would avoid a great deal of confusion.
Excellent point. Using simpler consistent terms might benefit the average user. Barring that the creation of a glossary of terms might be something an energized user might create and contribute to the wiki documentation.

Although the latter usage is correct as the term tags is a standard term. All of the "attributes" are not tags and only tangentially referred to as tags within the context that they are in the "Tag Browser," but they are not referred to as tags. Maybe the Tag browser should be renamed. I think using attributes for metadata would be confusing since the "attributes" are essentially metadata. Isn't metadata also a standard term across music, video and books.

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Originally Posted by BetterRed View Post
Someone wrote as advice to technical writers "Use not many words when few would serve, nor different words with the same meaning, nor the same word with different meanings - lest you confuse your readers"
Good advice.

Last edited by DoctorOhh; 01-08-2013 at 11:11 PM.
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Old 01-08-2013, 11:08 PM   #7
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The main technical complexity is on the conversion screen, but this is necessary for the level of conversion control available. Perhaps a "Quick Convert" button could be useful for non-techies. This would simply convert to the user's preferred format using default options. Although this would only save 1 button press it would at least hide the conversion option dialogue.
In most cases non-techies never need to see the conversion screen. They can just attach their reader and hit "Send to device" - calibre automatically asks about converting if needed.
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Old 01-09-2013, 12:55 AM   #8
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Using simpler consistent terms would benefit the average user. Barring that the creation of a glossary of terms might be something an energized user might create and contribute to the wiki documentation.Barring that the creation of a glossary of terms might be something an energized user might create and contribute to the wiki documentation.
A wiki glossary sounds like a "kicking the can down down the road" strategy straight out of the Washington/Brussels (WashBrush) playbook

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Originally Posted by DoctorOhh View Post
Although the latter usage is correct as the term tags is a standard term. All of the "attributes" are not tags and only tangentially referred to as tags within the context that they are in the "Tag Browser," but they are not referred to as tags. Maybe the Tag browser should be renamed. I think using attributes for metadata would be confusing since the "attributes" are essentially metadata. Isn't metadata also a standard term across music, video and books.
The word 'attribute' was the first vaguely suitable word I thought of at the time. The image library manager I use, photoTools IMatch, uses the word 'categories' in roughly the same context.

However, the use of 'Tag' in the general sense (as in Tag Browser) maps roughly to its usage for music and video, so I'd leave it as is. I'd change the 'content characteristics' usage of Tags to Keywords, which maps to the IPTC (International Press Telecommunications Council) convention. The Press is an allied industry to Books, both having their roots in words & pictures laid down on paper & vellum.

Whilst the term metadata has currency in other media, many lay people get confused with its usage in those contexts too, especially images. Most image library products aimed at non professionals (e.g. XNView, Picasa, etc) avoid the word either altogether or only use it in the fine print.

I like Agama's suggestion of Book Information. If you click the Blue Button with an 'I' in the Viewer you're presented with a semi-transparent overlay headed "Metadata" - why not an "M" on the Blue Button or "Information' in the heading. Metadata means data about the data, most ordinary people don't regard their books as data.

Banks keep data on their computers about their customers and accounts. They don't refer to this as customer and account metadata, they refer to it as customer and account information, The metadata is the data about the tables in which the information is held, not the information itself. The only people who need to know about the metadata are the IT folks, not the tellers or back office screen jockeys and certainly not their customers. I blame Adobe for this sorry pass.

Maybe if calibre databases were named 'calibre.db' or 'bookinfo.db' rather than 'metadata.db' then the word "metadata" would have less prominence in Calibre circles.

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Old 01-15-2013, 08:33 PM   #9
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Hi Guys. (lost my link to this page hence my delay in coming back ..)

I am a Mac user so it's not the prettiness of the app UI that annoys and frustrates me. It is the cluttered interface with rows of buttons horizontaly and vertically and tech terms all over the place. As mentioned by BetterRed, who the heck knows what Meta Data is ? I mean come on ? I know what it mans but I have been in computers for >30 years.

I am seeing the new arrivals to the world of eBooks on a regular basis in my social and professional network. People who have computers but can only switch them on, start their browser and open skype. That's it. And in the coming years eBooks and ereaders are going to explode in this kind of demographic.

These users need something that uses plain english. Something that doesn't pack the screen with every function known to man and only shows what needs to be shown at that moment. Book Information and not Meta Data. Where a right click on a title doesn't open a list of options longer than Photoshop. Where format names like Mobi and ePub and AZW etc etc are de-highlighted in favour of device names. A user doesn't want to create an AZW, they want to change to a Kindle Format. Same for other devices.

A user wants to look at the library and know which title is on which device now. or see clearly that there is a library for each device. Maybe a drag and drop from one library to an icon of the Kindle or Kobo or iPhone etc.

Calibre could then include an expert mode where those with advanced knowledge can play away to their hearts content with all of the formats, tech terms and options ... while normal people can enjoy a simplified UI with fewer buttons, fewer options and ordinary English.

And the same goes for the plug in system. Even I am baffled by the plugin system. And .... what is it with the updates ? One friend abandoned his kindle solely because he was driven crazy by the regularity of these updates !

Hey .. I don't say all of this for me. I'm fine. I'll manage. But the world is changing and I believe there is a HUGE appetite for a different Calibre.
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Old 01-15-2013, 09:29 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by saoir View Post
Hi Guys. (lost my link to this page hence my delay in coming back ..)

I am a Mac user so it's not the prettiness of the app UI that annoys and frustrates me. It is the cluttered interface with rows of buttons horizontaly and vertically and tech terms all over the place. As mentioned by BetterRed, who the heck knows what Meta Data is ? I mean come on ? I know what it mans but I have been in computers for >30 years.

I am seeing the new arrivals to the world of eBooks on a regular basis in my social and professional network. People who have computers but can only switch them on, start their browser and open skype. That's it. And in the coming years eBooks and ereaders are going to explode in this kind of demographic.

These users need something that uses plain english. Something that doesn't pack the screen with every function known to man and only shows what needs to be shown at that moment. Book Information and not Meta Data. Where a right click on a title doesn't open a list of options longer than Photoshop. Where format names like Mobi and ePub and AZW etc etc are de-highlighted in favour of device names. A user doesn't want to create an AZW, they want to change to a Kindle Format. Same for other devices.

A user wants to look at the library and know which title is on which device now. or see clearly that there is a library for each device. Maybe a drag and drop from one library to an icon of the Kindle or Kobo or iPhone etc.

Calibre could then include an expert mode where those with advanced knowledge can play away to their hearts content with all of the formats, tech terms and options ... while normal people can enjoy a simplified UI with fewer buttons, fewer options and ordinary English.

And the same goes for the plug in system. Even I am baffled by the plugin system. And .... what is it with the updates ? One friend abandoned his kindle solely because he was driven crazy by the regularity of these updates !

Hey .. I don't say all of this for me. I'm fine. I'll manage. But the world is changing and I believe there is a HUGE appetite for a different Calibre.
Plugins:
The proper way to avoid program Bloat

You add the features and accessories YOU want and use.
I never used 50% of the stiff on a Microsoft 'ribbon bar'. Th only thing in Calibre's standard menu that I don't use regularly, is news (and I did try it ), I use about 8 PI's (out of ?30) regularly.
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Old 01-15-2013, 10:01 PM   #11
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Kovid said something very interesting a long while ago, on one of the other various threads that this subject crops up on from time to time. His point at the time was that a user who only has say a Kindle and a small collection of books is *not* even a target user for calibre. That if they really want to get PC software involved that they will just use the Amazon Kindle software (and similarly for Sony users with whatever their software equivalent is). And that calibre is really targeted at either people who want to shift formats, and/or who have very large collections of ebooks (the latter being a minority though over time that is obviously going to change).

I sympathise with both sides of the argument. I put calibre on my parents PC, but they use only 1% of the functionality. I source all the books for them, take care of all the metadata gathering and format shifting etc, and they just use calibre to load books onto their Kindles and keep track of what they have read, plus browse through the collection sometimes. And yes the UI has loads of stuff they have not a clue about, but I've stripped stuff out where I can and given them a basic set of instructions to keep them going. Would they be better off with a UI that supported only that use case? Of course. But (a) it needs to exist, and (b) it would be something I have to support for them on top of my own calibre usage. Meaning if it is a completely different program I have to find a way to export/import between the two for instance.

With that said, as soon as you need just one more feature like converting book formats, you have a game changer. The level of technical knowledge involved is beyond what most of the public out there are prepared to learn or care about. I would suggest they don't want to know about an azw3 versus a mobi versus an epub, let alone all the minutiae involved with conversion parameters. You can try to wrap it up in a really dumbed down UI, but users like my Mum would still never "get it", and the slightly more technically inclined will be frustrated by not knowing what it is *actually* doing, or that their books don't look right because they have no control over the output.

I don't know what the "perfect" answer is, neither over the years on these sort of threads has anyone else come up with an actual practical suggestion. Perhaps there isn't one, and it is just the nature of the beast. So arguably the correct approach has been to just let calibre continue on as is and stay focused on providing the most functionally awesome application out there for those users who are slightly technically inclined or at least willing to roll their sleeves up to learn. There will always be people out there whose interests in life include reading but do not include having to learn about electronic book formats and all the crap associated with that. At this point unless they have a friend/relative willing to do stuff for them, calibre just isn't the right program for them, and maybe it shouldn't try to be?

As for being baffled by the plugin system - please read the Introduction to plugins sticky thread in the plugins forum, and feel free to feedback anything at all you are still confused about. I am more than happy to try to clarify the documentation if you can help describe what are the pieces that are missing for you. From a donation perspective I would obviously love it if far more users had the knowledge of and confidence around using plugins . I know in my own usage and from the hundreds of comments people have made on the plugin threads that if you find the ones that scratch your particular itch they become an indispensable part of using calibre.
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Old 01-15-2013, 10:29 PM   #12
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With that said, as soon as you need just one more feature like converting book formats, you have a game changer.
Quote:
You can try to wrap it up in a really dumbed down UI, but users like my Mum would still never "get it",
I don't agree with this analysis, with respect. The two most important things a user needs to do are a) strip the DRM and b) backup the eBook files c) Change format when they change eReader or want to use another device.

I don't agree that these needs are limited to advanced users and people who are not advanced are not a target market for Calibre, because they NEED to do all of these things and the Kindle app does not help !

I am in a similar situation with a friend of mine who is 35, works in a local small factory and hasn't much of a clue about her computer. She would like to be able to strip the DRM, do the backup and format change but Calibre scares the bejaysus out of her. So I have to do them for her. Why the format change ? because she dropped her kindle a couple of months ago and changed to a Nook. Then she bought an iPhone 5 and wants to use both it and her Nook to read. This kind of situation is becoming typical for a huge swathe of people imho.

Unfortunately as I see it there are too many engineering types and computer types involved in the Calibre community and they just don't see what is happening out there in the eBook revolution. There seems to be a crazy view of users as being either befuddled idiots that are beyond Calibre's reach or fellow experts well able to 'figure' calibre out.

In my view the solution is simple. A Calibre shell, with two modes. Where the Basic Mode is a much simpler graphical UI, dealing with the following functions:

- DRM stripping
- Format Conversion (device driven and not technical nerdy file format name driven)
- Backups (meaning storing files in a user determined location most likely to get backed up, not deep in profile folders no one can find)
- Transfer to Device
- Ordinary English
- Monitoring which device has what eBooks
- Drag and drop UI.
- Book cover library display.

Advanced users can then turn on the Advanced Mode, where the UI is populated with the present huge range of tasks and sub menus etc. etc. and fiddle and convert and manage their database and Meta data to their hearts content.
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Old 01-15-2013, 10:54 PM   #13
kiwidude
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You misread my post. I said as soon as they *do* need to switch formats (like owning multiple devices) then all bets are off, and they have to enter a whole world of technical concepts which the majority of readers out there in the world do not give one iota about nor do they want to learn it. Which creates a very big problem, because format shifting (and stripping DRM since you added that to the discussion) is a case of diving into the deep end of the pool, there is no way to just gradually wade into the shallows.

DRM stripping cannot even be publicly discussed let alone be placed at the forefront of a calibre feature list, so while it remains illegal in many countries it is always going to remain an activity precluded to those who have a certain technical level by the nature of knowing where to go, how to get it, how to set it up, how to update it etc. And without it, you are not going to shift formats, which means you aren't going to be using one of the primary purposes of calibre.

I don't disagree at all with your list of basic function as a wishlist. However the point in my post above was that once you take out the top two (which are not possible either for technical or legal reasons) you end up with something that other programs already do. And by trying to include those top two, by their very nature you require a certain technical level that users like my parents are never ever going to be at or have any desire to do so.

I didn't invent ereader formats, heck I would like nothing better than to have some single standard that every single ereader used that accomplished everything everyone wanted so we never had to shift formats. However back in the real world that doesn't exist.
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Old 01-15-2013, 10:54 PM   #14
Ravensknight
Serpent Rider
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Dumbing things down for people who are unwilling to even TRY to learn something will never accomplish anything good.
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Old 01-15-2013, 11:12 PM   #15
DoctorOhh
US Navy, Retired
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Quote:
Originally Posted by saoir View Post
In my view the solution is simple. A Calibre shell, with two modes. Where the Basic Mode is a much simpler graphical UI, dealing with the following functions:
I agree the concept of basic and advance views has merit, exactly how is not so easy.

Quote:
Originally Posted by saoir View Post
- DRM stripping
DRM stripping is not a feature of the calibre program and will not be added to the main program. So this point is out from the start.

Quote:
Originally Posted by saoir View Post
- Format Conversion (device driven and not technical nerdy file format name driven)
The idea is a good one but this may need to be nerdy file format name driven rather than device driven. As an example half of the Kindle formats do not work with half of the kindle devices. Although if you wanted to maintain the separate database/table required to match up the hundreds of devices out there with the various formats that they can handle or have the option to handle I'm sure patches would be accepted.

Quote:
Originally Posted by saoir View Post
- Backups (meaning storing files in a user determined location most likely to get backed up, not deep in profile folders no one can find)
Calibre works as most other standard book managers and places the books by default (for Windows) under My Documents in a library. Kindle, Adobe Digital Editions, Sony etc... do the same. From there it is up to user and local OS tools to perform a backup.

Quote:
Originally Posted by saoir View Post
- Transfer to Device
Improved in which manner?

Quote:
Originally Posted by saoir View Post
- Ordinary English
Always room for improvement, specifics though are not as easy.

Quote:
Originally Posted by saoir View Post
- Monitoring which device has what eBooks
Books on a device can change independent of calibre, but a more automated way of creating a column tracking a particular device might be of benefit. I also believe the Reading list Plugin may accomplish this.

Quote:
Originally Posted by saoir View Post
- Drag and drop UI.
A small portion of it is drag and drop now, like Send to Device. If you suggest specific items that can be added and provide benefit they may be able to be added. As you can tell most of the features have been added via user request or developer interest.

Quote:
Originally Posted by saoir View Post
- Book cover library display.
There is a Book cover library display (see attached), but not a grid based display. At some point maybe someone will have the time to build such a display.

I also think my attached images show a very basic UI when not connected and when connected to a device. This is how I choose to setup my UI.

Maybe specific feature request might help the conversation.
Attached Thumbnails
Click image for larger version

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Last edited by DoctorOhh; 01-15-2013 at 11:50 PM.
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