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Old 07-21-2010, 05:56 AM   #1
cfp
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Exclamation Why Calibre has a flaw (to me)

Understand me well: actually, Calibre doesn't suck. It's an impressive development effort, but it has a fundamental flaw: its interface.

Edit: I'm very sorry that I used the word suck. If anyone can rectify this title. Please do. it was stupid to use it in the first place, only I was a bit crossed or something. To Mr. Kovid Goyal especially, sorry for sounding rude and reckless. My point here was more to say the software could be improved; but I acknowledge the power of this software, as well as the enormous effort put into its development. Once again, sorry for using this work.

I contacted the Calibre developer a month ago, comming up with a list of the most blatant ui design errors that I could see, but I got answer. Having no time to develop the fixes myself, I'm posting the list here, in the hope that it might reach a broader audience.

-----
I’ve recently come into possession of a sony e-reader device, and I thus started using your Calibre software.
Let me say first that this is an excellent piece of open source software. Being myself a software developer, I know how hard it is to produce such a streamlined, effective, and efficient application.

Unfortunately, I do not program in python myself, which prevents me to participate in the development of Calibre. Yet, my experience in software development urged me to suggest a few things regarding Calibre. You could see this list as a list of the tiny details that, once implemented/fixed, would imo turn Calibre, from a nice piece of software, to the perfect ebook library manager.
* Regarding the user interface/user experience
* The overall interface lacks coherence:
* The icons are not homogeneous, and much to big ; I would suggest to use the icons from the Tango projects, which are extremely readable, and provide much more integration in the gnome desktop, while not hindering at the user experience on other platforms.
* The buttons should always be popping up, rather than stay hidden until being hovered. Otherwise it is unclear what the tiny arrows are for.
* The "delete" key should delete ebooks, not enter in tag edition mode and delete a tag. Otherwise the behavior of the program is incoherent with that of the rest of the system.
* The controls should be better aligned, especially the categories list on the left with the books list.
* The enter key is expected to open ebooks for visualization, yet it doesn't do anything. In a similar fashion, coverflow is pretty, but it should open books when clicked.
* The program shortcuts are frustrating: while keeping the current shortcuts as they are, for backward compatibility, you may want to use Ctrl+... shortcuts.
* The program is overall too slow. Importing ebooks should be faster ; it could and should be made a background task in the first place, as in any music library manager. You could use the space on the bottom left to display the job currently running.

* Regarding ebook handling
* There should be some way to update an ebook. Suppose you're working on a document, and suppose you want to proofread it on you ereader. Then you will inevitably need at some point to update the doc, as the writing advances. Having to delete, then retag the doc is a pain. There might be an option already, but then it needs to be more obvious (why not compare the file name of added files to those of files already in the library?)
* The default behavior with an ebook reader should be to sync to it. That is, to compare which files are there, which aren't, which have been deleted from the computer and which have been added or updated on the device and should be synced to the computer. This is what users expect in the first place.
* A very nifty feature would be to display a sync button (say, arrows facing each other), when books are not present on a device, rather than displaying an empty cell. When clicked, this would start sending the book to the device. You would then improve on this by replacing the sync button by a progressbar while the book is sent, which would take as values the current job progress.

* Regarding the development process:
* To increase the hype about Calibre, you might want to create a setting to download all minor versions, disabled by default. This will make actual releases less frequent, thus triggering much more hype about those.
* You might have better luck with donations by choosing a somehow more explicit icon and moving it to the upper right, at the end of the buttons bar.

* Additional thoughts
* In right-click menus, there should be a default action. That is, hovering an expandable menu entry hould open the submenu, but clicking it should launch the default action for that menu. For example, when 10 ebooks are selected, clicking “edit metadata” should not just open the submenu, but should open the metadata editing dialog for these entries. In the same fashion, selecting send to device should immediately send to device. This would unify the user experience by making header buttons and menu entries behave in the same way.
* The metadata editing dialog needs to be reworked. A nice example can be found in the mp3tag software, where every filed is a combo box, that: 1. If entries differ, has a default “< keep current values >” entry selected, and has a list of all values 2. If entries all have the same info for that field, has that info already selected in this field.
* I don’t know what all the worker threads are for, but do they really need to have that heavy a memory footprint? They all take the same space (~20MB here), making me think that there is some static allocation going on that could be improved…
* There shouldn’t be a line feed between the number of ebooks and the work “ebooks” in the library button.

Now regarding the new version, I'd say that I basically totally disagree. Having merged both toolbars confuses everything, making some buttons act like tabs and others as actions. And the blinking heart just prevents me from donating. Plus, the new icons are less informative than ever (might be a good idea to consider using tango icons).
Another thing that I noticed lately is that the behaviour of keys is inconsistent between the library and the ebook tabs. On the former, it removes the book title (now come on, when you press delete, it's not to remove a books title, is it?), while on the latter it basically does nothing.

Anyway, just posting this in the hope that it might help. Calibre is a great piece of software, but seriously, it needs a lot of interface work.

CFP.

Last edited by cfp; 07-21-2010 at 07:46 AM.
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Old 07-21-2010, 06:22 AM   #2
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Are you using the same Calibre that I am (note: I'm using it in Windows, but it's a cross-platform UI)? From your interface issues:

* Kovid has already said that icon resizing will be back in the next version. With the integration of the library bar with the toolbar, he didn't have time to get small/medium/large back in. This is how it goes with apps on such a quick release cycle. Surely in a week or two the fix will be in.
* The "flat" toolbar style has pretty much been the UI standard across Windows, Mac, and Linux since ... 1998? If you haven't figured out by now that "dropdown arrows by icons are always on the right" in the past 12 years, you've missed something. The buttons show their borders on hover.
* The del key deletes books for me
* The enter key doesn't do anything, but then I'm not really sure what it should do -- view or edit? For me, I'd prefer edit. Given that, using "E" or "V" for edit or view respectively seems like a valid compromise.
* Clicking the top book in cover flow opens it in the viewer for me.
* I don't know how I feel about chorded shortcuts vs. single-key shortcuts. If this were an editor like Word or emacs where you're inputting text but also need to have access to shortcuts, that makes sense. However Calibre's not, and single-key shortcuts work.

ebook handling:
* There is a way to edit/update books. Go into Edit and change the files attached (top-right of the metadata editor). No need to keep deleting the book. As for editing the book contents (not metadata) in Calibre, I don't think that's a good idea. Better to use apps that are designed for editing, like Sigil for epubs.
* The default behavior of a device should not be to automatically sync it. That's just evil. Maybe give an option if you want auto-sync, but it should never be the default. What do you do if your library is bigger than the capacity of the reader? Should you delete a book from Calibre that's been removed from the reader, or sync it back to the device because it's no longer there? How would you handle having different subsets of books on different devices? This is not iTunes or Zune where you're syncing with a single iPod or Zune. Calibre can handle multiple devices/targets (is iTunes sync a "device" that should autosync when you "Connect to iTunes"? What about "Connect to folder"?).

That's not to say all your ideas are bad. It sure would be nice to have the top-level context menu entries have a default if you click vs. hover to open the submenu, but I can understand that it might be a limitation with Qt and Python. Similarly with the worker thread size issue -- that might be at the mercy of Python's threading library rather than anything Kovid can do about it.
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Old 07-21-2010, 07:03 AM   #3
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I'm using the latest Calibre on windows, updated this morning...

You're making good points here, but mine remain valid

More precisely, the delete key simply deletes the book title for me, and I don't know of many applications that use huge icons today. The lack of proportion between the arrow and the image is too important imo.

I believe that new users should not have to learn a whole bunch of new shortcuts. Reusing the ones they already know sounds much simpler to me. The default action when pressing the enter key in their file explorer (whichever os they use) is to open the file. So calibre should do the same I believe.

What I meant by default behaviour is "the default action that should be displayed to the user", aka "the one feature that stands out when the device is connected.

Anyway, I'm not saying that I'm right here, just that I basically keep thinking 'yuck' when using calibre, and yet it is so feature-rich that I use it still. I mean, maybe vim/emacs have the right to completely redefine the standard ways of interacting with software, but calibre shouldn't.

CFP.
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Old 07-21-2010, 07:17 AM   #4
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I would say using the Word Suck in the Calibre forum is a bit insulting to Kovid and others who have made and worked on this software that is FREE!!!!!.

Create your own software if you are really unhappy with it. Kovid has done tons of improvements over he months and years that this FREE software has been available. Check out the Changelog and see for yourself how much has been put into it.
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Old 07-21-2010, 07:30 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cfp View Post
More precisely, the delete key simply deletes the book title for me
The delete key for me, deletes the book selected.

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Originally Posted by cfp View Post
and I don't know of many applications that use huge icons today. The lack of proportion between the arrow and the image is too important imo.
Maybe it's because my eyes are old or because I use a 22inch monitor, but the icons seem just right to me. That said Kovid stated that the toolbar size will be selectable.

Quote:
Originally Posted by cfp View Post
The default action when pressing the enter key in their file explorer (whichever os they use) is to open the file.
Seems like a good idea to me.

And if Kovid got the idea of opening a book by clicking on the cover browser from you, then thanks for the input.
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Old 07-21-2010, 07:45 AM   #6
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The delete key does delete the selected book for me too. I also agree that it's reasonable to use Enter as a default key for opening a book, but the current associative shortcuts (V)iew, (E)dit, (M)erge and so on are also very intuitive and natural IMO.
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Old 07-21-2010, 07:50 AM   #7
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@hidari: I added an edit at the top of my original message. I was just a bit crossed by the idea that I had spent an approximate hour trying to pinpoints the things that needed updates or fixes, and that after a month I didn't get the slightest bit of an answer, even in the form of a short message acknowledging the reception of my message.

Yet you're absolutely right, the words I used were mean, and I apologize for that, to Kovid and the whole community. I was basically trying to bring attentions to what IMO seemed efficient ways to improve the software ; never did I question the fact that it was extremely useful and efficient.
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Old 07-21-2010, 07:53 AM   #8
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@hidari: I think that the feeling I was trying to express is somehow shared by the poster who asked for paid alternatives to calibre on this forum. When you open calibre for the first time, the interface feels very messy and confusing, and that hides a lot of its power to incoming users...
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Old 07-21-2010, 12:14 PM   #9
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Sigh, why does everyone think that their pet UI preferences are the right way to do everything. Over the years I get people telling me:

1) I love the large icons. I hate the large icons
2) Make the enter key view books/make the enter key edit books
3) I hate these icons/I hate those icons/I love these icons/I love the new icons/I love the old icons
4) I love the single key shortcuts, lets me launch actions pressing only one key. I hate the single key shortcuts, they're not what I'm used to and I refuse to learn something new, even if its better
6) This program doesn't follow the UI guidelines X. This program doesn't follow the UI guidelines Y. This program doesn't follow the UI guidelines Z.
7) This option needs to be more obvious. That option needs to be more obvious. The third option needs to be more obvious. At the same time the interface needs to be less "cluttered" and more "coherent".

Guidelines for armchair UI designers:

1) What you think is good UI design depends entirely on what kinds of UI you are used to. calibre is used by *millions* of people, with literally hundreds of different "optimum" UI experiences. Be aware of that.

2) calibre design goals are to be simple to use while not hiding the power under the hood and keeping code duplication to a minimum. If you want to make a proposal for UI change, it has to be congruent with those goals.

3) Make small, concrete proposals. So, make the topmost cover in the cover browser clickable is a good proposal. The UI lacks coherence is not, it's not even a proposal.

4) Never, *ever* try to present your proposal by dressing it up as, "Most users expect this". That is just going to make me laugh and expose your ignorance. The fact that *you* expect something, most emphatically does not mean that *most* people expect it.

5) Stop to think what your proposal means to the larger picture. Realize that UI design is at the most fundamental level a trade-off. When you do something one way, you gain some things and you lose other things. I will be much more inclined to listen to a proposal if it is accompanied by an acknowledgement of what implementing it costs.

6) When some aspects of calibre is not the way you think it should be, stop to realize that there are almost always good reasons for it to be that way. Those reasons may not be obvious too you, but they exist. So instead of saying "This behavior is wrong and must be like this" say instead, "Why is this behavior like this, to me it seems like it should be like this".

7) Be humble. You may be an uber hot shot software developer/genius/god/graphics designer/wise guy, but you *do not* know what is best for calibre, better than its creator does. You may well have good ideas, but present them as such, ideas.

8) Remember that calibre development is done by volunteers. So do not expect your pet concerns to be addressed/responded to, unless one of those developers has the time/inclination to do so. And you will greatly enhance that inclination by following the previous 7 guidelines.
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Old 07-21-2010, 12:22 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kovidgoyal View Post
Guidelines for armchair UI designers:

1) What you think is good UI design depends entirely on what kinds of UI you are used to. calibre is used by *millions* of people, with literally hundreds of different "optimum" UI experiences. Be aware of that.

2) calibre design goals are to be simple to use while not hiding the power under the hood and keeping code duplication to a minimum. If you want to make a proposal for UI change, it has to be congruent with those goals.

3) Make small, concrete proposals. So, make the topmost cover in the cover browser clickable is a good proposal. The UI lacks coherence is not, it's not even a proposal.

4) Never, *ever* try to present your proposal by dressing it up as, "Most users expect this". That is just going to make me laugh and expose your ignorance. The fact that *you* expect something, most emphatically does not mean that *most* people expect it.

5) Stop to think what your proposal means to the larger picture. Realize that UI design is at the most fundamental level a trade-off. When you do something one way, you gain some things and you lose other things. I will be much more inclined to listen to a proposal if it is accompanied by an acknowledgement of what implementing it costs.

6) When some aspects of calibre is not the way you think it should be, stop to realize that there are almost always good reasons for it to be that way. Those reasons may not be obvious too you, but they exist. So instead of saying "This behavior is wrong and must be like this" say instead, "Why is this behavior like this, to me it seems like it should be like this".

7) Be humble. You may be an uber hot shot software developer/genius/god/graphics designer/wise guy, but you *do not* know what is best for calibre, better than its creator does. You may well have good ideas, but present them as such, ideas.

8) Remember that calibre development is done by volunteers. So do not expect your pet concerns to be addressed/responded to, unless one of those developers has the time/inclination to do so. And you will greatly enhance that inclination by following the previous 7 guidelines.
Now you've done it, had to go and get reasonable on us again, didn't you?
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Old 07-21-2010, 12:26 PM   #11
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For what it's worth, to me calibre is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I recommend it to people all the time. I don't pretend to be any kind of expert -- I'm just a satisfied user.
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Old 07-21-2010, 12:33 PM   #12
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Sure, then just take this list as the list of things that eventually made me stop using calibre every time I used it. As a windows/gnome user, I don't pretend to know how the ideal interface /should/ be, whether there is such an ideal interface and so on. I'm just saying: here are the thinks I dislike as a user. Maybe you can draw something interesting from this list. Maybe not.

Overall, I was just stating my personal impressions about calibre. Not that those matter much, but I thought it might be interesting to hear a complete review of this software.

As a simple user, I don't understand how icons are grouped on the top bar. Why is the delete button so far from the add button? Why is the donate button in the middle of the rest? And why is the library button, that doesn't launch an action, but shows the library, in the middle as well? Why aren't there two tabs, one for the library, one for the device?

I love the gnome desktop, because all apps basically use the same icons. So when I come by a new program, I see clear marks setting out when I see those icons.

I don't understand why there need to be an explanatory text in the search box telling me how to do an advanced search, rather than an advanced search button. My expectations are for sure highly influenced by the fact that google does thing this way, but still it puzzles me.

I don't see why the button to reset quick search is shown even before I started searching...

when I open a context menu, I tend to think that clicking on items in a context menu will have an effect, since it's name is a verb describing an action.

But of course, that's only me...
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Old 07-21-2010, 12:34 PM   #13
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@cfp: So don't use calibre. No one is asking you to.
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Old 07-21-2010, 12:53 PM   #14
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Quote:
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Why is the delete button so far from the add button?
Good Planning.

Quote:
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Why aren't there two tabs, one for the library, one for the device?
When your device is hooked up there are two tabs.

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I don't understand why there need to be an explanatory text in the search box telling me how to do an advanced search, rather than an advanced search button.
This allows the advanced search button to be small and take up less space since the text pointing to it is in the search bar.

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when I open a context menu, I tend to think that clicking on items in a context menu will have an effect, since it's name is a verb describing an action.
Now you're too good for me. Every context menu I can find the items that should be click-able are obvious to the most casual observer.

But of course, that's only me...
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Old 07-21-2010, 01:04 PM   #15
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I'm very sorry that I used the word suck. If anyone can rectify this title. Please do.
Edited as requested.
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